Few red grouse will be shot today, but between now and the 10 December the season will be on, and guns will be willing to pay upwards of £1500 a day for shooting their share of 200,000 red grouse shot in the average year. But bird conservationists are concerned about how many protected species may have been shot or poisoned before the sport begins.
The science shows a couple of pretty much incontrovertible and inconvenient truths – that birds of prey, particularly hen harriers, eat grouse too and that someone is bumping off lots of harriers in a totally illegal manner.
The Langholm study, carried out at the Langholm estate of the Buccleugh family, showed that if there are lots of hen harrier living on your grouse moor they may eat so many red grouse before the start of the shooting season that there aren’t enough left for the guns. There is no getting around it – hen harriers are pests of grouse moors.
And there is no getting around the fact that on grouse moors, hen harriers, although having full legal protection since 1954, are treated as pests and are surreptitiously killed in such a routine manner that large areas of the country that would otherwise be suitable for hen harriers lack them almost completely. So much so, that about 2000 pairs of our hen harriers are missing.
Killing hen harriers is illegal but happens; harriers eating grouse is legal but unhelpful to the grouse moor manager who has invested in the management of his moor; killing harriers is entirely logical, but entirely illegal. This is the crux of the war of words over grouse moor management.
Is there a way out? Better brains than mine have looked for an answer without much progress having been made. One of the problems is that much of the shooting community denies the fact that hen harrier killing is common despite the fact that so many hen harriers are missing from the hills according to the science of organisations as close to them as the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.
You can’t expect individuals whose staff are breaking the law to come out and say publicly ‘yes, we are killing hen harriers on our shooting estate’ – few criminals do that, and in this case it might well be that the moor owner is unaware of what happens on his ground in the early morning as a shot rings out on a remote piece of moorland. But we should expect that more effort from those organisations trusted and integral to the shooting community (The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation) should be put into acknowledging that conservationists are right that there is a real problem of illegal raptor killing and that it really has to stop.
I’ll be interested to see comments here, including from those organisations mentioned above, on whether it is accepted that illegal raptor killing is rife on grouse moors as a whole. Do Raptor Study Groups, nature conservationists, gamekeepers and grouse moor managers all accept the premise that there is too much illegal killing in the heather? I won’t yet publish comments on other aspects of grouse shooting as we will move on to other subjects as time goes on.
Sunday’s blog will move on to supplementary and diversionary feeding as a potential solution to this conflict