Heaven only knows where grouse shooting gets its public relations advice but I hope it isn’t paying much for it because it certainly isn’t working with the outside world.
Grouse shooting is bound to be an emotive issue. Grouse shooting is about killing wild animals for fun, and it is a ‘sport’ that is mostly available to the landed and the rich. It’s bound to be a minority interest and it’s bound to be controversial. Speaking for myself, and that’s what I do here, those aren’t the elements of grouse shooting that most concern me, but you would have to be a bit blinkered not to realise that they are issues that would concern many, many reasonable and perfectly nice people.
In such a situation, then showing some consideration for the truth, for others’ views and for the normal levels of politeness would be what I would advise.
On Thursday I will give you a list of reasons to sign my e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting, and on Friday I’ll give you what I think are the best reasons for you not to sign it. How reasonable is that – well you can decide at the end of the week?
But here are some areas where those in favour of grouse shooting are getting it badly wrong, in my opinion. Why am I giving them my advice? First, because I want to analyse the arguments for and against grouse shooting. Second, because it’s a bit too late for them to do anything about it and, in any case, they won’t listen to me. Third, I just can’t resist.
Getting it wrong factually, 1: Hen Harriers ‘need’ grouse shooting. Every time I hear this it astounds me that anyone could put it forward with a straight face. Hen Harriers are almost absent as breeding birds from those parts of the UK which are dominated by driven grouse shooting. And how do Hen Harriers in the rest of Europe, or Northern Harriers in North America, manage without a cuddle from a ‘keeper? And how did Hen Harriers manage before driven grouse shooting came into existence in the 19th century? It’s a ludicrous argument which will make many birders, country people, naturalists, scientists lose respect for whoever puts it forward.
The GWCT’s main argument against my e-petition uses this argument and this paper from the Langholm study. It shows that if Hen Harriers aren’t bumped off then they do OK on grouse moors. This tends to miss the rather big point – they are bumped off by those engaged in grouse shooting – that’s the problem!
Despite the fact that the paper claims to be ‘the first that quantifies how control of generalist predators as part of grouse moor management can benefit harrier productivity’ we have known this for ages – ages and ages! As long ago as 1997, an RSPB study (using data from raptor workers across Scotland) showed that clutch sizes of Hen Harriers on grouse moors in Scotland were a bit bigger than those on other moors and that, if (big if) successful, then fledging numbers were a little higher for grouse moor nests than those on other moors.
It wouldn’t be possible, I think, to repeat that RSPB study these days – there aren’t enough Hen Harriers on grouse moors these days.
The argument that Hen Harriers need grouse moors, or even that in the real world they benefit from grouse moors is ridiculous. We’ll call it the ‘cuddle from a ‘keeper argument’ from now on. But you will see it over and over again, and the repetition may ensnare the gullible.
Getting it wrong factually, 2: the Red Grouse is a uniquely British species. You might expect grouse shooters to know about grouse, wouldn’t you? Tim Baynes of the Scottish Land and Estates was quoted in BBC Wildlife magazine as saying ‘The red grouse is the only bird unique to the UK‘. Not true. Not true at all. The Red Grouse is a race of the Willow Grouse or Willow Ptarmigan which is found widely across Europe and North America (click here and here). So, it’s not a unique species to the UK and there are lots of British subspecies of bird – loads of them.
Getting it wrong factually, 3: Red Grouse need grouse moor management to survive. Tim Baynes was also quoted as saying ‘Management has ensured the survival of the species, while the bird has almost died out on unmanaged moorlands in the west of the UK.‘ Let’s go back to the first point – the species is the Red Grouse/Willow Grouse/Willow Ptarmigan which has an enormous world range in which driven grouse shooting is an eccentric British pastime – Red Grouse don’t need shooting to survive.
Have a look at the Atlas data to check how accurate you think Tim is. Red Grouse have certainly lost some ground since the first breeding Atlas (in the east and the west, and the south too) but there are lots of Red Grouse away from those areas in the east and south of Scotland, and northern England, where driven grouse shooting predominates. Most of those grouse are living quite happily at low densities not being ‘farmed’ for grouse shooting. And they are living alongside, and sometimes being eaten by (that’s life!) Hen Harriers. There are certainly high densities of Red Grouse on grouse moors – there are higher densities of chickens in battery farms than there are Red Junglefowl in jungles – and your point is?
Getting it wrong politically, 1: Not leaving any harriers in England. There were just two pairs of Hen Harrier in England last year (science suggests that suitable habitat exists for over 250 pairs). Hen Harriers are being persecuted to English extinction whilst grouse moor interests are seeking a negotiated settlement in a Defra talking shop.
This is not an industry that looks as though it wants a solution, or balance, or a compromise – it looks like it is hell-bent on eradicating a protected species from England. How could any decision-maker feel sympathy for an economic interest that says it might suffer from the activities of a species that has been wiped out in those areas? That’s a big mistake. No grouse moor owner is suffering from too many Hen Harriers. A fully-protected species is suffering to the point of national extinction from too much grouse shooting. Where would your sympathies lie?
No-one will trust the shooting community to allow scores of Hen Harriers to survive when Hen Harriers are pushed ever closer to English extinction. And nor should they. There is no sign of good faith and no evidence that those who are doing the talking have any control over those who are doing the killing.
Getting it wrong politically 2: not shifting your ground at all. It may be arrogance, but if not it’s foolishness, not to give any ground on anything. That’s particularly true when one side of the debate is carrying out criminal activities – breaking wildlife laws. Some of us might well have been far less grumpy had grouse shooters engineered a way to accept vicarious liability or licensing in England. I’ve never thought that either would be a complete solution to the problems from grouse shooting, because those are far wider than just illegal killing of wildlife, but we wishy-washy nature conservationists are always keen to be fair and to accept a compromise, but none has been offered.
It’s a good way to alienate those of us who have looked for a solution for many years and push us into alliances that we would never have dreamt of in the past. Grouse shooters have proved to me that there is absolutely no point in being reasonable with them as a group, though I can get on perfectly well with many as individuals, because they won’t give an inch. This attitude alienates the undecided and the wavering.
Getting it wrong socially: being rude in public. I have had abuse from lots of quarters for standing up for nature. In the past, I used to get paid for it, now I just do it as a hobby! I don’t really mind very much (obviously I do a bit) but I’d advise those who are pro-shooting to be a bit more careful what they say on social media because they are in the public eye. Here are some things that have been said about me on Facebook and Twitter since launching this e-petition. All of them are by people who, as far as I can recall, I’ve never met and never spoken to:
- ‘arent these e-petitions brilliant If you have a personal hatred of something you can simply fill 1 in and suddenly feel important’ @killingham ‘Bladesdale Pointers’ who describes himself as ‘working pointers on the moor, shooting, field trialling, drinking and cocking about’
- ‘If it was’nt for the grouse shooting there would’nt be hen harriers as there would be sod all grouse, it’s about time Mark Avery OPENED HIS EYES and see the bigger picture, people like Mark Avery only see what they want to see and then tell lies and after so long of telling lies they then believe those lies theirselves.‘ Robert Betts on Facebook (on the Guns on Pegs page). (note this repeats the ‘cuddle from a ‘keeper’ nonsense.
- ‘My thoughts are the mans a cock!‘ Fraser Tolmie on Facebook (on the Guns on Pegs page), to which I couldn’t help reply ‘That’s a thought is it?’
- ‘It more anti propaganda. I doubt he is even a proper doctor and has just put that at the beginning to make him look important.’ Dean Grooms on Facebook (on the Guns on Pegs page).
and on an international level
- ‘Can we ban stupid people instead?’ @GRAAmerica Gun Rights Across America which is, in their words, ‘ a citizen led grassroots effort to protect & promote the 2nd Amendment on a local, state, & federal level.’ And. to be fair. I had quite a good chat with them on Twitter afterwards.
Well that’s me told and, obviously, convinced too! Who wouldn’t be won over by such reasoned argument?
If you think that grouse shooting has got it wrong, or you just don’t like it, then please sign this e-petition that passed the 2000 signatures mark, yesterday morning, on Day 5 of its life.