Given the scale of illegal killing of raptors associated with driven grouse shooting it would be fair enough, in my opinion, for conservation organisations to campaign for the abolition of grouse shooting – but none of them yet does.
Instead, conservationists are putting their members’ money into trying to find a legal way out for grouse moor managers – and the grouse shooting community is joining in too.
If the problem for the grouse manager is that harriers (to keep it simple) eat too many grouse and can make driven grouse shooting uneconomic then let’s find a way out that reduces grouse depredation by hen harriers but doesn’t involve illegally killing the harriers. There aren’t many options really are there?
The most promising is supplementary or diversionary feeding of harriers as has been tested at Langholm before, and is being more thoroughly tested again. This involves providing extra food for harriers so that they don’t need to catch grouse. It sounds a bit odd, and it isn’t the most appealing solution for any one, but it is, perhaps, a way to let harriers survive in those large areas of the country from which they are currently excluded.
Follow the link and you will see that years ago this was shown to be effective – the number of grouse chicks taken to harrier nests that were artificially fed (day-old chicks and white mice) was reduced hugely.
This method has not been taken up by the grouse shooting community. I wonder why not. Well, first, since there are hardly any harriers on grouse moors then the cynical would say that shooting harriers is easier and more attractive to grouse shooters than feeding harriers. Could that be it? It might be that the fact that even when harriers were fed at Langholm autumn grouse numbers didn’t go up – but there were unfed harrier nests at Langholm too so they presumably took up the slack – hardly a problem for the average grouse moor for years to come at present harrier levels. And there is the fact that feeding harriers might result in there being more harriers around in the future and so it is suggested that there ought to be a cap on harrier densities beyond which grouse moor managers could legally reduce harrier densities.
And so we come to the subject of harrier quotas. Except, not so fast!, let’s stay with feeding harriers for a while first. If feeding hen harriers is practical, which it appears to be, but let’s wait for Langholm II to report, then should we expect many moors to be more tolerant to hariers? I detect no such warming to the harrier. So conservationists need to think through their response if Langholm II shows that feeding reduces the pestilential nature of harrier predation on the shootable surplus of grouse. If the shooting community don’t take up this option what should conservationists do?
The conservation lobby has already been soft, arguably, in not calling for an outright ban on grouse shooting since it demonstrably is a land use that excludes protected species through illegal means. If diversionary feeding looks like a half-practical short-term solution, an escape from illegality, then why would grouse moor owners not take this route to demonstrate their good faith? And if they don’t, then how much further backwards will conservationists bend over?
What do you think?
On Tuesday I will move on to the vexed subject of quotas – but let’s have a chat about diversionary feeding first. And on Monday I’ll start telling you about my holiday in Dorset – as a bit of a break from all this nastiness in the hills – plenty of heather in Dorset though.