Is this pretty?

Heather burning is vitally important to grouse shooting.  Burning the heather on a rotational basis, every few years, creates a pattern of young and older heather.  The younger heather produces green vegetation that is eaten by Red Grouse whereas older heather provides more nesting cover.

Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns
Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns


This image from talented wildlife photographer Peter Cairns shows the scale of burning in East Scotland that characterises driven grouse moors across the UK. When you see this type of landscape it brings home the message that this is not a natural landscape – it is a highly managed one.  Driven grouse shooting is dependent on a burning regime, uncompromising ‘vermine’ control, the provision of medicated grit as a medicine, grouse butts for shooters to shoot from etc etc.

Heather burning Great Hograh moor. Photo: Colin Grice
Heather burning Great Hograh moor. Photo: Colin Grice

Taken as a whole, the intensive management of the uplands to provide expensive shooting days for a few people creates a range of environmental and social problems.  The illegal killing of protected birds of prey is just one of a wide range of consequences of this land management.  The pursuit of higher and higher grouse bags (hunting totals) is behind this intensive and uncompromising land management.

The burning of heather on drier areas of moorland is not opposed by wildlife conservation organisations but, as is so often the case, grouse moor managers push things too far.  Too much burning is done of the sensitive areas of blanket bog – the damper areas where Sphagnum mosses are working hard to make peat!  The RSPB has called for an end to the burning of blanket bogs   and the National Trust is moving away from this particular form of intensive management to a more natural approach on its land in the Peak District.

I wonder – when you go to the hills, do you want to see a scarred and burned landscape which is solely like that because of the urge to produce unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse to be used as living targets? Is this landscape pretty or damaged?

Please sign my e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting which is approaching 4000 signatures in its third week. Thank you to all who have signed and sent messages of support.

Goyt Valley, Derbyshire
Goyt Valley, Derbyshire





45 Replies to “Is this pretty?”

  1. No. These images remind me of the feeling I got standing looking at Malta’s killing fields – something just looks ‘wrong’, then you twig why: because when you can read the signs both are unnatural and managed so that a few people can shoot a lot of birds. These photos show little more than grouse farms, yet another intensively altered landscape sold to us as ‘natural’. These once-beautiful moors are now ugly places devoid of compassion. They make my heart sink.

    1. Mr Moores you talk about ‘compassion’ – how about some ‘compassion’ for the people that your organisation LACS films?

      Note by Mark: the rest of this comment has been deleted as it is off subject and I find it really quite offensive (about others, not me). The deleted comments relate to activities by the League Against Cruel Sports of which Charlies Moores is a member. They might be relevant if this blog post were about LACS, or if Charlie Moores claimed to be talking on behalf of LACS, but even then they wouldn’t be acceptable as a response to Charlie talking about what the view of a grouse moor looks like.

      giles – don’t go too far in your comments, please. I don’t like ‘banning’ comments, but I will do if that’s the only way to make this blog environment a good place for all – see what I did there?

      1. Hi Mark -I think it’s a shame you deleted it, Mr Moores is not only a member of LACS he is a trustee and he has a responsibility for it’s conduct and for the compassion it shows to certain sections of the population. I’m sorry you found the post offensive however that facts as stated are verifiable and yes they are offensive. There are things that go on which people find a little hard to stomach. However society is slowly changing and these things are coming out into the light.

        I think it’s a shame that you might ban me I actually think I have quite a moderate stance.

        1. giles – don’t misquote me. I won’t ban you – I appreciate your comments here. Just don’t overstep the mark (no pun intended) or I will edit your comments and point out where and why I have. Don’t play the martyr – I cut you quite a bit of slack here – and you know it.

  2. I believe that grouse moors look a lot more intensively managed due to burning being carried out using tractors and swipes. Going back not so many years there was no straight edges to the fires therefore the look was a lot more natural. Wether this is down to greater intense management I don’t know but it is down to natural England regulating burning to a certain degree because some of their burning plans.i.e. max size of fires etc is impossible to stick to if no swipe is used. I think it looks dreadful and should go back to how the old keepers used to burn – small in width any length fires with unevenly shaped edges. Maybe it’s not the estates only to blame for the ugly sights of our moors who knows?

    1. Bill – thank you for your comment but the main image is from Scotland so blaming NE is rather unconvincing. ‘The conservation authorities made me do it’ – not really.

  3. The history at Geltsdale changed in the late 1970s and 1980s when the moors were ploughed 40 yards apart with agricultural grants to dry up the peat so that you could burn to the drains without any problem. The modern cutting at Geltsdale is to create heather bails so that these drains can be blocked and the peat re-wetted. Given that the wetter it gets the less the heather grows most Red Grouse moors will continue to push for dryer conditions.

  4. If we are worried about how the uplands are managed might an alternative approach be to have regulations preventing or restricting certain practices? For example we have rules about when hedges can be trimmed and how much nitrogen is put on the land. I wonder if such an approach might be more effective. It might be that it didn’t. completely ban burning but restricted it to a percentage of a land holding and also to a pattern. Upland landowners might also have to leave a certain amount of land unmanaged. In this way you’d no doubt get a bit less grouse shooting but not eliminate it and it’s wildlife benefits but also encourage other habitats and land uses on the uplands. I’m also confused as to exactly what your law would ban. Am I right that people wold still be able to shoot a grouse but not if it had been scared out of heather?

    1. giles – you must read my blog at 9pm this evening (which I had already written when your comment arrived) and which answers your point here.

      1. I look forward to that. Given that you may not actually get driven grouse shooting banned although you might exert a certain amount of pressure for change re hen harriers &c it’s probably good to consider other routes in tandem.

    1. giles – I don’t think that either – that’s probably why I didn’t say it. Straw man.

      I wonder whether anyone has ever seen Lazywell, Ian Coghill, Keith Cowiesion and giles at the same place at the same time? they feel like they are taking turns here? Of course, they are all very welcome.

      1. I wasn’t intending to imply that you had said that. There’s probably quite a lot most of s agree on whatever ‘side’ of the debate we are on (and I reckon there are more than two)

      2. Mark,

        I have no idea what you are on about – were you at the wine again last night? (Cowieson is the correct spelling BTW).

        To the best of my knowledge I have never met Lazywell (whoever he/she is) or Giles, though I did meet Ian Coghill once last year, at the Game Fair or suchlike I think.

        As to taking turns, you will be pleased to know that I am now back in Cornwall so no more ‘actual’ observations from the Scottish Highlands for a bit. Have to content myself now with soon-to-fledge Peregrine, recently-fledged chough and my small local colony of Corn Bunting, amongst others.

        However, my overall abiding impression of the central and north & west central Scottish Highlands was that waders are having a great year so far, particularly on the grouse moors that I straveged across. And I covered a lot of ground and climbed many hills in two and a half weeks – birding with a purpose and all that.

        It was spooky that you should be blogging daily about grouse moors when I was floundering, daily, through the peat bogs and often thigh deep heather on many such Scottish moors – great for comparing and contrasting your generalisations with Scottish ‘ground truth’.

        Highlights of course were the profusion of breeding waders – many of them of the amber and red-listed variety – probable breeding Wood Sandpipers, a couple of Golden Eagle sightings, ghostly, almost floating, short-eared owl hunting, breeding Black-throated Divers, couple of capercaillie, good numbers of passerines – particularly tree pipits and mistle thrush on the woodland margins and in the isolated stands of trees, and more common sandpipers and sand martin colonies (on virtually every exposed sandy river bank) than I have seen for years. Stacks of grouse and dotterel, ptarmigan and snow bunting above too.

        As to Peter Cairns’ photo ‘…showing the scale of burning in East Scotland that characterises driven grouse moors across the UK…’ all that I can say is that it does not characterise them where I have just spent the last couple of weeks – but hell, why let actual experience spoil a good story….

        Interesting to note the patches of muirburn on a section of Abernethy reserve as well – wonder what species they are designed to promote?

        1. Keith – you should have sent me a postcard. Were you really away for two and a half weeks – how time flies. That’s all it took to get 4000 signatures on my e-petition.

          1. Mark,

            You really need to get out more often……Try the Scottish Highlands for a real tonic…..

            Better still, since you kindly showed me Stanwick Lakes earlier this year, let me take you on one of my favourite outings, starting off in the glen with shed loads of Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew, Snipe, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Meadow Pipit, Black-headed and Common Gull, Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, Grey-lag Goose, Red-breasted Merganser, Osprey, Buzzard and possibly Golden Eagle followed by a climb up the lower slopes with Golden Plover, Curlew, Red Grouse, Wheatear and Ring Ousel, culminating on the tops with Ptarmigan , Dotterel, Raven and possibly further Golden Eagle.

            Next year – how about it?

        2. It sounds to me like there are good and bad consequences of grouse moor management and that it is possible to take a position in the middle ground that sees to make the most of the good aspects while minimising the bad ones. Such a position would of course be an anathema to Mark who adopts an extreme banning position.

          I’m interested in the concept of banning. driven shooting because it seems to be a third strand in a developing complex area of wildlife guidance and law surrounding the flushing of animals to guns. First we have the Hunting Act which stipulates that animals can only be flushed if they are then shot effectively banning animals from being scared with dogs and not shot. Then we have the proposed ‘scare before you shoot” guidelines which I understand will insist that you first attempt to scare the animal off and only if that does not work can you optionally shoot it. And now we have Mar’s proposal which appears to allow either flushing OR shooting but not both at the same time. With all three of these options they wouuld seem to have pretty much all bases covered.

          1. giles – how odd. You say I adopt an ‘extreme’ banning position. Maybe it is extreme but you can’t be right to say ‘of course’ unless you have some reason to think that I always have an extreme position or have entered lightly into this one. There is plenty of evidence to show that neither is true.

            Our society uses ‘banning’ for lots of things we think are bad. Often things that some people really, really want to do – but we don’t let them. Examples include: driving a car when they are 12, driving a car when they are drunk, killing people, selling drugs, enslaving people etc etc. There isn’t anything new about banning things – and I agree it isn’t always an easy step to take. Once taken it is rarely reversed though and future generations wonder what all the fuss was about. It’s a serious step, not to be taken lightly. I haven’t reached my position lightly.

  5. Horrible, ugly and a symbol of greed it what these images look like to me. Like Bill I can remember not so long ago less intensive and less unnatural looking burns but and it is a big but they were still representative of a mangement well past it sell by date, we know better now surely. Grouse moor management and shooting should be seen as an anachronism in the modern world and beon the way out. Incidentally the use of medicated grit has allegedly increased the average “take on Pennine Yorkshire moors by 300%” and they still cannot tolerate the protected raptors—— greed indeed and complete contempt for the rule of law.
    Given that England currently has 3 harrier nests being wardened and otherwise all being done for them to produce young what will happen when they fledge and disperse ? Will there be a more enlightened attitude or will it be the same old same old with most birds lost to winter persecution?

  6. To me the sight of a managed heather moorland now symbolises predator persecution and the death of much of our diverse upland wildlife !! plants included !!

  7. Thanks for the name check, and I am happy to chip in as ever. And for the avoidance of doubt, I can confirm that I don’t do so as part of any bizarre conspiracy.

    I have to say though that I am disappointed by this somewhat misleading post. I guess the question as to whether the results of muirburn are “pretty” or not is subjective; for myself I do not regard it as offensive as you suggest, either in itself or for what it represents. Yes, of course it is evidence that grouse moors are a managed environment; that is verging on the trite. The real question is whether the management technique is broadly beneficial, and here I am frankly astonished that you don’t acknowledge the conservation benefits that controlled fires can bring to other bird species besides grouse. Why no mention of the Andy Tharme paper, for example? (

    I acknowledge there is a genuine issue about burning on blanket bog, but as it happens your main photograph is an excellent example of best practice (Moor C?), according to the Scottish Government’s Muirburn Code:

    1. Lazywell – ah Keith must be having a nap – but I do only need Ian Coghill for the ‘set’ today.

      You are astonished are you? Perhaps you missed the mentions the week before last of higher densities of some species on grouse moors – at the expense of course of all those stoats, foxes, crows etc, and the occasional Hen Harrier too. Don’t worry if you did miss the previous mentions, they’ll be back later this evening.

      I do like your comments (you are my favourite – but don’t tell Trimbush, Keith or Ian). I like the way you write things such as ‘this somewhat misleading post’ and then neglect to bring forward any evidence that it is misleading. It seems that we disagree on whether a grouse moor landscape is pretty or not, fair enough (but see lots of comments from others who seem to share my sense of the aesthetic) and you castigate me for not writing a longer essay dealing with every matter that is exercising your mind at the time. That doesn’t make it misleading you know?

      By the way, the Countryside Alliance regard Red Grouse as ‘a completely wild bird’ despite the fact that it is practically farmed in the uplands with all that burning, predator control, medicated grit etc.

      1. Yes, I have studiously followed all your earlier posts. But this one was specifically about heather burning, and you gave the impression that red grouse are the only beneficiaries. That is misleading. I don’t expect an essay, but I do hope you’ll be fair.

        As for your suggestion that the intensity of grouse moor management means that it is no longer a wild bird, what about the intensity of habitat management, control and modification at Minsmere that was shown during Springwatch? It is fully set out on the RSPB’s website:

        I’m certainly not criticising the RSPB for the way they fulfil their management objectives at Minsmere; and if Minsmere is one of the few RSPB reserves that undertake predator control then so much the better. But it would be manifestly absurd to suggest that the wealth of wildfowl and waders that benefit there have somehow ceased to be wild.

        1. Lazywell – yes that would be manifestly absurd, I agree.

          I might well have given the impression that the motivation for all that intensive management was to produce unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse so that people can shoot them. I think that is perfectly fair.

          I think the post in question is rather good – but that’s just my opinion. Except it has attracted 30 ‘likes’ to a single ‘dislike’ – was that you, or is the dislike score going to double now?

          Thank you for making me read it again – I have corrected a couple of annoying typos – they always seem to get through – never give me a job as a copy editor!

          1. “I might well have given the impression that the motivation for all that intensive management was to produce unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse so that people can shoot them.”.

            the motivation of all our hedgerows is to produce unnaturally high densities of grazing animals so we can kill and eat them or at least drink their bodily fluids.

      2. Blimey Mark,

        On the wine already? At 3:58PM – bit early on a Sunday perhaps?

        Sorry to debunk further your conspiracy theory, but have spent the whole afternoon mowing lawns – pay back for 2 and a half weeks in Scotland – not colluding with anyone who has the audacity not to agree with you, and has the temerity to say so.

        Anyway, you up for a bit of a Scottish moor yomp next year? You could then take your own photos of the devastated moors and paucity of birdlife to illustrate your blog…Oh and make your own observations of the biodiversity therein……

        Lazywell, Giles,

        Greetings – looking forward to meeting you both some day

        1. Mowing lawns? Good grief man – creating a semi natural monoculture on land you own. How dare you! Please sign my petition to ban gardeners. Have some compassion. Think of the natural succession!|!!!

          1. Giles,

            Good point – though to be fair, I have left the recommended unmown strip – and am monitoring with interest…..

      3. Mark I’ve not been able to reply to your comment re “banning” due to comment depth.

        I’d like to as you a question and also point something out. You give various examples of things that are banned and it seems to me these fall into two camps. Firstly we have things like – slavery, murder, child abuse (you may want to edit that one out due to ‘sensitivities’ 😉 😉 ) then we have things that aren’t really completely banned but are regulated in various ways such as drugs (some freely available, some regulated some prescription only, some prohibited) drink driving – tolerated under a certain limit although never a ‘good thing’.

        It seems to me that those in the former camp are always wrong for example a 40 something an abusing a 5 year old boy – that’s plain wrong. Murder might be a little more complicated we actually tolerate assisted dying to an extent even though it is probably technically murder in some circumstances.

        Other things we in fact don’t have such cut and dried laws over because they are both good and bad. For example drugs which fall into different categories.

        With respect to Grouse shooting I’d like to as you a simple question which is with respect to conservation and the environment do you consider it’s effect to be:

        a) all good
        b) all bad
        c) a mixture of good and bad (expand ion proportions if you wish)

        See what I mean about there being more than two sides to some issues?

        Btw I’m not sure about your argument that because we banned some bad things it must be ok we also banned things like homosexuality, women owning property and voting so not all bans are always good.

        One final point are you actually opposed to an approach which would restrict/regulate/ameliorate some of the bad effects of the grouse shooting industry rather than destroy it?

        Many thanks

    2. Hi Lazy well – one of the issues around abandoning one type of land use is what succeeds it. Conservationalists often assume that this will be better but this isn’t always the case. They are proposing stopping farming on about 230 acres 20 miles down the road but the land isn’t likely to revert to a wildlife paradise. Instead of scrub followed by bio diverse broadleaved woodland it looks like it will be concrete, tarmac followed by burger king, Marks and Spencer and Next but the developers have promised not to cut down any trees so no ecological impact obviously.

      If we are going to produce a substantial amount of or power from wind then I strongly suspect that the succession from semi natural heather moorland will involve many miles of access roads, massive wind turbines on many thousands of tonnes of concrete and huge ditches dug and refilled for cables.

      Whether or not that’s a good thing is the subject of an important debate – lie with many things I am in to minds. Whether or not it is prettier will of course depend on ones aesthetics.

      We have nine turbines being built here next year and while I can see there is an environmental case to be made for them in terms of carbon dioxide reduction I find it hard to see there is in terms of making my locality ‘prettier’.

      Mar will no doubt consider this to be ‘off topic’ but I think it is important to remember that in this crowded isle if you stop one land se you are likely to get another.

      1. giles – it is mostly off topic but I know how sesnitive you are to criticism. The main point, which i think I discerned in your comment – is dealt with in this blog post

        You could also do with checking your typing – you seem to miss out quite a few letters: in the comment above I assume that should be ‘TWO minds’ not ‘to’, ‘LIKE with many things’ not ‘lie’; ‘MARK’ not ‘mar’; ‘ONE’S’ not ‘ones’. you see – every word matters to me. Maybe your keyboard sticks – I have that problem with my laptop sometimes.

      2. Hi Giles.

        I have very strong views about some things, as Mark knows full well, but I remain rather equivocal about wind turbines, both for aesthetic reasons and also because they don’t seem to work very well. On the other hand, when thinking in the longer term, I can see that it is necessary to have a broad energy mix. Furthermore, from what I understand about wind farms sited on grouse moors, and sited sensitively generally, they don’t seem to result in a serious conservation deficit; certainly grouse don’t seem to mind them. Plus, I know of moor owners who have gone down the wind farm route and have ploughed much of the income generated back into their grouse moor, with positive benefits not just in terms of the grouse population, but biodiversity generally.

        The most likely alternative land use as far as I can see, if driven grouse shooting really were to be banned, is an increase in the amount of forestry that would be planted. As it is, the UK has something like 75% of the world’s remaining heather, and markedly more of this rare and precious resource has been retained on managed grouse moors than elsewhere. (See figure 3 on page 13 of the following report: In his purported attempts to provide balance in the arguments for and against driven grouse shooting, I feel that Mark could perhaps have made more of that.

  8. Blimey Mark,

    On the wine already? At 3:58PM – bit early on a Sunday perhaps?

    Sorry to debunk further your conspiracy theory, but have spent the whole afternoon mowing lawns – pay back for 2 and a half weeks in Scotland – not colluding with anyone who has the audacity not to agree with you, and has the temerity to say so.

    Anyway, you up for a bit of a Scottish moor yomp next year? You could then take your own photos of the devastated moors and paucity of birdlife to illustrate your blog…Oh and make your own observations of the biodiversity therein……

    Lazywell, Giles,

    Greetings – looking forward to meeting you both some day.

    1. Keith – I have obviously overrated your sense of humour – I do apologise for that.

      Ask me nearer the time about a yomp. Maybe!

      You seem intent on making out I have never seen the grouse moors of which i speak – ha ha!

  9. Mark,

    And I think you don’t understand mine at all……sigh!

    Ref Scottish moors – not at all, but I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Time has moved on since your last visit I expect.

  10. The management regime at the Hawk and Owl Trust’s Fylingdales Moor includes controlled burning, but much less intensively than grouse farming.
    this has resulted in an increase in breeding merlins. I’ve even seen a ringtail hen harrier there, but I didn’t give much chance on the surrounding grouse moors.
    An accidental? fire a few years ago resulted in the discovery of previously unsuspected archaeology, and the moor seems to have recovered well.

    1. (apologies in advance this is mainly a rant at mark but derives from your comment)

      Oh but the Hawk and Owl trust have the white cowboy hats on surely? Are we saying that they burn moors too but in their case it’s a good thing? If this is true then surely which people burn the moor is not really the issue but rather the extent to which and how they burn the moor.

      Of course that would be to accept that moor burning is neither always good nor always bad (as opposed to posh people with guns and tweed who are always bad and conservationists who are always good) (or visa versa depending on your political taste).

      If we went down that route we might end up with a better (or worse) set of regulations which controlled how and when and where people can burn moors. Such changed regulations would apply to the good guys and the bad guys equally which seems to me to be the essence of liberalism. Let’s be honest – even good guys can be bad now and again.

      We could even take such an approach further and look at all the bad things that grouse moor owners do (and indeed other people too although there probably is no one badder than a grouse moor owner) and either ban, restrict or regulate them too depending on whether they are all bad or partly bad.

      Killing hen harriers – for reference would fall into the all bad category – IMO.

      What I’m getting at is a simple philosophy – the law should prohibit what is ‘bad’ and regulate what is good and bad to make it better.

      It’s utterly ludicrous to suggest that there should be a distinction between people that drive grouse towards guns and those who walk them up such that the former should be criminals and the latter not. If you are against shooting grouse per se then fair enough but to discriminate on a criminal basis in that manner is nuts. What should be criminal or at least what’s criminality is worthy of debate is certain management practices that may well be undertaken by or on behalf of people that shoot grouse in the objected to fashion. You say that the uplands are highly protected but not, it seems from being turned into a barren monoculture.

      I feel the same about people that chuck rubbish from cars. It’s disgusting and wrong as is killing hen harriers. However I don’t want to ban car drivers – at least not for that reason I just want them to stop chucking stuff out of the window ( and running people down). That’s already illegal so what is needed in that instance is better enforcement.

      Mark, you are going down the wrong road (IMO) pretty soon you will be colluding with the type of people that fraternise with #####es (self censored) in order to film the children of people with BLACK cowboy hats (themselves wearing teeny teeny prototypical BLACK cowboy hats). There is too much division and hatred in the world especially when there is so much we have in common. I am sure some of those black headwear wearers love the moors and the wildlife on them as much as you do with your shiny white so luminescently good it may almost be radioactive headgear.

      If we agree that shooting grouse should be legal (and you do) then what we should focus on is not precisely how the grouse are shot but rather restricting, banning or regulating activities on the uplands that cause damage.

      1. One more comment which is that you might well ask if you could find evidence that some or maybe all of these evil grouse moor owners were on a regular basis strewing their take away carry outs all over there grouse moors would I ban driven grouse shooting then.

        The answer as you might have guessed is a firm no. I’d continue to ban and hope to further enforce the laws against litter.

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