A well-shared claim on social media stated Prime Minister Theresa May has increased subsidies for “her wealthy mate’s sport of grouse shooting”.

This is false: the payments are made under the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, for moorland farmers and the increase occurred in 2015.

In short

‘Grouse shooting’: Despite asserting that the subsidy for grouse shooting as a sport, the Common Agricultural Policy payments is for moorland farmers.

Made in 2015: That increase was announced in 2014, and implemented in 2015, before Theresa May became Prime Minister. It was not “just” increased.

£84m a year is a massive overestimate: Friends of the Earth estimated 30 grouse moor estate owners received £4.5m of CAP payments in 2014.

Checking the Claim

Shared over 10,000 times on Facebook, the claim on the ‘Tom Pride’ Wordpress site is the Prime Minister

FOUND ENOUGH OF OUR MONEY TO INCREASE SUBSIDIES FOR GROUSE SHOOTING ESTATES FROM £30 PER HECTARE TO £56 PER HECTARE[.]

“Contribute £56 per hectare in subsidies”

The site links to a Daily Mirror article in August 2016 by Springwatch presenter and naturalist Chris Packham, stating:

We, the taxpayer, contribute £56 per hectare in subsidies each year to help this “sport” continue.

This value refers to payments made through the Rural Payments Agency, under the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy.

In April 2014, the government announced some of these payments would be increased, by about £26 per hectare for moorland farmers from 2015:

Farmers across the Yorkshire Dales, Dartmoor and the Lake District will benefit from this new rate, bringing their payments up to about £56 a hectare.

The increase in CAP payments is for moorland farmers.

These payments are made in euros, and are affected by the sterling exchange rate.

There have been concerns that the EU’s CAP payments are being illegitimately claimed for non-agricultural uses. George Dunn, the Chief Executive of the UK Tenant Farmers’ Association said in February 2014:

The TFA has said all along that payment rates in the lowland and upland areas should be the same whereas moorland areas should be treated differently given the extent to which non-agriculturally active land owners in moorland areas could be able to capitalise on payments illegitimately.

In May 2014, the UK government noted in its consultation that:

There are large grouse shooting estates on the Yorkshire moors, but there is no sporting activity of any significance in the Lake District, Exmoor or Dartmoor.

“Taxpayer subsidies” for “grouse shooting” are not an accurate label for CAP payments to moorland farmers.

Additionally, it is false to claim the increase was “just” made by Prime Minister Theresa May. That increase occurred in January 2015 — over three years ago, and over 18 months prior to the current PM taking office.

Assertions without citation

The ‘Tom Pride’ article states, without source or estimation method:

The amount you are now paying for her wealthy mates ‘sport’ has risen from £45m to £84m.

Friends of the Earth estimated that 30 grouse moor estate owners received £4.5m in CAP payments in 2014.

Their estimate is based on the Moorland Association's map of “keepered grouse moors”, compared against moorland data-sets and satellites images. The (publicly available) methodology states they believe we should be confident 70% of identified areas correspond directly to grouse moors. This is about 550,000 acres, or just over 220,000 hectares.

Owners were identified through the Land Registry and other sources. The total farm subsidies in 2014 were then collated through DEFRA’s CAP payment website.

Stating these subsidies represent £84m a year (or £45m a year, before the increase) is a massive overestimate. Without clarification, it appears spurious.

Statistics are often used in public debates: to inform and to ‘beat’ opponents.

We should be wary that some statistics are misinterpreted, some ‘facts’ are actually estimates, and some figures are entirely fictional. We should call out statistical errors, regardless of which ‘side’ we are on.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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