There are many reasons to be opposed to the intensive management of our uplands to provide high-cost days shooting. But let us set aside the arguments on water quality, destruction of blanket blogs, carbon loss and the scale of legal killing of wildlife, and think only of the illegal killing of birds of prey – most particularly Hen Harriers, Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons.
Nobody seriously denies that the scale of illegal killing is immense, that’s what the science says, and it’s what quite a lot of shooters say too – although, wisely, they always say it’s someone else not themselves. And it may be to a large extent. With Hen Harriers, because of their biology (being more like soup than mashed potato) it doesn’t take everyone to be killing these birds for nobody to have them on their land – when you take the plug out of the bath all of it empties, not just the column of water above the plughole.
And that is the answer to the question about why the RSPB doesn’t have Hen Harriers on their land in northern England, or the National Trust, or Natural England – it’s because practically nobody does because there aren’t any left! It’s not a very difficult question to answer really is it?
With Golden Eagles, the grouse managers of northern England are behind a ‘firewall’ of grouse shooting estates in eastern and southern Scotland. It is on those moors that wandering eagles meet their end and so it really must be very rarely that Golden Eagles are killed on English grouse moors – they just don’t reach them very often, even though the habitat would be suitable for a few pairs.
Peregrines, however, are a different matter and most English grouse moors that don’t now have Peregrines using traditional nesting sites have to be strong candidates for estates that are breaking the law. Strong candidates, I say.
The removal of protected birds of prey from our uplands is illegal but not illogical. If your aim is to provide lots of Red Grouse for you and your friends and paying clients to shoot then it isn’t illogical to want to remove their natural predators. That’s why there is such legal carnage of predators such as stoats, crows and foxes on grouse moors, and why some ground-nesting species benefit, but it’s also why there is such a great deal of criminal killing of protected wildlife including raptors but also badgers and hedgehogs too.
Gamekeepers have rightly taken the view ‘If they eat it, we can’t shoot it’ for decades and they are right. The Joint Raptor Study at Langholm showed that there is a real problem for driven grouse shooting if a grouse moor sees a big build-up of raptor numbers – at Langholm it was a terminal problem – shooting in the form of driven grouse shooting with big bags became unviable.
Langholm 1 ended 17 years ago. Maybe we nature conservationists should have taken a harder line from the start – but we are wishy washy liberals and therefore are always looking for a middle ground compromise. Maybe we should have realised that the biology of the situation, combined with the vested interests involved, meant that there would never be a move to the middle ground. The middle ground was seen to be substitute feeding – a technique that has been shown to work at Langholm 2 and for which there was plenty of evidence of efficacy after Langholm 1. But it has always been the nature conservationists, the wishy washy liberals, who have been keenest on testing these methods whilst grouse moor managers have intensified the management of moors and the numbers of raptors has fallen.
Now at Langholm the head keeper seems to have buzzards in his sights. And, of course, we are always told that raptors flying across a shoot will ruin the day too.
Maybe we should simply accept the fact, that I believe shooting organisations have done, that you can’t maintain driven grouse shooting without breaking the law. Of course, they don’t say that – but their members behave like that. And we should respect their decision – they are probably right. You probably can’t have driven grouse shooting and remain within the law.
So, if driven grouse shooting had lots of other public benefits we would have a difficult decision to make, but since it doesn”t then we don’t. If you can’t have a profitable driven grouse shoot without breaking the law yourself, or relying on someone else to break the law for you, then let’s not have driven grouse shooting at all.