With the grouse shooting season upon us once more, environmental campaigner Dr Mark Avery asks for support from walkers.
We all head into the hills to get away from it all, to refresh our souls and to get back to nature. But the hills of much of east and south Scotland and the north of England, even in National Parks such as the Cairngorms National Park and the Yorkshire Dales National Park, are landscapes subjugated to the interests of one narrow land use: intensive grouse shooting.
Concern, alarm and anger are growing over grouse shooting, and there are things that you can do to create a better future for our hills and mountains, and the people and wildlife that live there.
In driven grouse shooting, a line of people with shotguns wait for a line of people with flags and whistles to drive Red Grouse past them so that they can shoot at them as they fly over. There is no hunting involved in this – it’s merely using wildlife as living targets. An individual may pay upwards of £5,000 for a day of such ‘sport’.
The record ‘bag’ for a day of such shooting is 2,929 birds, shot by eight guns in the Trough of Bowland in Lancashire on 12 August 1915. That’s over 350 birds per gun that day. Modern bags are approaching such levels again.
To generate such high densities of Red Grouse, to justify such high prices; heather moorland is burned into a patchwork of long and short vegetation; Foxes, Stoats, Carrion Crows etc are killed in large numbers; Mountain Hares are killed off too (because they carry a tick which can transmit a virus to the grouse); the moorland is drained and medicated grit is provided to kill intestinal worms. Red Grouse are not reared and released (like Pheasants), but driven grouse shooting depends on intensive management of the prey, their predators and their habitat.
Many raptors are illegally killed because they are unsporting enough to include Red Grouse in their diet, eg Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Peregrine and Hen Harrier. These species have been protected by law for over 60 years and yet are missing from areas managed primarily for grouse shooting. The last survey of Hen Harriers, in 2010, found around 650 UK pairs whereas the science shows that there should be around 2600 pairs. English uplands should hold around 300 pairs yet this year there were just three. Illegal persecution is the cause of this massive disparity.
This year, hill walkers found illegally set traps on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park and on the Mossdale Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Our National Parks are, shockingly, wildlife crime scenes, not havens for wildlife. When in the hills please keep your eyes open and report any wildlife crime to the police. Time, a good grid reference, and photographs of any illegal traps are what are needed. See here for what to look for and how to report a wildlife crime. You can be the eyes and ears of the police.
All that intensive management for grouse, the burning and the drainage, have other important ecological impacts. Grouse moors shed water more quickly than moorland not managed for grouse shooting – and this increases flood risks for masses of people downstream, people who never go grouse shooting and have never heard of a Hen Harrier. Greenhouse gas emissions are higher from grouse moors where burning occurs on peatlands; grouse moor management was criticised by the Committee on Climate Change last year. Water companies spend more money on water treatment in catchments dominated by grouse shooting and those costs go to the customer not the grouse shooter. And aquatic biodiversity is lower in watercourses draining managed moorlands too. Intensive grouse moor management imposes big costs on the rest of society.
You can make your voice heard by signing two online petitions that aim to reduce the damage done by intensive grouse shooting. One, aimed at the Scottish parliament, and which has attracted just over 3000 signatures, closes on 22 August, calls for licensing of all gamebird shooting in Scotland [http://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01615]. It’s well worth signing.
The other, under my name, is aimed at the UK parliament and has gained over 80,000 signatures, and closes on 20 September. It calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting [https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003] and will be debated, so all these issues including licensing, can be aired and recorded in Hansard, if we reach 100,000 signatures. Please sign this one as well and help get that parliamentary debate.
If you are keen on wrecked uplands and wildlife crime then please don’t sign my e-petition, but if you choose change in the uplands, even if you don’t favour a total ban (and I think you should!) then please sign because this is the strongest way you can make your voice heard. It really is your choice!
Every signature counts so please give yours now. For more information then check out my blog at www.markavery.info/blog/ and/or read my book Inglorious – conflict in the uplands for the 100,000 word version of the case against driven grouse shooting. But thank you for letting me have 1000 words here.
Dr Mark Avery is an author, blogger, birder and campaigner. He worked for the RSPB for 25 years until 2011 and for 13 of them was the RSPB Conservation Director.