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We’re serious about doing things in the right way here at M&S. Whenever we source a product we do so in the most sustainable and responsible way possible, improving the environment and to the highest standards of animal welfare. Our approach is informed by the latest science and we’re always looking for ways to improve.
It’s a key part of my job as custodian of our agricultural and fisheries sourcing standards. Every week I visit farms, estates, fisheries, factories and research establishments to meet our suppliers and challenge them, advise on improvements and learn all about the amazing food that we source for our customers. That’s why I have first-hand knowledge of the great work that goes on in our supply base to ensure we offer food products produced to industry leading standards.

This year we’ve put a great deal of preparation into getting the standards and supply right for a speciality game meat – Red Grouse. Unfortunately it’s not worked out. For sustainability reasons, we have always said that we would only stock grouse in our stores if the numbers on the estate we have been working with were strong enough. While up on last year, this season’s numbers are still not strong enough for a commercial offer.

Despite this, we believe there is customer demand for responsibly and sustainably sourced speciality meats like grouse and therefore we will continue to work with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and our supplier.

That work has seen us partner exclusively with one estate where wildlife conservation and responsible moorland management are of the utmost importance. It is, we believe, the best managed estate in the UK with thousands of acres of well-maintained heather moorland which provides an excellent habitat for wildlife. Many different raptor species, including Hen Harriers, thrive there.

They’ve helped us enormously in developing our own Code of Practice for Red Grouse Sourcing, a code developed with the GWCT. It is the first of its kind and is a comprehensive guide to best practice covering biodiversity, moorland protection, shoot management, adding value to the rural community and much more. Of course, a key aspect of the code is protecting Hen Harriers and other wildlife.

We hope the code will help the whole industry learn and improve but, as is evidenced by the fact that we haven’t been able to secure the numbers for a commercial offer for a second year running, more needs to be done if we are going to be able to offer even a limited number of Red Grouse for sale in our stores in years to come.

It is interesting that the RSPB has called for grouse shoots to be licensed. I’m keen to hear more on the background and detail, however it could be a pragmatic approach providing it can bring all the relevant stakeholders together.