An e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

By Kositoes (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Kositoes (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
If you aren’t interested in Hen Harriers then you’d be best to skip this blog for a few days and come back on Saturday – I wonder whether Ralph could do a Hen Harrier cartoon? We’ll see.

Last week I launched an e-petition calling on Defra to ban driven grouse shooting in England. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. Generally, I am not much in favour of banning things so there was quite a lot of soul-searching involved. Some won’t believe that, but it’s true.

Through the course of this week I will explain why I took this step, what I hope to achieve and put up some open letters to organisations involved in this issue.

Here is a bit of background, though.

Why Defra and England and not the UK?: I chose the HM Government e-petitions website because it has some clout. You have to be a UK citizen (not necessarily English though) to register your view and you have to submit an address etc to register your name.  This is a serious website.  If any e-petition reaches 10,000 signatures then the relevant government department has to reply (although it doesn’t have to be a good reply as we have seen) and if the number of signatures reaches 100,000 then there may be a debate in parliament on the subject.  This is a tiny part of democracy in action – this is the people speaking.  But this website deals with England and so England it is.

Why now?:  I’ve been weighing up the possibility for some time and talking to people about it. Whilst John Armitage’s e-petition was running I supported that, and it did very well to get to over 10,000 signatures.  Then I felt there should be a break and a time for reflection. If there had been any sign of movement from the grouse shooting community then I might have wavered – but there wasn’t – and I wavered anyway – but then I decided!  Also, we are now within 12 months of the next UK general election and if this e-petition is well-supported then it may influence the political manifestos of our political parties and their policies in the future years. And also, I didn’t want to wait too long because it would be good to have amassed a noticeable number of signatures before the Inglorious 12th and the start of the grouse shooting season.

Why this subject?: the illegal extermination of a protected bird over a large part of its natural UK range isn’t the most important thing in the world but it really annoys me.  I would rather solve the problems of world poverty, unfairness in our own society, climate change or be instrumental in putting farmland birds back into the countryside (and I will play, as a citizen, voter, blogger and speaker, some role in all of those and other subjects) but this seems to me to be an issue where, for various reasons, there isn’t anyone shouting loudly enough and a few determined men (it would probably take even fewer determined women) can make a difference.  Campaigning against the vested interests of the grouse shooting industry seems a pretty difficult task so I don’t think I am taking a particularly easy option. But this is the area where I am going to spend some of my time living the thoughts that ‘All it takes for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing‘ and ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.‘.

Why not all shooting, and what is ‘driven’ grouse shooting?: this e-petition doesn’t apply to most shooting. It isn’t about pheasant shooting, duck shooting or even all grouse shooting. Some will be disappointed in that but, that’s life. Driven grouse shooting is said to be ‘great fun’ by those who practise it.  It involves producing highly artificial habitat through regular burning, removal of foxes, crows, stoats etc (all legal) to create artificially very high densities of Red Grouse. In the autumn,  ‘packs’ of Red Grouse are chased over the hillsides so that they fly past a line of shooters who try to shoot them as they whizz past. This form of ‘sport’ requires lots of grouse and that leads to predators that are legally protected being illegally killed.  ‘Walked up’ shooting is a stroll across the moors with a gun and a dog, shooting birds that you flush in front of you, and is not characterised by such intensive or intolerant management. It’s the driven grouse shooting that is the real problem – and which dominates the landscape of northern England.

What do I hope to achieve?: it would be amazing to get to 100,000 signatures as that could trigger a debate in parliament – but I’m not counting on it. Ten thousand signatures seems a long, long way away but that would be a significant achievement.  If we can raise the issue to a higher position in political debate and make the criminals who kill protected wildlife feel more and more uncomfortable then that is an achievement. Who knows where this journey might end? There is a general election next year, after all.

How is it going?: amazingly well so far, though these are early days. There have been just under 2000 signatures in only five days.  You can sign it here.

What is the link between this and Hen Harrier day?: Hen Harrier Day is an opportunity for ordinary people to protest against the illegal killing of Hen Harriers.  See this blog at 6pm on Mondays for updates.  You don’t have to agree with this e-petition to attend Hen Harrier Day events. I am organising one in the Peak District – others will be held in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland.





16 Replies to “An e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.”

  1. Very good thought out blog Mark,wouldn’t it be nice if RSPB said “Give Hen Harriers a home”.Sadly I get the impression they are frightened of upsetting Royal family and from their attitude their one million members have a attitude of do not care about the Hen Harrier’s persecution.
    How sad is that from what is really a bird organisation.

    1. Dennis – thanks for your support. There will be a message to the RSPB later in the week – watch this space (I’m sure you will).

      By the way, did I tell you that I was on mull the weekend before last? Just for part of one day, but we saw a fantastic sea eagle.

  2. Now game keepers have admitting killing squirrels in tunnel/rail traps [some thing I witnessed back in the 1970’s] an e petition to ban these traps would be well over due. The 100,000 mark would be easily made due the ‘Red Alert’ brigade and the £millions being spent on trying to save the Red Squirrel. Instead an e petition to ban driven Red Grouse just allows the shooting brigade to laugh in our faces.

    1. John – not much laughing going on so far – quite a lot of abuse. We’ll see. If you were a grouse shooter would you want more publicity for what you are doing?

  3. Surely it is time to move on and avoid such simplistic views on grouse moor shooting?

    1. Andrew – yes, surely it is time for you to persuade all upland managers to obey the law.

      You’ll notice that I’ve edited out the link to your blog from your comment – I link to it in my blog tomorrow. If you want a large readership for your blog you’ll have to work harder than posting a rather perfunctory comment on mine and linking to it. But as I say, I link to your blog tomorrow, and possibly later in the week too. It’s a week full of merry Hen Harrier chatter.

      1. Many thanks. Agreed – hence why Defra is leading the hen harrier Joint Action Plan (JAP).

        1. Defra is leading, ha – I wish (especially enforcement of breaches).

          Defra is being lead (shot) by …. ‘moor’ like ….

    2. Andrew

      Surely its time we stopped reading about poisoned raptors and gamekeepers being convicted of such acts.

      We’ll move on when the above stops.


  4. Think one big problem with RSPB having a neutral stance on this issue is how can we expect Judges and Magistrates to take any bird crime seriously and give stiff sentences for bird crimes while RSPB are neutral.
    What a word to use,what if those ladies who started RSPB were neutral.
    Neutral that word really annoys.
    Hope you had a nice time on Mull even if not there long.Guess you made sure to meet Dave Sexton,what a lovely person and doing a great job on Mull.

    1. “neutral stance”…?
      Come on Dennis you are not seriously suggesting the RSPB is neutral on the issue of raptor persecution are you?

  5. The illegal killing of a protected species is reprehensible – protected should mean just that. ket’s take that as read, OK? But does there have to be a ban? Would a ban stop this illegal activity? Does the government have to step in and regulate what a land owner does on their land? These may seem like simplistic questions, but bans do not have a great record of success in wildlife conservation. It is important to ask some basic questions before embarking on this kind of stuff.

    Think of all the legislative ‘solutions’ that have been applied to illegal killing of wildlife around the world – often given the catch-all name of ‘poaching’ even though often they are not the same thing at all (killing for bush meat is not the same as killing for distant high-value markets such as rhino horn) – the legislative solution does not often work: what works is a change in hearts and minds. It is much, much harder to achieve than an e-petition, but it works while legislation does not work until you persuade people to change their behaviour.

    I think that in this case you would find that having banned driven grouse shooting, the killing of hen harriers would turn out to be culturally engendered rather than economically instigated. In other words, you swing a sledge hammer at the nut, only to find out that you miss the nut, hit other stuff (like your foot), and end up with an unexpected and unwelcome outcome.

    1. Dave Blake – some of your points will be touched on in blogs later this week.

      Killing Hen Harriers is of course banned – it is difficult to enforce at the moment. However, it is a tiny group of people all associated with grouse shooting that are responsible for the lack of a fully protected species in much of its UK natural range and so the culprits are easy to identify as a group. Banning the activities of that group, that tiny group, doesn’t seem totally out of proportion at all. I’d rather they behaved themselves without a ban, I’d rather there were an efficient way to police this system but the grouse moor industry has had decades to get its house in order and the cost of having coppers in the middle of grouse moors through the Hen Harrier nesting season would be ridiculous.

      Banning grouse shooting is a highly targetted measure. It stops a few people carrying out an activity that is quaintly British – blasting Willow Ptarmigan out of the air – the rest of the world and its wildlife gets by without this activity so we surely can too.

      And, as you will see later this week, there are many, many other reasons why one might want to put an end to grouse shooting aside from wildlife issues.

      I’d be rather surprised if unemployed gamekeepers would head up the hill early one morning in April to bump off a Hen harrier when they aren’t instructed to do so and when there is no economic incentive through the selling of days of grouse shooting at several thousand pounds a day.

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