Guest Blog – silence of the guns by Rob Yorke

me.norway-1Rob Yorke (@blackgull) is a hunter naturalist and rural commentator based in the Black Mountains of South Wales. He carries, at times, both a gun and binoculars and outlines below a possible scenario set in northern England after a ban on driven grouse shooting has been in force for a number of years.

The characters are fictional – the web links real – it’s up to you as to how the scene plays out in reality.

The young gamekeeper, Terry, has been in south west France on a conservation course involving the relocation of Montagu’s harrier eggs and chicks from nests in arable fields about to be harvested.

Based on this secondment, he was full of new ideas around his new job as under-keeper on a grouse moor in the Pennines. Unfortunately, his arrival at his train station had been a muted affair, for what Terry’s father had told him, shattered his dreams of the pioneering ideas he was proposing to bring to his new job.

Newspaper clippings lay in a neat pile in his parent’s sitting room at home. ‘Driven grouse shooting banned across England’ was one of the less lurid headlines. One particular bird of prey had been become an icon. The hen harrier (global population of ‘least concern’) but increasingly rare within the UK partly due to illegal persecution as a result of the conflict with driven red grouse shooting (found only in the UK) by the harrier’s tendency to eat the surplus grouse managed by game keepers before they could be shot.

His profession had become defunct.

Terry needed to get some air. He drove towards the hills on the warm spring morning and passing through the fields of one of the farms just below the moorland, Terry stopped the car, amazed by something he’ll never seen before. A male hen harrier was quartering the rough edge of a grass field. He was delighted to see a harrier on home soil (rather than all those French Montagu’s) but intrigued as to why it was so low down off the moorland.

The bird disappeared out of sight, Terry drove on up and was greeted by a sight that caused him to let the car roll to a halt. Tears pricked in his eyes as he surveyed the scene in front of him. A massive wildfire had swept across hundreds of acres of peat moorland, uncontrolled, a black line stretching as far as the eye could see into the horizon, the breeze carrying grey ash to his nostrils and settling on the stream.

Gamekeepers gone, there had been no strips of controlled ‘cool’ burn fires that just removed specific areas of old heather to enable new shoots to emerge for young grouse, other plants to thrive such as orchids as well as act as fire breaks. The arsonists had had free rein to torch the winter dried leggy, over grown heather; destruction complete, the hot burn of an uncontrolled fire digging deep into the peat releasing tonnes of carbon.

He noticed an unnaturally bright green area in the distance. Getting closer, he could see that the moorland had been converted to intensive grassland; drained and stocked with sheep. The loss of investment in moorland for grouse shooting had encouraged the owner to sell off chunks to eager farmers. Unlike the mainly privately funded grouse moors, it was acknowledged that some of the publically subsidised farming practices had caused a long term decline in wildlife on this fringe land.

It was time for a walk. Terry was used to the open moorland, so strode off up through the thick heather but when it became waist height with areas of bracken threatening to tower over his 6 ft height, he had to turn back to find the well tramped footpath.

An old sign erected by an raptor-watch group offering a reward to those reporting anything around ‘death, injury or disturbance to hen harriers’ had weathered over the years. This protectiveness had caught some unintended victims. A local raptor-watch member had been being jailed for over zealously protecting a hen harrier’s nest causing it to desert; walkers had been fined for unknowingly coming close to where harriers nested and there was even talk of overuse of satellite tags weighting down young birds.

The hill should have been alive with grouse setting up territories but his walk was becoming uncannily similar to one he had undertaken in the desolate uplands of mid Wales. Nothing stirred but the odd meadow pipit. No curlew or lapwing but plenty of crows feeding on plump carcasses of foxes killed on the roads. The fox population was here to stay and burgeoning. Thriving on voles in deep cover, snacking on the last remaining grouse and waders, some foxes had even snatched female hen harriers off their nests. By day, the foxes hid out in the new conifer forests being planted on the once purple heather slopes. The bees had long left their foraging grounds and the village stores recycled their once famous heather honey jars.

Terry needed a drink. He wanted to talk to others about how this come about when he had so much promise, as a new generation gamekeeper, to see a way to end to this long running conflict. There was no doubt that keepers were encouraged to kill raptors. It was all written down in books on game-keepering from 60 years ago. It was even an obligation in the National Trust’s agreement with shooting tenants in the 1950s.

But things had moved on, but some hadn’t.

The first person he met in the pub was a National Park warden whom had known Terry’s uncle who had been a gamekeeper. He had given it up after a few years having fallen out with his employer based on pay for the tough working conditions and run-ins with aggressive deer poaching gangs. The extraordinary early and late hours and lonely hours had taken their toll on him.

He had become disillusioned by the animosity building between shooters and conservationists who he thought might have been on the same side. He had become angry with both parties. There was no doubt that raptors had an impact on red grouse but those greedy landowners who turned a blind to illegal killing of raptors or even encouraged it, were on a self destructive path to see the end of shooting. He was just as infuriated by those that held raptors up to be sacrosanct without exception, unaware that raptors have to co-exist alongside human activities in the same area and how in other parts of Europe, raptors were actively managed to the benefit of both the birds themselves and humans.

If you could ‘control’ bullfinch under licence for eating commercial crops, why couldn’t you non-lethally manage raptors for the same reason?

His uncle sensed that he was resented because he a carried a gun as part of his job, yet he understood and loved nature greatly. The two, in his mind were inseparable, part of the same equation when managing some wildlife; whereas some keepers saw it as their duty to eradicate as many predators (though some observers though this just meant raptors), his uncle had started to weight up the much harder, expensive option of improving habitat and only managing those predators that had a direct impact on the wild game birds he was husbanding in the uplands.

A rain shower battered the pub’s windows. Volatile weather  was a big player up here in the uplands and the complexity of how this played out within the interaction of habitat and predators was still poorly understood. There was an ongoing ten year demonstration project in southern Scotland but some observers, impatient to wait until the end of the project in 2017, were jumping to conclusions that some techniques were the silver bullet to ending the conflict. In England, the government had worked up a joint management plan but this had not been published due to intransigent positions and fear of ‘adaptive management’ involving some tough decisions in the requirement to manage wildlife in balance with other valid concerns.

No one had really bothered to understand why keepers became so protective of their charges – a farmer with their livestock, a shepherd with wild animals – a deep seated ‘fear’ of hooked claw, sharp beaked, and carnivore toothed predators taking their stock. No one really saw or perhaps wished to see, that the keeper’s role had a wider beneficial effect on other wildlife, enhancing habitat, creating much loved landscapes.

The warden reminded Terry of when he had helped keepers erect signs explaining that the use of crow traps on the moorland were integral to not only benefitting grouse broods, but a wider selection of upland wildlife. The inception of the Larsen trap had been sanctioned by conservation organisations as a tool to assist keepers replace the use of poison which had been stopped for the control of predators. But few wanted to understand the notices and traps were frequently vandalised by those not bothering to wonder about the lack of curlew in the marshy upland areas. The SSSI status of the moorland had deteriorated once driven grouse shooting had been banned – made worse by the recent spate of massive wildfires.

Terry was immersing himself in detail that flew way over the head of most people. Why should we be interested in a remote land nowhere near where most of us lived when it had been much easier to press a laptop key to ban something unpalatable when the reality was that much more was at stake?

A retired policeman who had organised the beaters for the driven grouse shooting was particularly morose. The disbandment of his merry gang of beaters – youngsters who came out from town in a mini-bus every season – had left him bereft on the loss of his sense of position in the community. Even the butcher now only stocked traceable French farmed rabbit to replace the wild grouse that once supplied an active seasonal market and two of the local hotels had folded on the lack of visitors to the now desolate abandoned moorland.

However, discussion in the pub was still earnest, still surprisingly ambitious though tinged with realism. Can we learn to compromise, back down from entrenched positions, landowners seek better management plans to produce commercially viable bags of grouse to then plough back investment into enhancing moorland for wider public benefits? Predators to be controlled only where this resulted in an increase in grouse numbers and upland waders; raptors managed to ensure that both they and the rural economy thrived, thus providing a social and financial structure crucial to keeping some of our wonderfully remote places alive into the future.


95 Replies to “Guest Blog – silence of the guns by Rob Yorke”

  1. Forgot the nuclear holocaust, mega-tsunami and destructive comet impact. All of these could happen and effect the uplands too.

  2. sorry Rob – that one goes on the shelf between Jack and the Beanstalk and Enid Blyton – I won’t scare the kids by reading it to them though 😉
    Being a selective controller of nature to support an industry? How is this being a naturalist? #justasking

    1. Pray Rob, to which industry do you refer? On this heavily human influenced island the ‘industries’ of conservation, food production and shooting all have valid concerns that can, if we really work at it, deliver win;win scenarios.
      The RSPB controls red deer at Minsmere to prevent them eating all the habitat and now has to fence out ‘swimming’ badgers to stop them eating avocet chicks.
      Perhaps the seal loving polar bear children’s book wasn’t scary enough

      1. I’d hope Rob that you can see the difference between fencing off Avocet to give them a helping hand to recovery in the UK as opposed to predator removal from upland Britain through illegal means. I’m sure you don’t advocate the latter by the way although clearly the industry that gains from production of Grouse might well differ.

        1. Rob. Don’t mix your legal predator control with your illegal raptor killing. Know you didn’t mean to, but plenty still do.
          Musing, I sometimes wonder if some are just anti all shooting rather than pro the best for hen harriers.

          1. Rob – it is perfectly OK, intellectually, for someone to be anti-shooting you know, even if that means they don’t agree with you or me.

            It is perfectly possible to muse that some are so pro-shooting that they will ignore any harm that shooting does to continue with their sport.

            I doubt whether you are pro ‘the best for hen Harrier’ as I would guess that the best for hen harrier might involve employing harrier keepers, rather than gamekeepers, to carry out some of the management that exists on driven grouse moors and then never shoot/kill/transolocate a hen harrier. That isn’t what you want is it? I didn’t think so.

          2. Rob, just so you’re not left unclear, I am anti-shooting only if it involves killing for sport rather than need, illegal killing of any protected species and legal control of any species where not the absolute last option available.
            So – not anti-shooting and therefore not the sterotype many might like from the pro-ecosystem, pro birds of all type, pro nature of all type, brigade.

          3. @Rob – what’s your view on when the law requires animals to be shot?

            Would it be better to illegally not kill something for the sheer pleasure and personal satisfaction to be gained from sparing a wild animal’s life or to legally kill it when required to do so thereby risking causing it considerable pain and making yourself miserable in the process?

            For me a good day is when I go out have a good time and nothing gets hurt.

        2. Replying to Mark below (no reply button below his comment..I get the hint!)
          Let’s rename gamekeepers/harrrier keepers just as ‘adaptive wildlife managers’ (AWMs)- in that way they will not be forced to focus just on one species whether grouse or harrier but on the widest ‘suite’ wildlife possible.
          Alas, not all is possible because problem is that grouse are the meal ticket not just of harriers, but for the moor’s management and until we can channel money into showing harriers as another ‘meal ticket’ to pay for the moor’s management, the husbanding of grouse takes the ticket. Alongside with the unpleasant persecution of raptors.
          That’s why we need *****keepers (AWMs) and your inclusion of translocation of harriers alongside killing them, is disingenuous Mark.

          1. Rob – as you well know, or should do, Meadow Pipits and voles are the Hen Harriers’ meal ticket. Red Grouse are just an additional extra (which has serious implications for the economic sustainability of driven grouse shooting, I know).

            The Red Grouse of the rest of the world, quite a lot of the rest of the world, manage to survive without having an industry based on their killing. So it isn’t the wildlife that needs the moorland management, it is the industry based on a drastic skewing of moorland ecology that needs the management.

          2. I’ve read the full Langholm 1 report (Jct Raptor Study) and harriers, as generalist predators, will take grouse when in abundance alongside their general prey as you mention.
            Mark, as you should be aware, the red grouse is a distinct endemic species only found in the UK. Interestingly the RSPB states that the population is declining due to less moorland
            And as you know, moorland requires management otherwise it reverts to scrub. Not brilliant for harriers or grouse or waders but great for Monbiot’s wild boar (if they can face the bracken).
            Drastic skewing of UK ecology is ongoing through out the UK (partly due to 5 million more humans since 2001) and partly due to more intensive use of the lowlands, much of the wildlife has retreated to the moorlands. i.e. More cuckoos here on the fringe of moorland.

            Thanks for your work on this – let the debate unfold to result in beneficial, perhaps a tad unpalatable to some, solutions that work for all!

          3. Rob – Red Grouse is generally not regarded as a distinct endemic species.

            Of course, Red Grouse is declining because of loss of its habitat – a lot of it has been turned into grass and trees. That doesn’t mean we have to put up with illegal wildlife crime on some of its remaining habitat. And, no, we don’t have to find a solution that works for all. we could just stick to the law.

            The last time I was on a Dorset heathland I didn’t see a bunch of men in tweed burning it, trapping mammals all over it, slyly bumping off the Hobbies that nest nearby and then closing it off to me so that they could shoot Dartford Warblers there. Yes moorlands need management but they don’t ‘need’ driven grouse shooting. The only people who ‘need’ driven grouse shooting are those who enjoy the ‘sport’ and those who profit from it. It’s a pretty thin base of necessity, I’d say.

            I did like your Guest Blog very much. Although you write a lot of nonsense, you do write rather well – thank you.

            PS my epetition passed 10,900 as I was writing my reply to you. 11,000 by the Inglorious 12th, or even by hen harrier Day on the 10th, looks quite feasible now.

  3. Our Terry must wonder how it ever came to this, how was it that between the years of 2001 and 201x the eradication of predators, in particular the persecution of legally protected birds of prey became so intensive in order to appease the greedy who demanded such high bags and yet they stood by and said and did nothing.
    How it had become so that in areas where previously there had been sustainable populations of breeding raptor species, the status quo became no longer acceptable, to such a degree that not one pair of Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Buzzard or Raven was allowed to exist let alone breed and raise a family in our countries national parks, where the burning regimes became so intensive that the impacts on all other biodiversity were detrimental to the very real conservation benefits that once existed from the practices he spent his short life perfecting.
    Did he wonder if perhaps by speaking out earlier, by rallying his colleagues and engaging the very people who didn’t want shooting banned, but wanted the ‘balance’ to be restored to a somewhat more level playing field, they might have managed to avert the disaster that lay before him?
    Did he think back to all the conversations behind closed doors where they agreed with each other about how things could not carry on as they are, how they couldn’t or wouldn’t speak out about the very illegal activity that led to the demise of not just their livelihoods, their interests but also the well managed landscapes they were once responsible for? Or did he simply shrug his shoulders and blame those that were willing to listen and work alongside them but were never given offered the opportunity due to Terry’s peers demanding that the deck is always heavily stacked in their favour and using their ‘clout’ to ensure that they are protected whenever their illegal activities are discovered.

    This year in this area we have seen a change, the start of what could be a massive step forwards for all sides, the animosity is starting to drop, some species have had a fantastic breeding season from conversations taking place it appears in many areas both sides agree and so we are hoping that the first steps to avoiding the above scenario might have already taken place, what will the future hold and what part might Terry play in it, will he be a pioneer for the future or will peer pressure lead him down the same path as his seniors, could he have got here at just the right time to make a difference?

    1. Mike. A fine take on the matter. You and me could continue the next chapter based on dismissal of old peers to bring on new pioneer gamekeepers. Or shall we rename them ‘adaptive wildlife managers’?

  4. And my understanding of the raptor capture-release program referred to here was in an entirely different context; i.e. gaining an understanding of how capture-release projects for the purpose of increasing globally threatened species (eg Mauritian Kestrel) would affect individuals once released by using the Montagu’s harrier as a model. Am I correct?

    If so, to ‘hijack’ this paper to serve an economic argument, now lost, just goes to show the desperation and straw-clutching that pro-shooting lobby finds itself in. Of course it also demonstrates a total disregard to hen harrier ecology. In effect, they are trying to argue the status quo with this idea of translocating hen harrier. If the status quo remained with translocation, I suspect that there’ll be hen harrier persecution parties visiting the translocation sites as well as bopping off those that dispersed in to areas where there are already conflicts. So the net result would be “no change”. Exactly what the pro-shooting lobby wants.

  5. Interesting piece (I remember reading something like it about whalers) – even managed the old tired swipe at keyboard warriors who just don’t get it and don’t understand the countryside like the author does…the fact is, though, no matter what gamekeepers might or might not do for biodiversity wildlife crime is rife in the uplands, it’s the gamekeepers that are committing it (does anyone seriously doubt that anymore?), and it’s the wildlife crime that is getting so many of us seriously annoyed. Cut out the illegal killings, obey the law, and let’s have a proper debate about the role of gamekeepers that doesn’t invoke either saints or demons.

    1. Wildlife crime is rife in my woodlands Charlie – are you going to do anything about it? You are after all a trustee of the League Against Cruel Sports – don’t you think you should be calling the police and demanding an arrest?

      I’m convinced that when I flush out deer with three dogs its better for me not to shoot them – so I simply break the law and the only basis for that is that I don’t agree with it.

    2. Thanks Charlie. I thought about the ‘tired swipe’ but then thought back on the forestry selloff and how many ‘swiped a key’ and then forgot about English woodlands. What condition are they in now?
      Hey, I’ve no doubt that gamekeepers kill raptors – no one condones this – but, as per my reference to the Larsen trap (the RSPB agreed to this trap as a new tool for keepers instead of indiscriminate poison), a way out must be found so that both well run (key words) viable shooting and raptors can co-exist. This especially refers to wild red grouse, where money for wider habitat management beneficial to other wildlife in the uplands, is unlikely to come from anywhere else.
      This is not applicable to the interaction of raptors and high density released pheasant in the lowlands – a separate matter that concerns me and deserves close scrutiny

    1. Thanks, an excellent quote that I can use to tweet out this piece to a wider audience of ecologists, biologists and conservationists

      1. Rob,

        Your most welcome, I hope you got many a retweet.

        You’ve certainly stirred up some discussion, 60 comments so far and only the 5 from Giles!

  6. As you are dealing in fiction and alternative plots and endings all the rage how about this….

    …. Get Terry to travel back in time to when Hen Harriers and other birds of prey are being illegally killed on grouse moors to near extinction. Then tell him to get all his gamekeeper mates to get their house in order, obey the law and to actually become, what they so often like to call themselves, custodians of our countryside and natural heritage.

    But you have been very mean to Terry haven’t you. Before his mission you have failed to tell him is that he wasting his time. You failed to tell him that for years land owners and game keepers were given opportunity after opportunity to stop illegally persecuting birds of prey but they just didn’t listen.

    So Terry’s mission fails and he is now back in present (or is that the future!), sat in the pub having a quite moment to himself. Al he can think is why his predecessors didn’t listen and didn’t act all those years ago, how could they have been so short-sighted (and greedy).

    Clearly a well educated and rational man Terry thinks to himself they only have themselves to blame.

    The end

    1. Hindsight and all that. National Trust leases that instructed shooting tenants to control sparrowhawks….perhaps all the pages should be torn out of 1950’s books on gamekeeping.
      I work with hill farmers. Changing the mindset of those working in remote, lonely, tough conditions is not easy. Nuance and understanding of the mindset is required – do we just set out to ban it or harness the ‘skills’ and turn them into force for good? Have a look at some of Steve Redpath’s work on this front and you’ll see how hard it is.

      1. Rob – we know it’s hard. So far it’s proved impossible. Illegal killing of raptors appears to be the industry’s preferred way forward and is deeply ingrained.

        1. No, most don’t know it’s hard. .
          Yes it’s ingrained, tell me about it but wouldn’t have thought it was the ‘preferred way’ with this amount of heat on it. Think Charles Clover’s rewrite of End of the Line with End of the Doubles Barrel
          I am no apologist for any ‘industry’ – shooting or conservation – as you might note by lack of comment from either ‘industry’ (to use your word).
          What, indulge me here as devil’s advocate, would happen if the selective killing of a raptor by say a NE control officer were to become legal within specific circumstances – would all this go away?
          I think not.
          So we must find a way that works for both parties (preferably without lethal control of raptors) – there’s too much at stake for both harriers, upland habitat and the rural economy not to.

          1. Rob – although it is often stated that we ‘must’ find a way that suits hen harriers and grouse shooters that is palpably false. Driven grouse shooting doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. We don’t have to let it happen here. And we don’t have to allow wildlife crime to continue.

            There is no great argument for driven grouse shooting except that some people enjoy it and make money from it – fine if they stick to the law. They don’t. Let’s ban their ‘sport’ because they can’t behave.

  7. I liked the piece, it made some good points and this viewpoint is a valid one. How ever, as it stands land owners are braking the law. It’s as simple as that. The petition against driven grouse shooting is making people who thought they were untouchable sit up and think. STOP MURDERING OUR RAPTORS.

  8. Good thought provoking piece Rob – nicely encapsulates a rather depressing ‘alternative future’. What did you model your Pennines example on, Y Berwyn?

    1. Or perhaps the Elan Valley…… see David Thomas’ post at 10:04 below….or perhaps both…..

    2. Thanks. Probably best note elements of David Thomas’s comment below.
      Here, the pretty much silent Black Mountains echoes only to the odd wild call of a ‘go back, go back’ from an iconic UK red listed species.

      1. But no doubt swarming with HH (and other red and amber listed species such as Lapwing, Curlew, Golden Plover, Black Grouse etc) given the lack of driven grouse shooting?

  9. Rob, you’re usually so upbeat and optimistic in 140 characters and yet here you’ve managed to tap in to the scaremongering and doomsday predictions that I imagine will pour out of the Daily Mail and Telegraph as time goes on.

    Isn’t the reality that if driven grouse shooting was banned most if not all moors that currently offer commercial shooting would turn to walked-up shooting? As the sole remaining form of grouse shooting the value of a brace of walked-up grouse would increase at the same time as the costs would decrease through a need for less intensive management and a reduction in shoot day costs. Given that the Moorland Association themselves state on their website “it is passion for the sport and pride in the land that drives grouse moor owners not a thirst for profit” this new equilibrium would continue to offer them opportunities for both sport and continuing to take pride in the land.

    The ‘tradition’ of the Twelfth would of course continue just without the guns, with illegal killing of Hen Harriers a distant memory the RSPB and GWCT launched their annual Big Grouse Count that brought hundreds onto the moors to count the summer’s grouse, filling the hotels and bars in what became a week long celebration of the moors.

    I’d suggest your retired policeman considers running guided walks for the youngsters from local schools to introduce them to the moorland ecosystems. Alternatively he could volunteer to coordinate the watches that the new group Birders Against Wildlife Crime had organised to prevent criminals setting moorland fires and damaging the habitat.

    1. Alan, thanks for your comment. Ah, the perfect utopia of well heeled guns strolling through well managed heather sprinkled with orchids having paid £125 to shoot a brace of grouse – that might not be found that day. The keeper, subsidised from public funds under the RDPE programme for the delivery of ecosystem services in areas physically and mentally remote to the interest of most taxpayers….
      I totally agree that shooting is not something that should be out there to make a fat profit (basically asset strip – I got into trouble at college for challenging a guest lecturer on this) but it must be economically viable enough to ‘wipe its face’ and make enough to reinvest in the management of the moor.
      As you know, moorlands are relatively recent man made ecosystems that are also the refuge of many species driven up hill by changing farming practices and agree that more involvement from society would help but with the caveat that the complex nature/human interaction is understood to a greater extent.
      Scaremongering? I’ll leave that to various conservation organisations – though sometimes wish they would highlight our own responsibilities in how we affect a much wider range of wildlife and habitat via our consumption.

    2. Alan wrote “The ‘tradition’ of the Twelfth would of course continue just without the guns, with illegal killing of Hen Harriers a distant memory the RSPB and GWCT launched their annual Big Grouse Count that brought hundreds onto the moors to count the summer’s grouse, filling the hotels and bars in what became a week long celebration of the moors.”

      That opportunity has been available in Wales for years where are the commercial visitors filling the hotels coming to see moors with NO on grouse? In someone’s imagination.
      Not one job has been produced, why would this differ in England?

  10. My fictional book ‘return of the Jacobite’ 2002 was the story of lad who started life as a game keeper and moved to conservation only for his Hen Harriers to be killed. Fortunately he had football to fall back on. MOT

  11. It might be worth pointing out that one of the main groups of people responsible for reporting wildlife crime are in fact gamekeepers – arguably far more so than any other group.

  12. An interesting “NON” fiction article. This is the reality in the Elan Valley [Powys] today, owned by United Utilities. I was born in Rhayader and part of a syndicate that rented the shooting off Birmingham Corporation. We had about four days with a bag of abt 18 brace of Grouse walked up, recorded in 1965 and a few other days of much lesser number for the following 25 years the bag dwindled to nil, the Grouse dwindled to survival status and in 1990 no more shooting took place. In 2013 I walked some of the best ground and could find no trace of Grouse. Up until 1990 many species of ground nesting birds were in abundance Curlew, Lapwing, Golden plover although never in abundance. We take no credit for this, as no keepering of any sort took place. The local farmers burnt the heather, often too large an area, to regenerate the heather for sheep and controlled the crows and foxes along with a shooting pack now banned. Sadly farmers no longer consider crow culling part of their management duties. The explosion in crows is partly the reason for decimation of ground nesting and songbirds.
    In 1983 we jointly entered an agreement with RSPB they paying half the rent and I quoit from the Western Mail 22/9/83. “The RSPB moved in to make sure that the rights did not go to a syndicate who would do too much shooting and put rare birds at risk.” The society spokesman Roger Lovegrove said “The whole of that area is probably the most important inland area in Wales, because of the Bird species.” This lease was terminated by 1990.
    What has been achieved since then is the complete destruction of many ground nesting birds. The heather is now 3ft high, until last year no management took place. A small area was brashed last year but 5,000 acres is awaiting an ecological disaster when the inevitable fire takes place. Sheep numbers now greatly reduced, is leading to the heather being taken over by invasive conifer trees and mountain ash thus, one of the rare habitats in Europe is being destroyed. Grouse are Red listed in Wales as are many other moor land birds, an abysmal achievement by managers in Wales over 30 years, one which they hope to achieve in other places in the UK. While the plight of the Hen Harrier in England is not acceptable, nor is the plight of the Grouse and other ground nesting birds in Wales. A better management plan for both is needed.

  13. Are some conservationists bad for Hen Harriers?

    Apparently I have been informed by one of the ban driven grouse shooting brigade one study showed 29.1% of failures of a Hen harriers inability to breed was down to persecution. He then went onto admit 23.6% was down to predation without realizing the blinding obvious. Even if you did ban driven grouse shooting in an attempt to stop the few idiots persecuting these great birds you will still lose an amount of that 29.1% due to their inability to control their pests.

    23.6% due to predation is an appalling lose, against farmers who`s control techniques actually cull and achieve losses of lambs to foxes at only 2%. Simply fact remains 29.1% already lost to persecution a portion of that would be predated because conservationist can’t control their pests. Hopeless.

    That is incidentally without them ever really explaining why Hen Harriers are not breeding on the larger parts of moorland not used by driven grouse shooting. Nothing to do with the fact hen harriers can view foxes from the air on moorland and this would deter them, of course not.

    So folks let’s look at where the ban driven grouse shooting brigade think Hen Harriers are doing well

    IOM – no foxes
    Upland Wales – extensive fox control
    Orkney – no foxes
    Western Isles – no foxes

    Surprise not, the reality is hen harriers are drawn to the grouse moor because there is food available and a distinct lack of Reynard, I can’t help noticing the ban brigade as they work their selves up into a frenzy with thunderclap, and Hen harrier day not one proposal on how to manage their pests a concern so great it stands to merely replace persecution as the main reason why Hen harriers fail to breed. Nothing new there then!

    Btw The League against cruel sports policy is one of of foxes controlling their own numbers, and the hen Harrier brigade welcome their support, clueless totally clueless. Sort your pests out before bitching ladies.

    1. Nigel,
      Peak district right now – extensive hen harrier removal – along with other “pests”
      Nature – natural level of hen harriers, some which will fall prey to Foxes. Net result, far more hen harriers and foxes than we have right now! Far less Grouse but don’t despair, they didn’t reach extinction from harriers or foxes long before man ever decided to invent guns.

      1. Rob,

        ….natural level of hen harriers… we dont live in a natural environment we live on a small managed island, its not America.

        1. Nigel – and at the moment quite a lot of that management involves breaking the law – unlike in America.

          1. Mark, assuming Rob refers to ‘natural balance’ such as might be found with wolves in Yellowstone Park National Park (its area 3% of the UK land mass), we should note that humans are largely excluded from these ‘natural’ areas.

          2. Rob – I’ve been there. It’s great! I spent my money there. (but the other Rob can probably answer for himself).

          3. ” I’ve been there”. I’m very jealous. I love wolves – they are the best way to keep deer in balance.

        2. very true Nigel but you can drive a bus between there being no HH and what the scientists tell us should be there. I might agree that a natural state doesn’t exist but I hope you would equally agree that what we have right now is wholly unnatural and unacceptable.
          Tollerate ecosystems and nature might just re-balance but systematic removal of predators is simply victorian practice. It’s also pretty undemocratic (assuming we imagine we live in a democracy) given that the benefactors are such a minute proporation of our population.

          1. Hi Rob,

            Thanks for your response. My own thoughts are we have created an eco-system were foxes magpies and crows thrive much in my opinion to the detriment of other species. When I was growing up I remember the biggest bird Lover I ever knew would not think twice about destroying a magpies nest insisting the damage they did far outweighed his actions and he wanted to protect the local bird life, that was a long time ago when I hardly ever say a crow or magpie. The problem is we have these wonderful folk coming out from university and making their way into influential positions thinking every one is a dumb ass especially farmers and set about putting what is a natural ecological states without humans into practise. They make excuses why numbers are falling or not breeding because it fits in with what they actually want to believe, climate blah blah. Interesting I recently had a conversation with one such individual who described farmers culling foxes as “Similarly they just presume the problem would be worse if they stopped persecuting, these are hoary old farming myths, this is not evidence based” of course fox culling decisions based on long term personal experience are irrelevant to this individual, the data he wants to believe is absolute.

            I say all this as I stare at the Natural England study and am puzzled by the amount of deaths caused by predation assuming some culling of pests is taking place?

            Agreed the illegal killing must stop. Big Raptor fan me.

            Your point on democracy, it is amazing how fast ones view can change when on the receiving end to one of a democracy should be more tolerant of minorities.

            Cheers Rob Good post.

    1. They do, but ask the Valley Hotel how much income comes from visitors coming to count Grouse? I guess not one of the jobs of the Elan Vally Trust would be there if not subsidized by United utilities. The total unfenced Moore-land is about 120,000 acres and no evil gamekeepers, how many Hen Harriers? I have seen one Male this year but I am only an occasional visitor.

    1. An excellent piece by Arjun Amar, a scientist who has worked for both the RSPB & GWCT towards a solution to this conflict.
      Let’s see if the 6 year review of the 10 year Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (joint partnership of all the above) – where harriers flourish but driven grouse have yet to be shot – can help us on the way.

  14. David the Elan Valley Trust cite 400,000 annual visitors, very few of them may go looking for grouse but I struggle to understand that this kind of footfall doesn’t sustain jobs in the area. As can be seen from the website they openly acknowledge the declines, in Curlew and Lapwing, at least but also highlight positive changes in other species. I can’t claim any local knowledge nor am I holding up Elan Valley Trust as a flagship but it does appear that there is a different side to the bleak picture you painted in your previous comments, albeit one without your niche sport.

    1. Alan,

      A snapshot from the parts of the upper Elan Vally I visited, both this year and last (in June/July), had no visible or audible upland waders that I could find. The ffrid was feet deep in places, with bracken shoulder to above head height not uncommon on hillsides, and masses of long straggly woody heather on the top. Few sheep and no native cattle visible. Tick heaven! And I had ample evidence to prove it after a day on the hill.

      Birdlife seen as follows – numerous Carrion Crows, Red Kites (dozens of them, probably going to-and-fro the nearby feeding station east of Rhayader), Ravens, Buzzards, Magpies, Meadow Pipits, the odd Wheatear and a couple of pairs of Whinchat in young bracken on valley/moorland transitional areas.

      There were no, repeat no, Lapwing or Curlew in the valley fields where one would expect them, although I did hear a Snipe chipping by one small boggy stream. And not much hope of any young waders fledging nearby, given the unnatural concentration of ravens, crows, kites and buzzards drawn to the neighbouring feeding station.

  15. Hi Rob 

    Thanks for your blog – it is always interesting to hear a different perspective on the matter in hand, even if one doesn’t necessarily agree with it. I would like to following up on what I think is a key point you are trying to raise here, that is with the cessation of grouse moor management, we can expect to see changes to both the habitat & species composition of our uplands. 

    Mark elsewhere on this blog has highlighted the fact that there are indeed a few species – notably Curlew & Lapwing (and of course Red Grouse!) that benefit from management practices such as predator control & intensive burning. In a world without gamekeepers, such as described in your blog, we could expect to see fewer of these species who’s populations are artificially boosted by current management regimes. Similarly, we can expect to see an increase of species (such as Foxes & Stoats) who’s populations have been artificially suppressed through predator control. 

    Now you can probably argue that with any kind of conservation management you are artificially altering population sizes, and you would probably be right! Taking a sinacle view for the moment, you could argue that at the end of the day, it all boils down to what species (and how many of each) we want to see in our uplands. On this note however, it is worth bearing in mind that there is a lot of appetite at the moment for “rewilding” – removing (where possible) human intervention – and so it could be that many people may actually prefer to see a “wilder” (for want of a better word) ecosystem with less intervention in the form of predator control, even if it means fewer breeding waders overall. 

    I digress however – back to mainstream conservation! When deciding how best to serve conservation through management, your ultimate goal is usually to maximise biodiversity (at least at a regional level). To this end, habitat heterogeneity is the order of the day. 

    A healthy upland would support a rich mosaic of upland heath (with varied heather structure & age – from new growth right the way through to ancient woody stuff), interspaced with patches of bare ground (to support warm-loving species of invertebrate and provide nesting areas for mining bees). Stands of scrub and bracken would be allowed to grow (kept in check perhaps by “naturalistic” grazing) to provided shelter and a valuable habitat in their own right,  while in the damper areas blanket bogs & seepages (which can support a rich invertebrate assemblage) would be allowed to recover – undrained and free from burning. What’s more, that rarest yet richest of upland habitats, woodland, would be allowed to regenerate & recolonise areas, adding a whole new dimension to the mosaic. Mark has commented elsewhere on this blog on the NT’s plans for the Peak District which is making moves in this direction as it is deemed to give greater public benefit than grouse moors.

    The fundamental problem with grouse moor management is that it excluded many of the important constituents of this mosaic, creating a near monoculture of heather. This benefits Red Grouse and a few species (such as those already mentioned) but greatly reduces the overall structural diversity of our uplands and therefore the niches available to support a diverse range of species. Even if grouse moor managers did find a means to live peaceably alongside Hen Harriers, it wouldn’t solve the underlying issue that intensively managing uplands to create the high densities of grouse needed for driven shoots excludes many other (non-avian!) species from living there. Stopping grouse moor management would mean fewer individuals of those species who current do very well out of the management regime, but it would allow many more species to live alongside them in our uplands, creating a richer landscape overall.

    Intensive burning in particular can be very damaging, especially to certain invertebrate groups. On their website, Buglife – the Invertebrate Conservation Trust state that “cutting and grazing are preferable to burning, which has a tendency to create more homogenous stand structures and is damaging to invertebrates such as mollusc.” While some burning of upland heath can be beneficial (Buglife mention the carabid beetle Bembidion nigricorne that benefits from disturbance), it is the intensity & scale that is the issue. Where burning is to be carried out, Buglife advice “a long rotation of between 10 – 25 years”, with “only small patches” being burnt in any given year. They list the following sensitive areas where burning should be avoided altogether: “exposed summits & ridges and sites above 300m in the NW or above 600m in the south and east; steep slopes and scree; wet areas on thick peat; patches of tall heather and areas of Juniper or Hawthorn scrub.” 

    At the end of the day, grouse shooting is a industry and must be profitable if it is to remain a viable business. This means intensively managing uplands to produce lots of Red Grouse, to the detriment of many other species. While driving a species to the brink of extinction in England through illegal persecution is completely unacceptable and people should right speak out against it, the issue with driven grouse shooting is about far more than just Hen Harriers. It is difficult to see how we can have diverse & species-rich uplands when so much of them are given over solely to the mass production of grouse.

    1. Marcus

      This is by far and away the best comment on this subject, written by anyone, on this blog. Well done.


      1. Agreed. Monocultures of heather, managed by rotational burning should not be our aspiration for the uplands. The kind of uplands Marcus describes would be great for Black Grouse…

    2. Excellent, nuanced (fav word of mine) reply Marcus. God, wish I had more time to comment in detail, but you know what, it’s much easier to press a button and ban it all….oops, got carried away there.
      Totally agree that producing or I prefer, husbanding (use sparingly or economically; conserve) red grouse must be balanced with other uses of, and benefit to, the land.

      Re mixed upland mosaics, the recent Brit Orthi Union (BOU) conference there was universal dislike of upland trees. Mainly conifers but the idea of trees in any barren upland places were ‘bad’ for open landscape birds. Predators – aka corvids hang in trees and eat curlew etc.

      I would love more diverse uplands but accept that where large sweeps of viable moorland are required just for grouse, they are managed well and thus subsidise the lesser, more varied areas. Same principle applies to food production.

      Let’s listen to Langholm – an SSSI, SAC & in theory, a driven grouse moor.

    3. I agree wholeheartedly with this vision of a more varied upland landscape and the persecution of hen harriers is completely unacceptable. However That doesn’t lead me to want to ban what I don’t like. I do think however there must be room for rather different regulations. How about for example grants being based on a quota of different habitats being encouraged and different regulations on the extent of moor burning? If that causes a problem for driven shoots – so be it they would just have to change or cease to exist.

  16. So many red herrings,maybes,what ifs etc,muddying everything both blog and comments.
    Fact is about the only thing we all want is illegal killing of raptors especially on Grouse Moors to stop,it seems the only way to give more Hen Harriers for the public to enjoy maybe to ban driven Grouse shooting.
    Any detrimental effects to those with financial interests or those enjoying the killing that happens with driven Grouse shooting have if in the future more control is put on shooting have only themselves to blame for ignoring pleas from conservationists for years.

  17. This has been an extremely stimulating and varied comment thread. I strongly agree with some points, strongly disagree with others and several are very thought-provoking.
    My over-riding reaction, however, is this: everytime I remember that the so-called sport of shooting still exists, I feel an emotional gut punch and a sense of incredulity that such a barbarous anachronism is not just tolerated but celebrated by some.
    That is my starting point. I still have much thinking to do on issues of “management” and “pest control”. But it would be much more pleasant and easier to do so in the absence of organised blood-lust.

      1. It’s a fair point Rob Yorke. But I don’t see anyone trying to cloak abattoirs in the respectability and glamour of “sporting tradition” or claiming that they represent true “country” ways. So yes, it is a bit of a digression.

        1. John. You’ve been admirably polite to Rob Yorke with his ‘comparison’ between abbatoirs & shooting estates.
          There is no comparison between the two, at least not in this context.
          But it’s often a lazy, unintellgent go-to card for the pro shooters.

          1. Nice to see you here ‘Black Rabbit’. John’s perceptive comment of how he had been stimulated by the discussion, in turn stimulated me in the idea that we could have a ‘pleasant’ discussion without ‘lust’.

            If only talking around nature were like that – but then throw in human needs & interaction – from food production to hunting – and it becomes a bloodbath (going long on red in tooth and claw stuff).

            Shooting as an large scale industry rather than a man shooting for the pot, seems to be the inflammation around some of these issues. As a latter pot hunter, I ‘lust’ after a need to kill my dinner – just as crowds lust after a bargain on a supermarket’s meat counter – I abhor poor practice shooting at what ever scale and that’s why I aim to work from within (critical friend) to change things.

          2. As far as the rights and wrongs of killing an animal are concerned I’m not really sure whether or not it is done for sport is especially relevant.

            Take killing a wild deer for example – there might be various factors to take into account – including

            1) The suffering to the animal involved and/or alleviated
            2) The benefits/damage to the environment
            3) The benefits/damage to human interests
            4) Whether or not it was done for sport

            I can’t see why anybody would rank consideration 4 anywhere but pretty near the bottom.

            If for example the sporting killing caused less suffering than killing not for sport why on earth would any one think the sporting killing worse? Or ditto for environmental damage &c

            The question as to whether it is right to kill deer should be judged on other factors and if it is considered right then there being a sporting aspect to the killing isn’t a particular problem imo.

            If I were to get deer shot on my land I’d phone up a deer stalker – I’m sure he would enjoy what he does – why would people not enjoy it? He also might sling me a few quid – all the better.

            The idea that it would somehow be more ‘ethical’ for me to phone up some miserable sanctimonious vegan to come and kill the deer who would have a thoroughly bad time and I would probably have to pay seems to me to be a complete nonsense.

  18. If banning driven grouse shooting were to be considered by Government, standard practice is to consult on the financial effect on the businesses concerned. Does anyone know what this would be? Does anyone know how much money a relatively few (probably quite rich) people are making from driven grouse shooting? And what impact it would have on their finances if it were to be banned?

    1. Yes there are people that know the economic costs but most are busy counting grouse as the moment. The loss would be to the moor’s habitat and related species – not the purse holder. They just go off and spend it elsewhere.

  19. I was half way through typing a reply that gave an alternative scenario, and pointing out several flaws ( in my opinion). But really, what is the point? This is fictitious nonsense. I’m not anti shooting per se, but the industry cannot defend itself any longer. There is no give and take, just take. Strangely, Wales is a place I know I can go and see thriving (recovering?) moors with red and black grouse, passerines and waders AND RAPTORS. There may not be a red grouse every few feet, but the population is natural and part of a ‘naturally’ balanced ecosystem.

    1. What is the point Billyo?! I want harriers on grouse moors, that’s the point. You must be referring to Ruabon Moors – I understand that the surrounding area is keepered to control predators which enables an certain conservation NGO to take credit. It’s credit to all – not just one grasping to please members on either side.
      Here’s a related piece from someone who understands it well

      I need breakfast…

      1. How about a future scenario where a young conservationist returns from university to find a moorland nearing ecological balance. Where predator prey relationships are not dependent on a helping hand from a keeper. Where the bright green is actually the restoration of bare peat using the tried and tested methods from the Peak District using nursery crops of ryegrass spp. Where the grips and gullies have been blocked preventing runoff and reducing flooding, carbon sequestration is happening and release has been slowed or halted. Local businesses are benefitting from the provision of B&Bs, day visitors etc etc. None of the above requires any predator control at all. Legal or illegal.

        1. “None of the above requires any predator control at all. Legal or illegal.”

          Maybe not but a true ecological balance requires true apex predators and unless the uplands have wolves &c the balance you end up with is always going to be non optimal.

          Apex predators on the top of the pyramid are a massive benefit to bio diversity.

          1. giles – if only you owned a grouse moor then you’d let a few eagles survive and they would reduce harrier densities, and fox densities a bit perhaps. But what game managers do it wipe out the top predators (historically), then wipe out the medium-sized predators (eg hen harriers, foxes), then moan like hell about the small predators and try to wipe them out too, and then have to cope with a load of diseases in their artificially high density ‘wild’ gamebirds.

  20. “He noticed an unnaturally bright green area in the distance. Getting closer, he could see that the moorland had been converted to intensive grassland; drained and stocked with sheep. The loss of investment in moorland for grouse shooting had encouraged the owner to sell off chunks to eager farmers. Unlike the mainly privately funded grouse moors, it was acknowledged that some of the publically subsidised farming practices had caused a long term decline in wildlife on this fringe land”.

    I would say that grouse moor owner’s ‘management’ is about as intensive as the quote above if not more so.

    1. “I would say that grouse moor owner’s ‘management’ is about as intensive as the quote above if not more so”

      Possibly in certain respects but a monoculture of heather will always always knock a monoculture of improved grassland into a cocked hat for biodiversity.

      Rob’s near-future dystopia is ironically or indeed rather conveniently based on some of the worst Govt. policies of the past. We’ve moved on from the days of headage payments and MAFF funded drainage grants, as we have from the days of SSSI moorland being converted to forestry. We now also have legislation (EIA (agriculture), SSSI rules etc) in place to protect semi-natural habitats from agricultural intensification, which although far from perfect are still sufficient robust enough to consign the notion of SSSI/SPA moorland being drained and reclaimed to an agricultural monoculture to the past. Upland farmers have demonstrated that they are pretty cute at following the money and most SDA farmers on designated sites are much more likely to try and tap into HLS agreements in order to draw annual payments for low intensity grazing and capital payments for re-wetting, grip-blocking etc.

      1. Agree Ernest, some past practices slipped in there to frighten! Though I do wish that more upland farmers were ‘cute’ to following the money – rather than just doing what their previous generations did – spray off semi-natural, plough, seed, fertilise. Repeat after 5 years. Still active if not on, but adjacent to SSSI with same impact on quality of designated site.
        I’ll be blunt here – part of the issue is the same as with keepers and raptors. It’s the only way they know and the knowledge to do things differently is not filtering down to them. Poor advice, no advice – I’m a rural surveyor and worry that farmers/gamekeepers ain’t getting the info that would enable them to adapt to new ways in the uplands.

        More another time.

    2. Jack. If intensive management is bad, but default does that make extensive management good? Rubbish it does. Much of Europe is suffering from land abandonment – great news for Monbiot rewilders but not good for biodiversity habitat.
      We automatically assume the word ‘intensive’ to be negative when in fact much of today’s conservation practices are pretty intensive in nature. Use of selective herbicides to get best flowers margins for pollinators, re-introductions of red kites to the Chilterns using Spanish birds etc.

      The blank species poor grass sheep pastures hold nothing here in the welsh uplands – this is what a well run driven grouse moor looks likes in Scotland!goldenplover2014/cdcx

      You choose!

      1. Rob You have shot yourself in the foot as it were !! The 3 example prize winning moors that you mention prefer walked up grouse shooting to driven and there is little sign of any intensive heather management through burning or as I call it the scorched earth policy. These estate are pretty well the opposite of the burnt war zone like features of the pennine heavily managed grouse moors which I abhor.
        As for your fairy tale story above what a load of utter twaddle. I managed to read a couple of paragraphs before I succumbed to projectile v******g !!

        1. Thanks Davie. You think heather just looks like that without some management? You should ahve tried to read on to the bit about hot and cool burns – though anything burnt will feel scorched.
          I could ask the Heather trust, but reckon the view show is probably heather that was burnt a few years back.

          Thanks also for your ‘twaddle’ comment – another great comment I can use as a tweet.

          1. OK made up mind with the help of your comments Rob, wonderful blog post.

            In my opinion Hen harriers should be shot under license, with licenses issued by an agreed body themselves scrutinized for impartiality, perhaps Prof D Macdonald should be involved. Expertise and collaboration is needed from both sides to make it work not an enforced view from one side.

            Quite simply I don’t trust the ban brigade to do the right thing and just say whatever it takes to get what they want and when it all goes wrong and tits up they will just blame everyone else. And left alone a few gamekeepers may be tempted to do the right thing if their live hood is threated who can blame them?

            Doing the right thing:-
            A farmer fried once pointed up to the hill, “See that” he said laughing his head off, “they discovered a rare wild flower up on my hillside in marched the conservationists, built a surrounding fence to protect the wild flower” that was despite my farmer friend telling them that there are no footpaths and folk were not allowed near that area and he would not go near it. Within a few weeks the rabbits had burrowed under the fence and turned it into the biggest protected rabbit warren in Bedfordshire. No more flowers just one big rabbit warren.

            The last time folk banned :-
            Prof Stephen Harris along with IFAW funding forever on his pedestal at various inquires and hearings proclaiming a fox hunting ban is ok it plays no part in the management of foxes, even appeared to con the Burns inquiry for lowland areas at least. I stood in the menage as a lady viewed a pony for her grand-daughter around 2008, she turned to her daughter and said “ your Dads out again tonight you know, absolutely ridiculous it has been in the last few years out nearly every night at the moment, it never used to be like this”. She saw me from the corner of her eye turned and said “My husband is a game keeper” maybe in case I had thought he was out shagging someone else. She had come from Northamptonshire the Lowlands. So plays no part in fox management in the lowlands really? Where were Harris and IFAW with the follow up surveys? Did anyone think for one moment it was going to impact someone else’s life? he now has to spend more time away from his family. Any recompenses for his employer if they have to pay him more or is this all part of the job. How about the additional foxes he is encountering what about other that find their way to land that does not have a gamekeeper, what wildlife is now falling prey to them.

            That’s what happens in the real world complete cock ups starting from good intentions, work together you have some of the best brains on this.

      2. Rob
        Could you justify your comment that land abandonment is not good for biodiversity habitat? Do you have evidence of this? Thanks.

          1. Rob, thanks.
            I have not had time to read the paper properly, indeed may never have the time at all! There are two quotes I give to you,

            ” However, land abandonment also showed significant increases in animal and plant species richness.”

            “All three kingdoms (animals, fungi, plants) showed an overall positive effect size after abandonment, “. These somewhat negate your statement that abandonment is bad for biodiversity. We should also remember that a lot of this abandonment is still quite recent and these new ecosystems are still developing, who knows where they will go?

            Rewild v abandon. Discuss! I would prefer to discuss abandon v conservation!
            In my opinion rewilding is irrelevant in the UK. true rewilding (as you know) can only occur with a full suite of creatures present which of course means the reintroduction of apex predators. Lets forget that then and move on. (Although it has occurred to me that if gamekeepers knew anything at all about ecology they would want a pair of eagle owls and a couple of lynx to control them pesky mesopredators, such as them hen harriers and foxes. Save them pounds on cartridges and poison!)

            To myself abandonment is much the preferred option. My views on this may seem quite radical to you as I note from your earlier posts you mention the words manage and managed a lot . I would let land be abandoned and mans influence be removed where ever possible., even from many nature reserves. I believe land wherever possible should be “self-willed” and be a place where nature is allowed to dictate what species thrive and which do not. Woodland, moorland, scrub-it is best left to nature to decide and abandonment is the quickest option to achieve this. Opportunities will arise for this in the UK, especially when hill sheep farming finally gives up the ghost and with the inevitable demise of grouse shooting. Most conservation in this country is only concerned with the conservation of archaic agricultural landscapes and the species associated with it. Conservationists dream of the long gone agricultural idyll when every field had a lapwing and a corncrake, creatures that were only there because of our intervention. Huge amounts of money slosh around, bunged to anyone who claim they can manage the land for nature. And what is this management? It is the chainsaw, the flail and the brush-cutter, herbicides and the artificial acidification of the soil, man-made fires, the horses and the sheep to munch away the “unwanted” vegetation, the culling of creatures we do not value to protect other creatures that are prized so highly (not only by gamekeepers but also by the bodies that claim to represent nature). How is this promoting the natural world? It is just gardening and nothing else. I know of a small reserve in Norfolk that was pretty much left to itself for a long time. It was a wonderful place, wild flowers, scrub full of warblers and other birds in summer, waders and wildfowl visited the pools and barn owl hunted. Then a management plan was drawn up and the Konik horses were unleashed upon it. That was the end of that then. Grazers without predators- not going to work really, but plenty of cash available if you want to try it, and many are doing so. Indeed much of Europes new wild land will look like the Serengeti if Rewilding Europe get their way.

            There is much talk of sustainability these days, but many of what are claimed to be nature reserves are not sustainable without mans constant intervention and the constant input of taxpayers money. The heaths that are being created around the country are a good example, without spraying and the chainsaw they will NATURALLY revert to woodland. The reserves at Titchwell and Minsmere are others. Created by initially by man and doomed without constant attention to the sea walls. These are not natural places then. Zoos. Far better to let them go and give them back to nature.

            Biodiversity is the great lie of the conservation industry, they present it as the protection of chalkhill blues, sand lizards or hen harriers. They do not consider the myriad of other species that exist, just the ones that are pretty or can be seen through binoculars. I believe biodiversity means “variety of life” and is not promoted by the conservation of one specific species, especially when it is at the expense of other species.

            I have no paper or scientific evidence but my gut feeling is one acre of land abandoned (self-willed) for a 100 years will have a greater variety of species than 10 acres of 200 year old grouse moor or antique hay meadow. And will cost nothing to maintain!

            ps You do a disservice to the founders of rewilding by using the term “MONBIOT REWILDERS”. He has come lately to the scene and is merely standing on the shoulders of giants.

          2. Tony
            A passionate and valid response – and a great discussion piece. Tell it to those conservation NGOs that rely on – paraphrasing your words – ‘the great lie that is biodiversity’ to garner funds and to land use managers that have found a way to pay to maintain a cultural landscape & sustain remote rural communities.

            And there we run into a wall – save money, let nature self-will but explain it to members missing ‘iconic species’ & hill dwellers smothered in bracken

            ps agree re Monbiot –

  21. Animals

    The rest of this comment has been deleted as the ‘person’ making it was using a false email address.

    1. I’ve seen a fox shot just the other side of my fence for exactly this “reason” (although I thought it was a bit unnecessary for the pheasant Gun to jump about cheering). I know it’s an unintended consequence of a well-meant law. But do folk not see the inherent ridiculousness in the statement “we had to kill it to stop it being killed”? If the gundog is causing the problem, leave it at home, keep it on a lead or shoot the gundog instead.

      1. Dogs do sometimes get shot when they are worrying livestock – however they are also very useful for moving livestock around – so I can see where there *might* be a justification for shooting a wild animal because there is a likelihood that it is going to be killed or severely injured by a dog – but as you say maybe shooting the dog would be as good or a better option in that circumstance. However in a lot of circumstances when wildlife is just flushed out of cover – which can be done perfectly well with an under control dog or a dog on a lead being legally required to shoot it – especially when it’s an entire herd of animals is just plain stupid (in my opinion).

        As to your question as to whether others see the inherent ridiculousness of the law that’s very hard to say. The CA certainly do but a lot of other people – including Labour ministers when questioned by constituency MPs simple won’t say either way.

        The law is however the law and we have to accept that whether we think it is ridiculous or not not killing wildlife can be a wildlife crime. If you fully support the Hunting Act then you do support animals having to be killed in these circumstances.

        As I’ve said *many* times before I am all for a bit of crime here and there even wildlife crime – but only obviously when the law being broken is one I don’t agree with.

        So killing hen harriers = BAD CRIME – not killing herds of running deer = GOOD CRIME.

  22. So that’s persecution in the uplands dealt with what plans for the illegal persecution of hh’s in/on their wintering grounds, no point in protecting them at their breeding sites to be killed before any young reach breeding maturity.

  23. Copy of my comment left at Chris Foster’s website (see trackback Danger grouse)
    As a naturalist, rough shooter & critical friend of other styles of shooting – you raise some good points. Especially the anti-RSPB one driving people to want to ban shooting. My ‘Silence of the Guns’ for Avery was to provoke some thoughts as to ‘unintended outcomes’ – I hope you found the links useful. I fear that many of the welsh uplands (where I live) are crow dominated conifers plantations. The contrast to the wildlife (incl 4 raptors) swarming on Langhom’s moorland was staggering.
    No one really wants to raise their heads above the butts (pun intended!) and as you say, just hold the line in saying that things are fine. Mainly of the practices – predator control and burning – need to be made more scientific and undertaken to a higher standard. The big problem is the unsavory one. Money. Conservation without money is just conversation. Where would money come from to manage these uplands without income from driven shooting?
    Chris Packham said – “We pay lots of subsidies to other farming methods to help wildlife, maybe we need to start thinking about paying subsidies to these sorts of people – but we need an assurance they will behave properly,” he said, adding that gamekeepers could be licensed.

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