An ecosystem disservice

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

The nature conservation case for driven grouse shooting is pretty much bankrupt and today’s significant report on the ecosystem disservices of rotational burning bangs home a wider point.

If you live in a city or the country, shoot or don’t shoot, vote UKIP or Green, are vegan or live on raw meat, whoever you are – the management practices up in the hills affect your environment and your pocket.

The study shows that rotational heather burning on peatlands has clear effects on peat hydrology, peat chemistry and physical properties, river water chemistry and river biota.

Fishermen downstream of areas burned for grouse shooting should wonder whether the lower invertebrate communities, increased acidity and increased heavy metals are affecting their sport.

The peatlands of Britain are one of our largest carbon stores – degrading them is as foolish as burning fossil fuels without a care.  Transport fuels are quite important in our lives – grouse shooting is not.  ‘Altering the hydrology of peatlands so they become drier is known to cause significant losses of carbon from storage in the soil.‘ said co-researcher Professor Joseph Holden, who continued ‘This is of great concern, as peatlands are the largest natural store for carbon on the land surface of the UK and play a crucial role in climate change. They are the Amazon of the UK.

This study showed that there was a tendency (not proven) for burned catchments to be ‘flashier’ and more prone to high flows after heavy rain, this supports the arguments of the Hebden Bridge ‘Ban the Burn’ campaigners who claim that intensified moorland management upstream of their town was a factor in disastrous and highly costly floods. this study supports their views but doesn’t prove them – it could have weakened them, but certainly hasn’t.

Peat particles washed into rivers lead to discolouration of water, which is largely a cosmetic problem, but increases water bills when water is treated. Acidification of water supplies is a more serious treatment problem .

The ‘traditional’ moorland burning season runs from today until 15 April (which is much too late in the year anyway, particularly with climate change – many nesting birds must have to flee their nests as the flames engulf them).


What they say:

The Independent newspaper: ‘Commercial grouse shooting is ruining the countryside of Northern England and warming the planet as swathes of upland peatlands rich in wildlife are burned to provide the best conditions for red grouse‘.

Chris Packham (quoted in the Indie): ‘The old adage that shooting is good for the countryside is no longer holding water in front of an increasingly sophisticated audience.‘ indeed, Chris, and according to this study the land they manage isn’t holding water either!

The Scotsman: ‘Heather burning on Scotland’s grouse moors may be causing serious damage to peatlands, rivers and wildlife

Lead researcher Dr Lee Brown (quoted in the Scotsman) said: ‘Until now there was little evidence of the environmental impacts of moorland burning. Unsurprisingly, a push away from moorland burning without solid scientific evidence to back up the need for change has created a lot of tension. The findings from the Ember project now provide the necessary evidence to inform policy.‘.

The Times newspaper: ‘The owners of grouse moors who set fire to heather to promote green shoots for young birds to eat are polluting rivers and contributing to climate change‘.

Adrian Blackmore, Countryside Alliance’s director of shooting, (quoted in the Indie) said: ‘Burning has been a vital management tool in our uplands for more than a century and one that has provided significant benefits to wildlife, creating as it does a mosaic of different-aged heather which provides protection for many species of threatened ground nesting birds.‘ which is not  a response to this detailed, long-term scientific report, merely an admission that the problems have been in existence for more than a century. Might be time for a change then?


Ecosystem impacts  have always been the smoking shotgun for driven grouse shooting. This study very strongly suggests (many would say, ‘shows’) that there are measurable impacts of burning on wider environmental health.  All the impacts in this report are deleterious impacts. All are ones that scientists have suspected for a long time.  Many sound a bit complicated and perhaps sound trivial but add up to a clear message that as well as affecting wildlife through killing it, driven grouse shooting affects the environment through altering it in ways that are generally harmful – and all for a few days blasting away at Red Grouse!

Driven grouse shooting is a sport/industry that could be regulated to be better – but it couldn’t be regulated to be good enough. There is far too much wrong with it; massive tolls on wildlife through legalised predator control, culls of ‘inconvenient’ native species such as Mountain Hares, illegal persecution of raptors to the point where they are absent from large areas of the country, damage to protected blanket bogs, increased water bills, polluted rivers, lower fish stocks and increased global warming. That’s quite a list – and all for the fun of expensive shooting?

The sport of the few should not be allowed to degrade the environment of the many.  It is the whole management system underpinning driven grouse shooting that is rotten – it needs to be swept away, not tinkered with.

Sign here to ban driven grouse shooting.










16 Replies to “An ecosystem disservice”

  1. As the campaign to Ban Driven Grouse shooting gathers momentum and evidence against the methods of moorland management become ever more undeniable. Surely it is now time for organisations like the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts to at least talk about the alternatives even if they don’t agree with the ban. Not only is it damaging our wildlife and the ecosystems that they depend on, there is now this report highlighting how much damage is being done to the environment as a whole. The RSPB & Wildlife Trusts have an obligation to give all there members the opportunity to make an informed decision of their own. They cannot and should not deny the choice to their paying members. At a recent meeting of our local Wildlife Trust group I was wearing (with great pride) my Hen Harrier Day t-shirt, many people, most of which were members of both RSPB & Trust, asked about Hen Harriers and weren’t even aware of the issue. Now these people were on the internet but not Twitter or Facebook users. I gave Mark Avery’s web page address to them and they all said they would look into the subject and possibly sign the petition. They now have the choice whether to sign or not to sign, but at least they have the choice. So come on serve your members and give them the choice, don’t speak for them. It’s not right and certainly not democratic.

  2. Mark – your blog’s on fire! (sorry couldn’t resist…). Seriously though your commentary summarises these complex issues with great clarity, can’t say enough how much it’s appreciated.

  3. The RSPB apparently favour a system of licensing for driven grouse moors rather than a total ban on the “sport”

    Have they given any details of their favoured system and in particular how the licensees would be monitored? I haven’t seen any details published.


      1. I have already seen the “principles” of licensing but was enquiring about the details of the RSPB proposals, particularly about how licensing would be monitored and by whom.

  4. It is so refreshing to see this issue being taken up and aired. We live on the edge of a shooting estate and for years endured not only the smoke from burning heather but the spraying of ferns on the moorside by helicopter. Our water supply is from springs on the moor and the annual spraying in July must have an affect on that and livestock. Our neighbours are mostly tenants so will not complain.
    I was born and brought up in the countryside but along with most civilised people feel strongly about the negative effects of this ‘industry’. It is big business and the local community benefits financially so a blind eye is turned to it all.

Comments are closed.