Banning driven grouse shooting – a message to wishy-washy liberals

Photo: Tim Melling
Photo: Tim Melling

Our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England is going really well – yesterday (we are still in Week Four) it passed 4600 and 4700 signatures.

One of the reasons why some of you will hesitate to sign it, as I hesitated to launch it, is because you don’t like banning things (or at least you think you don’t).  Here is a guide for why you should get over this hang-up from one, me, who was hung-up on it for ages too.

  1. I don’t like banning things: well, you say that, but it isn’t really true, is it? Are you campaigning to relax the banning of murder in our society and instead try to persuade murderers not to be nasty to their victims? I doubt it. Are you wondering whether the abolition of slavery was a bad thing and hankering after a time when you could chat up slave-owners and show them the error of their ways instead of forcibly banning their practices? I doubt it. You see – you do like banning things, it’s just that you’re not sure about banning this thing. Have another look at the case against driven grouse shooting and read the rest of the points in this post and then stop being wishy-washy and be decisive.
  2. I don’t mind banning things it’s just that grouse shooting doesn’t seem important enough to ban: how strange of you! It’s partly because grouse shooting is a minor event in terms of the number of people involved and its economically trivial value that banning it is a no-brainer. All these things are a question of balance and if grouse shooting really were important to lots of people, or economically, then we should pause much longer for thought, but a niche fieldsport that involves killing things for pleasure is hardly in that category is it?
  3. OK, I don’t mind banning things and grouse shooting isn’t very important but it can’t be that big a deal can it?: well, at least you are getting to grips with the issue now! Thank you. I can’t think of another industry which is so trivial in importance but whose impacts on wildlife are so huge – can you? Many species of protected birds of prey are either absent or at low densities on grouse moors, and nesting success is very low too.  This is a countryside industry which harms the countryside. And then there is all the heather burning, access closures, water problems etc to take into account. Look again at the issues involved and think about them please.
  4. OK, so I don’t really mind banning things and grouse shooting is hardly a human right and it does cause a lot of harm but can’t we improve it and make it OK?: you really are wishy-washy aren’t you? There are several answers to this. First, there is a form of grouse shooting, walked-up grouse shooting, that doesn’t have all the faults of driven grouse shooting and those it does have it has in smaller quantities.  This e-petition explicitly is aimed at driven grouse shooting because of its unacceptable impacts on soils, water, landscape, wildlife etc. Second, the ills of grouse shooting are systemic – it’s difficult to remove them without just getting rid of the land management system as a whole.  That’s a fault with the current Defra-‘led’ discussions on Hen Harriers – they are only seeking to address part of a bigger problem (and aren’t getting very far with that anyway).
  5. OK, isn’t there something a bit less draconian we could do?:  I guess we could. We could introduce vicarious liability for wildlife crimes but that would be a partial solution to one of the many problems so it’s hardly the answer – and anyway, government has ruled it out.  Or we could argue for grouse moor licensing which might be a more embracing solution (though not by any means a complete one) but government has ruled that out too. And in any case, we might find that banning driven grouse shooting has more public support than either of those wishy-washy measures did.
  6. OK, so I am maybe up for banning grouse shooting because it is damaging, and maybe there isn’t another way to do it, but shouldn’t we talk to grouse shooters and see whether they have some ideas?: we’ve done that. We’ve done that in good faith but with increasing exasperation, for many many years, in fact many decades,  and it has got us nowhere. In fact, because we are wishy-washy liberals we have talked for far too long and been taken for a ride by the grouse shooting industry. While we have talked, the plight of the Hen Harrier has worsened considerably, the amount of damaging burning of blanket bogs has increased and the environmental damage as a whole has not decreased. The grouse shooting industry has shown no sign of wanting to get its own house in order. Grouse shooting has known exactly how to deal with wishy-washy liberals like you and me – they kept us talking while they kept doing exactly what they want to do.  There is no sign of good faith from them and so that persuades me that although talking was important and could have led to some sort of unsatisfactory compromise, further talking is useless. If we could find the answers by talking then we would have done by now because we wishy-washy liberals are always keen to meet the other side half-way but there has been no movement.
  7. OK, but just a little bit more talking, perhaps? Actually, no. I know what you will say, Mark, and you are right.  There comes a time when even the wishiest and washiest wishy-washy liberal has to make up their mind and take a stand. More talking won’t help, other solutions have been explored, it isn’t a big deal – let’s ban it. After all, we aren’t talking about a fundamental human right  – other countries get by without having this strange British fieldsport. And the problems caused by grouse shooting are absolutely firmly identifiable and can be attributed to that activity and no other. You are right Mark – it’s difficult though to get out of the habit of being a wishy-washy liberal.  But I’ll sign your e-petition happily now.  Thank you! Can you please do it straight away as I know you will wishily-washily change your mind again once you leave this place. I know – I vacillated for years over this subject. Please sign my e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting now and make it yours too.

11 Replies to “Banning driven grouse shooting – a message to wishy-washy liberals”

  1. The trouble with being a “wishy washy” liberal (sorry bad use of capital letters there !) is that there is always another view point this time from the RSPB Cymru’s point of view:-

    “Numbers of black grouse in North Wales are recovering thanks to habitat management and predator control, according to latest count figures released by Natural Resources Wales (NRW).”

    “RSPB Cymru Biodiversity Manager Stephen Bladwell said: “The project demonstrates how practical habitat management for conservation can work and add value to existing management and the local economy.”

    I bet they can’t wait to get grouse shooting banned, I’m sure they have loads of landowners and extra funding lined up to fill the gap.

  2. I must say that I thought driven grouse shooting had gone from Wales some years ago, it would be a retrograde step if its returned.

  3. It’s not wishy washy to oppose a ban it’s a considered view of the facts. More waders on grouse moors than on the RSPB’s land and wider diversity. And of course there are the unique grouse that disappear without management. Rather bans are ignorant of the true position and have to, as Mark’s article, appeal to inconsidered moral pressures divorced from real life.

  4. In a vole year there has been a massive expansion of the Short eared Owl population on an RSPB reserve. The neighbouring Red Grouse moor showed only 1 bird while on a 6 mile walk. The voles were there but not the Short eared Owls. With now 9 Hen Harriers with eggs and young at Langholm How many harriers will there be on this same Red Grouse moor next year given we are looking at least 40+ young coming from these nests? Diversity Mike includes all species not one!

  5. brilliant, a perfect skewering of the attitudes on both sides! (small error check: the last hyperlink doesn’t go to the petition as I presume it’s supposed to)

    1. m parry – thank you. And thank you for pointing out the ‘wrong’ link – I have changed it.

  6. Mark.
    It’s not often I think of myself as “wishy washy”.
    But maybe I am (or was) regarding subjects such as this.

    You know, for years now, I wouldn’t have considered adding my name to a petition to ban any “field sport”.

    I always had in mind that it might be the thin edge of the wedge.

    Ban (even) fox hunting and you’ll end up banning falconry.

    Ban grouse shooting and eventually fishing will go too (be that coarse (angling) or game)

    I’m quickly realising that might have been a silly way of looking at it though.

    So thanks for the breakdown.


  7. This is a really interesting topic and some great informed and considered debate and points made.

    What seems to be lacking though is a follow-through from the points made about comparing a grouse moor with an RSPB reserve; this point is much wider than such a simple comparison. We need to consider what would in reality replace driven grouse shooting. This has many elements and the answer is not simple. Will walked-up grouse shooting on the same land provide enough income to keep the grouse moors going for walked-up sport? If so, what will be the environmental benefits (and costs) of this change in focus? If not, what will happen to the land instead? I think we have to assume some kind of economic activity will occur on most of it, ie it is naive to assume it will all become managed like a nature reserve, or even left to be truely wild. Will there be increased sheep numbers, and if so what will that mean for the habitat and environment? Perhaps some of it will become forestry. I’d like to see a more thorough examination of and comparison with the alternatives.

    Julie Black

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