I’d like you to sign my e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England please.
However, I’m not going to make out that all grouse moor owners, managers or gamekeepers are evil and hateful. I quite like quite a few of them, personally. I can’t understand what they get out of shooting Red Grouse but then, up to a point, that is up to them. But the ‘point’ is reached for me when they and their fellow grouse shooters are emptying large parts of my country of protected wildlife – that’s not nice. That is the main thing that gets my goat, but once riled about that then one finds that there are plenty of other things to get a bit miffed about too.
But just as grouse shooters are not all bad, there is good and bad in all of us, so too, for me, the argument on whether to call for a ban on grouse shooting is not cut and dried. I have now finally come down on one side of the argument but for a long time I was happier on the other side, or sitting on the fence.
And so, these are three arguments that are on the pro-grouse shooting side of things which I think you ought to think about before signing my e-petition (or not signing it).
1. Predator control is good for some other ground-nesting species. Yes it is. I’m always struck by the numbers of Lapwings, Curlew, and sometimes, Golden Plover that are present on upland grouse moors. I was standing on a Durham grouse moor listening to waders singing not long ago. And I like Lapwings quite a lot. And yes, they are a declining species. But how far do you want to go to engineer artificially high densities of any population?
Almost any management will favour some species and disadvantage others, so we ought to look at all the species involved.
I was quite struck, and I know others were too, by the figure of 400 stoats a year killed in Weardale in order to deliver a shootable surplus of Red Grouse to be shot. I was struck by it because I had been in Weardale only about a week before, and I had stopped and admired the number of ground-nesting birds that were in view: Lapwings (clearly with chicks), lots of Curlew (probably with chicks), Golden Plover and, of course, Red Grouse.
There were lots of birds – impressive numbers really – and I like birds. However, I’ve come to think that it is also the wildlife that you don’t see that is important. A pile of 400 stoats by the side of the road would be a horrific sight – and just because they aren’t piled up by the side of the road doesn’t make it much less horrific.
How big would be the pile of foxes? Crows? Mountain hares? And those are the legally-killed victims of driven grouse shooting. Yes, Lapwings are the beneficiaries – they really are – but there is a lot of dead wildlife too. And that doesn’t count the wildlife killed illegally.
This is a question of balance. How many stoats and foxes would you kill to have more Lapwing in the hills?
2. What would the uplands be like without grouse shooting? There is this view put around by grouse shooters that the uplands would be concreted over or overgrazed if the money from grouse shooting went away. This is nonsense. In England, at least, almost every grouse moor is designated for its nature conservation interest. They are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (Wildlife & Countryside Act), Special Protection Areas for Birds (EU Birds Directive) and Special Areas of Conservation (EU Habitats Directive). The designations should ensure that damaging land use does not occur. It’s like living in a listed building – there are some things you just can’t do. They will include planting conifers all over your moor, putting windfarms all over your moor and overgrazing your moor. Thank previous governments and being in the EU for all that.
So what would the uplands be like? Well – it’s up to us really. We all pay a large amount of money through our taxes for agricultural support to land owners, so we have a say. I think that a mosaic of land uses would be good – some more natural forestry in gullies and on lower ground, blanket bogs in good shape on the highest wet peaty tops, and a mixture of heather, scrub (which is wonderful even if it sounds nasty) and sparse woodland elsewhere. Such a landscape, a bit like the National Trust vision for their land in the Peak District, would be more natural, provide cleaner water, give rise to fewer floods and store more carbon. Land owners ought to be given incentives to produce such a landscape for the public good.
We don’t have to manage our uplands very intensively just for one commercially important species. No-one else does. The Scandinavians don’t come over here saying ‘Save our wildlife – please teach us how to burn the heather, stop the trees growing, burn the Sphagnum mosses and kill lots of medium-sized predators so that we can shoot Willow Ptarmigan’. The idea that the uplands need to be like this is daft. It’s just that we are used to them being like this.
You decide what you want the uplands to be like – they are yours as much as anyone else’s. You’ve been pouring your taxes into them for years. If you’ve just twigged that grouse shooting is getting in the way of your upland vision then sign my e-petition.
3. What about the financial benefits of grouse shooting? I’m going to come back to this later. Just for now, let me say it can’t all be about money.
First, grouse shooting is economically trivial and if people couldn’t spend their money on grouse-shooting, grouse management and grouse moors then they’d spend it on something else. There would still be the same amount of money swashing about in the economy.
It can’t all be about money – it’s about what sort of world we want to live in. If it were all about money then maybe we’d set up some rural brothels and drug-dens in order to replace the economic value of grouse shooting. Would we? Probably not. And why not? Because we don’t think that would be right even if it did bring in the money. There you go…
But I’ll come back to this.
Next week – apart from an update on Monday evening on Hen Harrier Day in the Peak District – may be a harrier-free zone. I’ll try. Thank you for your patience and participation this harrier-heavy week.