Banning driven grouse shooting – a summary of the issues

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

I’ve written quite a lot over the last few weeks about driven grouse shooting and why  I want to see it banned in England.

I’ve had lots of responses too – on this blog as comments, on Twitter, on Facebook, by e-mail and face to face. Here’s a summary of what I think are the strongest arguments for and against signing my (our) e-petition.

The arguments for banning driven grouse shooting:

  • the dramatic population-scale impacts that criminal activity associated with grouse shooting has on protected wildlife such as the Hen Harrier
  • the unpleasant scale of legal killing of foxes, stoats, mountain hares, crows etc associated with grouse shooting
  • the damage to blanket bogs from ‘over-enthusiastic’ burning
  • the amount of public money, your taxes, that prop up this land use
  • the landscape impacts of intensive heather-burning, building tracks, car parks and grouse butts for grouse shooters
  • the carbon impacts of intensive moorland management for grouse shooting
  • increased risk of flooding through intensive grouse moor management
  • increased discolouration of water, increasing water bills, through intensive grouse moor management
  • the human health impacts of medical residues and lead levels that may be found in grouse meat
  • restrictions of access to open moorland because of grouse shooting
  • killing wildlife is wrong
  • eating wildlife is wrong
Photo: Tim Melling
Photo: Tim Melling

That is a re-shaping of the list I produced (with links to evidence) a couple of weeks ago.  This time I have listed the reasons more or less, without agonising over it, in order of importance to me (most important first).  All of those reasons affect me a bit – and different ones will affect different people differently. I guess some people will start at what is the bottom of the list as far as I am concerned and that will convince them on its own.

The counter reasons for not banning driven grouse shooting seem to me to be these;

  • I don’t like banning things – it’s a sledge-hammer to crack a nut
  • not every grouse moor manager is a criminal
  • grouse moors are good for some wildlife (they are – but see answer here)
  • the alternative is worse (it isn’t – see here)
  • the rural economy benefits from grouse shooting
  • all the arguments above are factually wrong

That’s the list of arguments I produced a couple of weeks ago and, again, this time I have put them in what is for me, the decreasing order of persuasiveness (for me). Clearly, for me, the arguments against don’t weigh as heavily as the arguments for – but you see what you think.

I haven’t really dealt with the money issue at all yet – and I’m not going to here and now either as I think it is entirely trivial. but eventually I will.  Instead, I will deal with the top two arguments (from my perspective) in the list above and why I find them unconvincing.

Photo: Tim Melling
Photo: Tim Melling

Not every grouse moor manager is a criminal: true, but not all the arguments that are important to me (and others) are about criminality so that doesn’t matter. Many of the faults of grouse moor management are the result of entirely legal activity.  That was easy!

Banning is too extreme: this is still the argument that weighs most strongly with me, because I am a wishy-washy liberal who likes being nice to people.  And so are most of the conservation and environment movement who will be nodding in agreement over my list of ‘reasons to ban’. The temptation is to treat each of the ‘reasons to ban’ as a separate issue and negotiate on each to seek gradual improvement but that is very difficult and so far hasn’t worked. It’s the system of land management that is wrong and it needs to be swept away.

Whether to ban driven grouse shooting is about much more than the lack of breeding Hen Harriers in England – although that is an excellent example of how talking to grouse moor interests for decades has seen the situation get worse rather than better.  It is about a whole system of land management – only by banning driven grouse shooting can all its deleterious impacts on the environment and society be tackled.

Fullscreen capture 03062014 211155And little progress can be made on these issues by talking to grouse moor managers. There has been no progress at all on the subject of Hen Harriers.  There has been no progress on the level of burning of blanket bogs on the ground – quite the opposite I feel. There has been little progress on moorland restoration to provide enhanced ecosystem services except on land managed by NGOs and in a very few other places.

And so, when individuals and organisations decide whether or not to support this e-petition they should think across all the important issues and see whether they can think of how best to address all of them.  I’ve come to the conclusion that picking them off one at a time is hopeless – the time is right to say ‘Enough!’.

Grouse shooters have been playing, quite adeptly, to keep these issues alive but in the long grass.  Help me expose them by cutting the grass – please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England and joint thousands of others who have signed in the last few weeks and will sign in the coming many weeks.

hen harrier



33 Replies to “Banning driven grouse shooting – a summary of the issues”

  1. “It is about a whole system of land management ” – so why not be far more prescriptive about what management is allowed and where – whether its associated with farming, leisure, power generation, grouse shooting, deer hunting or whatever. You haven’t really answered that question (IMO) a car park is a car park whether it’s for tourists or grouse shooters.

    Also I’d really like to hear what you think will take it’s place and what your vision for that is and how we can shape public policy to make it happen. What do you want Mark? A ‘rewilded’ landscape, large scale wind farms with associated roads &c or what?

  2. Ah many thanks I just have. I’m not totally convinced our uplands will remain wind farm free into the mid term future however you may be right. I’d like to know however if you would want them to be wind farm free and if so why and if it’s even possible to meet or targets for carbon free generation without them being on the uplands.

    I very strongly agree with your vision of a mosaic of land uses but what confuses me is why an element of grouse shooting should not form part of such a mosaic into the future. Especially as grouse moor management does seem to promote a particular habitat that does seem to have benefits for some species. It seems to me that many if not all of the ‘bad’ aspects you highlight also pertain to at least some other land uses which presumably would form part of such a mosaic.

    I just think there is a different more inclusive route to get to where you want to get that doesn’t involve a complete ban which probably isn’t going to happen anyhow.

    I hope you will at least continue to consider constructive and imaginative alternatives.

    1. giles – plenty of room for walked up grouse shooting which doesn’t suffer from the excesses of driven grouse shooting.

      1. Trouble is, it doesn’t offer the same degree of sporting challenge either. It’s never going to be as commercially attractive; there’s never going to be the same level of investment in terms of management input; in turn, it’s never going to produce anything like the conservation benefits that management for driven grouse shooting unquestionably does.

        As I said in a previous comment several years ago, it is no coincidence that one of the key objectives of Langholm 2 is to restore a viable DRIVEN grouse moor.(

  3. Totally agree with all your reasons against driven grouse shooting although I admit I am against shooting wildlife (or anything else). Firstly I agree with your point above, that it is wrong and secondly, along with other killing ‘sports’, it destroys the environment, encourages the destruction of competing wildlife and is generally an anti-social, elitist activity. Signed and shared.

    1. Hi Jill. What’s your feeling on people driving herds of deer out of cover with dogs and then gunning them all down as they flee?

  4. Ok so just to document how this fits in with current and proposed legislation :

    Foxes, hares, deer &c can be flushed with dogs but must then be shot asap

    “pest” birds can be flushed but must not then be shot asap unless they come back

    Grouse can be flushed with dogs and shot can be flushed by beaters but must not then be shot – or does some “walked up” use beaters?

    (If it’s all the same to everybody I will just continue not shooting anything whether or not it’s criminal for me not to.)

  5. – ‘killing wildlife is wrong’
    – ‘eating wildlife is wrong’

    I agree with 10 of the 12 reasons, but the latter two points, when applied generally, don’t make a lot of sense to me and I’m not sure your campaign to ban driven grouse shooting (which I support and have signed) is well served by them.

    I’m quite partial to both wood pigeon and rabbit and at certain times of year both species feature regularly in my diet – providing they are killed in a humane manner, I really don’t see anything wrong with this.

    1. Ernest – I tend to agree with you – and that’s why I put them on the bottom of the list. Some would put them at the top. All are welcome to sign the e-petition and 4146 have.

      1. Especially as he is not campaigning to ban grouse shooting but merely driven grouse shooting. It will be interesting to see how the law differentiates between them. I assume the key factor is the beating or it maybe the number of guns/beaters used? The law would have to be clear and draw a line between legal actions and illegal ones. I’d be interested to know what Mark wants that line to be.

        Others who know more about this may have views on how driven grouse shooting could be legally differentiated from walked up shooting. Both quite obviously involve people pointing guns at grouse and killing them.

          1. Hi Mark thanks. It is a relevant question as to how driven grouse shooting will be differentiated from other forms of grouse shooting in your legislation. I’d be interested to hear your views on this. I’m sure you’ve thought about it and know far more about the subject than me. I fully admit I had not realised that you only wanted to ban one form of shooting and I do feel more comfortable with ‘rougher’ less industrialised activities.. best wishes

    2. Indeed, it could even be argued that eating wildlife is more ecologically sustainable than ploughing up forests and prairies, and sowing mono-cultures of corn, soya, etc.,etc. Perhaps you could rephrase the wording to,”Shooting wildlife as a pastime is wrong” and leave out the eating bit.

  6. OK – so let’s assume Mark’s spent 2 two weeks drumming up 5,000 signatures – the RSPB has over 1,000,000 members – 5% then !

    So where’s Mark going wrong?

    1. Trimbush – 0.5% actually – much worse. But this is one of the more successful e-petitions. I’m very pleased with progress so far.

      Where have I gone wrong – not having the email addresses of 1 million people?

      1. You’re right 0.5 – (soory folks) but you’ve also got some 14,500 twitter followers – come on – get it in gear


        1. Trimbush – it’s a marathon not a sprint. Plenty of initiatives planned. How many signatures by 12 August?

      2. btw I’d even consider it if you could say exactly what you intended the law to be ie what limit on beating activities/ number of guns &c you have in mind. Would one beater and one gun count? How about the use of dogs? There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of detail.

  7. I’m not a huge fan of banning things, as either its a bit heavy handed or the legislation does not work particularly well. As the shooters have poured scorn on the less extreme solutions, such as licensing of grouse moors, banning driven grouse shooting makes sense to me. I have no problem with shooting, and some control of predators, provided it is done legally and does not result in an intensively managed landscape. I love eating roast pheasant, although I have never tasted grouse. I have for some years been involved in monitoring and, on the rare occasions when a male meets a female, protecting Hen Harriers when they nest. So, for those reasons, I would gladly see the back of driven grouse shooting.

    1. Phil – thanks. Your views are very similar to my own, then. I prefer a decent roast pheasant to grouse. I was once given grouse when staying at the house of a grouse moor owner – he clearly was expecting me to say something – so i said ‘It it’s good enough for Hen Harriers it’s good enough for me’ (not everyone laughed).

  8. Trimbush,not so much where Mark is going wrong more like where RSPB going wrong when top bods backing a petition and promoting people to sign on banning Diclofenac while doing absolutely nothing to help Mark.
    How can that stack up.

  9. Hi Mark,

    I’m an RSPB member who is aware of – but hasn’t (yet?) signed – your petition. Perhaps I’m a wishy-washy liberal too – but the ‘banning is too extreme’ argument is certainly a strong one for me. Is there no way that this could be continued under license, with the license contingent on implementation of a specific set of measures that would negate the ecological damage associated with the pursuit? I’m hugely sympathetic to many of your arguments – but I’m also a pragmatist. Banning something seldom achieves the desired end, and can heighten conflict. Conservationists increasingly find that working with stakeholders is more productive than working against them. It’s frustrating that grouse moor owners have not ‘put their house in order’ – but I still feel that banning is too binary. Surely the challenge is to find a solution that all parties can accept, and to move to a full ban only if that fails?

    All that said, congratulations on drawing attention to this important issue.

    Best wishes,

    1. I very much agree with you Phil – it seems to me that it is not the driven grouse shooting per se that Mark is objecting to but some of the consequences – so why not restrict or further regulate some of these consequences + also encourage other better ones.

  10. Mark. I’m not going to comment on any of the other points, but you’re missing some important information on moorland restoration. Yes, most has been on utility and other public land and NGOs, but some of this is grouse moor and there’s been some restoration on private moors. Our Moors for the Future project is delivering. Catch up on your facts on this one. Jim

    1. Jim – nothing I said contradicts that and your point doesn’t contradict me. There is some restoration – there is too much damage. Thank you for your endorsement. Indeed, your National Park includes some excellent examples of damage – that’s why some of them are being restored, isn’t it?

  11. All life is sacred
    I cannot understand why grown mainly men think its exciting to shoot a bird out of the sky what damn right does he have to do such a appalling act.
    I only hope that karma will get all who kill our animals and birds.

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