Arguments to make you pause before signing this e-petition

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.

Please sign my e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

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.




21 Replies to “Arguments to make you pause before signing this e-petition”

  1. Thanks for this. I haven’t signed your petition just yet – my uncle is (or was) an estate manager for several grouse moors, and my grandfather is a retired hill farmer. Both readers of Songbird Survival, so fairly anti-raptor (thankfully they haven’t influenced me thus). Actually, the first time I ever heard of a man called Mark Avery was when my grandfather sent me a newspaper cutting about you, with ‘Public Enemy #1’ scrawled across it.

    But I agree with all your points, and have done for a while, so I think it’s about time I got round to signing it. Your vision of a mosaic upland is a hopeful one, which presumably will have the added benefit of providing a little bit of something for everyone.

    The balance between management and rewilding is a difficult one (for me, anyway). How do we decide whether we prefer harriers or golden plovers? If we stop the management of uplands all together, and let it revert back to scrub and woodland, then the hen harrier would probably be lost altogether – back to the ‘natural’ state. And if we want to rewild back to the ‘natural’ state, why bother protecting farmland birds? Presumably many of them are recent colonists to our once-emerald island from the more naturally open habitats on the continent? Only here because we cut all the trees down? I don’t much like rabbits (I think I’m an ecological snob), but by keeping the sward short they provide an extra bit of habitat, and an extra bit of biodiversity? What about grey squirrels? Little owls?

    These are just some of the thoughts which sometimes bounce around my cranium. Thanks for providing a place for them to fall out, and apologies that it got a little off-topic.

    1. Tom – they are good thoughts. Keep thinking. Thank you for your valuable comment.

    2. Tom, I like your thoughts very much. But it is as well not to see it as an either/or. The alternative to grouse farming is not re-wilding, however attractive that might be for some places. Realistically, for most places, it will be best to move to a new management regime. As in the NT and the Peak District. And that is where Mark is spot on that we, as the public and as long-standing public funders, have a right to contribute to the decision-making.

    3. Tom – take comfort in the simple fact that all of these upland species naturally live together and have done so for thousands of years…they have strategies for breeding and survival that use the natural habitats and each other to work out a successful balance. Its not all as rosy as it sounds, its not always smooth (I wouldn’t imagine a curlew eating a grouse chick unless I had seen it), but the proof is in the fact that they all still exist. They don’t need our “help”!

    4. Tom,

      I normally only comment on here in a personal capacity, however let me pick you up on one misconception in your Comment. SongBird Survival is not anti-raptor, it is pro-songbird, particularly those songbirds that have and are declining rapidly.

      I am personally very pro-raptor and have spent a lot of time watching and photographing them over the years. I have no truck with illegal raptor persecution and have said so here, on this blog and elsewhere, on a couple of occasions.

      You are correct about the balance between management and ‘rewilding’ being a difficult one. There is a lot of ideology involved in all this, and vested interests. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the coming decades. For an alternative, non-establishment perspective, I can recommend Dr James Fenton’s fresh thinking on a whole raft of issues that effect the Scottish north & west highlands, see here – There may be quite a bit of read-across to the English, Welsh and Irish uplands too.

    5. Tom – have you read of Oliver Rackham’s Woodlands on the Tansley and Vera models of wildwood? Sounds like you would enjoy it. Possible that our emerald islands weren’t all closed canopy forests but were part savannah, though difficulties with both models. Enjoyed your comment.

  2. Mark, I wish that you would not help perpetuate the myth that Lapwings are moorland birds. They are upland fringe birds – check out the BTO Atlas data. I saw a presentation by one of their staff on upland birds and Lapwing did not occur enough to qualify. If you check, you will see that they are not even an assemblage species for upland bird SSSI notification – the late Derek Ratcliffe drew up this list and few people know more about upland birds than he. Yes, a few pairs of Lapwing are found on grouse moors but they are pitifully small numbers. Turning the Lapwing population declines around is not going to be achieved via grouse moor management.

    As for management of the uplands. In the UK there is over 1.5 million hectares of blanket bog (around a quarter of a million hectares are in England). This is a climax habitat – if the right species are there it will look after itself – lets be clear – it does not need management. Getting the right species on the bog involves sorting the hydrology and allowing the bog to recover – this recovery will not take place under rotational burning. Other habitats will require some form of intervention but not necessarily at the intensity of management that is typical for driven grouse shooting.

    If driven grouse shooting stopped tomorrow it would be the single greatest thing that has happened to the natural environment of the uplands since the ice retreated.

    1. Oh Bertie! – welcome back! You are right to a large extent. It’s just that I have seen a lot of Lapwings over the last few days on grouse moors, and running around on heather. But perhaps the argument applies even better to Curlew. I was falling over backwards to be fair – but do I get any thanks for it??

      The grouse moor managers keep on and on about the higher densities of breeding waders but they are less keen to talk about the predator control behind these numbers. I can understand why. And then there are all those mountain hares which are killed too.

      Your last sentence is a very striking phrase.

      1. You should know you will never get any thanks for being fair! Maybe that is what is wrong with all the people who want more harriers and undamaged blanket bog – they are just too nice and reasonable. And we all know that it is unreasonable people that really make the difference in the world.

        I agree with Greenfly – the best week ever on your blog. I have been more than happy to sign up for the cause. So thanks for everything and don’t be too reasonable!

  3. Thank you for this blog post Mark. I think your arguments in favour of a ban on driven grouse shooting are spot on. Keep up the great work!

    1. jon – thank you! Now, please, get a friend, or two, or three, to sign too. Get someone at work to sign. Get the barmaid in the pub to sign. that is your challenge to add to your voice! But thank you for what you have done.

  4. Mark if effort equals reward then you deserve all you get.
    Sorry folk cannot help but compares Mark’s efforts for Hen Harrier with that of RSPB who just do not want to know and did have at least the decency to say they were banning me by a email for various things I had said about their Hen Harrier stance or perhaps rather the way they put it their neural stance on any shooting.
    How funny they put on the email it could not be forwarded to anyone,how pathetic as that is something I have never done anyway and of course it would not stop me from disclosing what it said

  5. There are some regular contributors to Marks blog who may find it strange that I’ve not contributed to the debates this week, that is because I have been in hospital for an operation and am only now catching up.
    Firstly well done Mark! great arguments well put!
    Ian Coghill would like us to go for the DEFRA plan whatever it is, I know some of what it contains——- brood management and supplementary feeding.
    The second of these according to published evidence reduces the grouse chick take by Harriers by about 86%, a good thing, but complelety removes the harrier from the local ecology— they eat mainly the food provided OK in the short term to get numbers up but long term not a real option, especially as the population hopefully grows. Who pays? currently I think NE, it should be the moor owner every time.
    Brood management this involves removing the young of nests which take harrier predation above a damaging threshold, rearing them elsewhere and releasing them when they fledge ( harriers are not taught to hunt by the adults) It works in France for harriers in crops. Who decides the critical figure at which it comes in? The model developed by Steve Redpath et al at Aberdeen using Moorland Assoc provided grouse densities showed for every 5000 acres of moor there should be 2 pairs of harriers without damage, remember that one, without damage.
    Ignoring the overall population level that would make any brood management acceptable this ignores supplementary feeding, taking that into account its 14 pairs per 5000 acres before damage———know a moor owner who’ll wear that I don’t.
    I suspect that GWCT, NGO, MA et al are keen to sign up to the plan because there appears to be no fall back position, if it fails and lets be blunt here they have in the past consistently failed to deliver. There is no if this fails we will bring in licencing or vicarious liability or those moors where it appears not to have been adopted loose all their Gov’t grants for 5 years or are banned from shooting for x years. No penalty clauses, no risk and that is why many of us on the pro harrier side are very unhappy at this “plan” It also fails to address winter roost killing where most harriers are probably lost nor persecution of other protected species nor some of the poorer management practices. THIS IS WHY WE SHOULD ALL SIGN THE PETITION.

  6. Much as I admire the staff in our hospitals and especially the nurses and ancillary staff in Littondale Ward at Harrogate Hospital where I was. A week in abdominal pain sometimes severe and now as weak as a kitten, still with some pain and apparently with as yet no gain, hence I’m a little low at the moment but I’m sure I can only get better. Thanks for your kind wishes Mark.

  7. Here’s an interesting thought… if grouse moors and moorland edge are now the most significant/important habitat for waders (lapwing, curlew, golden plover) where they have been driven out from previous habitats of lowland grassland, meadow, marsh and fen by agricultural intensification, who is the “blame” for this turn of events? The rich lowland land owners maximising profits from agricultural intensification? I suspect – though it’d be difficult to prove despite knowing of a number of direct examples – the very same people who in many instances own the grouse moors. And the very same people using conservation of ground nesting birds such as lapwing and curlew to justify heavy-handed predator control and otehr spurious managament devices subsidised by the public purse when in reality they’re just interested in maximising the grouse bag. Just a thought.

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