And it’s not even worth a bean to the economy

Photo: Tim Melling
Photo: Tim Melling

The grouse shooting industry is having a torrid time of it – and I can assure them that there is more to come.

Grouse shooting is a ‘sport’ or an ‘industry’.  Over the years it has tried to justify itself on the grounds that it either doesn’t do any harm or it does do some good. Neither is looking very convincing right now as reports and evidence stack up to show what a tawdry thing it is.

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons
Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

There was a time when we all went along with the idea that management for grouse shooting was pretty good for most other things too but those days are long gone. A few more Curlew is not enough reward for all the killing that goes on, legal and illegal.  The 1500 Mountain Hares killed in the Lammermuirs this spring, because they are a vector of ticks which affect Red Grouse, just shows the scale of the slaughter.  Stoats, Red Foxes , Carrion (or Hooded) Crows etc are killed legally and many other species, including Golden Eagles and Hen Harriers, Hedgehogs and Badgers are killed illegally.  The scale of killing is immense and it is all directed towards making the autumn stock of Red Grouse as high as possible so that they can be killed by paying sportsmen (and women).  The whole species balance is bent completely out of shape over large areas of upland Britain and the more you think about it the more bizarre and distasteful it will seem.


Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.
Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

But that’s just the killing. Let’s come to the burning. Red Grouse, the pampered-until-shot species at the centre of this sport/industry nests and hides and shelters in long heather but eats young, tastier heather (it doesn’t look very tasty to me, but then, I may be a Red, and a grouse sometimes, but I am not a Red Grouse). Heather is burned in small-ish patches, every few years (8-25 is usual), to maintain a patchwork of young and old heather to provide ideal conditions for the bird. Today’s report from Leeds University shows that there are far-reaching consequences for carbon storage, water quality, aquatic wildlife and perhaps also for flood risk from this peculiar and intense form of management (see here and here for blogs by me and here for the summary of the report and here for the full report).

But the grouse shooting community, if they have cared at all about what the rest of us think, have always fallen back on the argument that grouse shooting is of economic importance.  This has always seemed to me, to be very weak ground and only of interest if you have an unhealthy interest in dosh. It reminds me of the story of the Kray twins being the largest donors to an appeal for the victims of the Aberfan disaster – how much does money exculpates other sins?

But today, another report is published which shoots holes in the economic importance of shooting, and of grouse shooting.  I haven’t paid much attention to the Public and Corporate Economic Consultants’ report on this subject. This PACEC report, which I like to call the Pay Cheque report, claims that shooting contributes £2bn to the UK economy. I haven’t paid much attention to it because although £2,000,000,000 is a big number the UK economy is £1,600,000,000,000 so the whole of shooting is a drop in the ocean.

I’m not against the whole of shooting, I’m against that species-killing, habitat-damaging, environment-polluting, atmosphere-carbonising part of shooting that is driven grouse shooting.  How big a share is that? Well, considering that the Pay Cheque report includes clay-pigeon shooting which is a pastime involving 150,000 folk and all that wildfowling on the coast and all those pheasant shoots and partridge shoots, then I’d guess that it might be generous to allow grouse shooting one fifth of the putative total of £2bn – let’s say £400m then (it’s a guess, it doesn’t matter much really).

First, I’d pay £6/yr for driven grouse shooting to stop – and if you would too then we may have a solution already!

But now we have to bring in the report published today by the League Against Cruel Sports and carried out by economists from Sheffield Hallam University and Cormack Economics.  It’s a bit heavy going, as economics usually is, but I’ve read it and it is rational and fairly convincing. It suggests that the Pay Cheque report overestimated the value of shooting to the economy many fold.  They think that an estimate of closer to £500m would be closer to the mark – a four-fold reduction (so getting rid of grouse shooting would only cost each of us £1.50/yr all of a sudden. That’s cheap!  I’ll pay a few other people’s share too at that price.

Other problems arise with the Pay Cheque report too – it does not differentiate the money that is already our money (through agri-environment spending) that is deprived from other land managers if it goes to grouse shooters.  Clearly, stopping driven grouse shooting doesn’t lose that money from the economy, it just would go to other, perhaps more deserving, land  managers.  Or to the NHS or Education if we chose.

What is lost to the UK economy is all the money spent by shooting abroad eg the import of 8 million pheasants and partridges each year for the shooting industry.

But, let’s not get bogged down in the figures because they aren’t worth very much at all. For one thing, the environmental costs of driven grouse shooting have to be removed from the overall figure.  How much is each Hen Harrier worth? What is the cost of carbon emissions?How much higher are water bills because of the need to remove particulates from water supplies? None of these things was costed in the Pay Cheque report – and really they should have been (just as the Krays did a bit of harm along the way when earning their loot, allegedly, which we would want to assess to arrive at their nett worth to us).

But for another thing, there is no way that you can make grouse shooting look like a big earner – it’s a tiny thing. It’s a tiny thing economically which is underpinned by wildlife crime and which causes environmental damage.

So the grouse shooting industry is left with no solid ground on which to stand. It isn’t good for wildlife (in fact, it is bad for it), it isn’t good for the wider environment (in fact, it is bad for it) and it isn’t worth a bean once you do the economics properly.

So let’s stop calling it an industry – because it doesn’t make anything except make the world a worse place to live in.  It’s a hobby or a pastime. I think everyone should have a hobby or a pastime. But not one that kills wildlife and damages the environment.

Where is the justification for driven grouse shooting?

Can’t see it myself – please sign here to ban driven grouse shooting.

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



21 Replies to “And it’s not even worth a bean to the economy”

  1. You are not against all forms of shooting, but against hobbies that kill wildlife? So all game shooting shooting, some fishing and driving cars are hobbies that kill wildlife? Otherwise, I think you make very fair comment :0)

    1. Driving cars as a hobby?
      Driving cars anywhere is too expensive to be a hobby, and as anyone who lives in the country knows, is vital for everything from getting a bottle of milk to getting to work!

  2. I heard that a coal mining company once valued the cost of hen harriers as £2million a pair…..

  3. I have never understood the concept of driven grouse shooting as a”sport”. The grouse are bred and managed to vastly overpopulate a small area, and then they are driven towards the guns (in other words virtually thrown in front of the punters) making it almost impossible to miss them. Where’s the sport in that? It’s as easy as picking up a frozen chicken from the supermarket. Not that I think that killing animals in any way can be called “sport”, but it seems to me that a more satisfying”sport” would be trying to hunt grouse in a properly wild habitat where there is a properly sound and ecologically balanced mix of wildlife (so it’s actually difficult to find them) – perhaps hawking with a raptor rather than blasting away with a shotgun? Just a thought! It would never catch on 😉

    1. The reason it’s called ‘sport’ is because it was called that before modern (athletic, team-based, etc.) sports really started. You cannot breed grouse – they are wild. And far from it being ‘impossible to miss them’, they probably represent one of the greatest challenges for guns – hence the premium that grouse shooting commands. Pheasant shooting this is not. Whatever your opinion on shooting of itself, it would be a good idea to read up on it before levelling these kind of criticisms.

  4. Can’t think of many other points to make – you seem to have it all covered. It is very depressing that 99% of life ends up as an economic figure. What rubbish humans are. They give more value to the one thing in the world that has little or no real value at all. Money.

  5. I would dispute that grouse shooting has no value to the economy. Land that is generally not income generating is used for grouse shooting, that is why perhaps that there has been little historical opposition. Grouse shooting employs lots of people and sustains some communities. As you have mentioned Mark, that will not get you to change your mind.
    I do find the polarisation of the arguments interesting. Anne writes that there is no sport in shooting grouse, that sadly is a bad argument, shooting grouse is one of the most challenging types of shooting that there is, that is why people spent such fantastical amounts of money on it. I say this as someone who has shot (and missed) a few grouse and indeed as someone who would prefer the company of a hawk when hunting.
    The arguments for and against grouse shooting have parallel arguments in our whole interaction with the natural world. Why was anyone surprised at the scale of wildlife decline as reported by WWF this week? So many choices we make in our lives have such an impact on global wildlife. The economy and money is the major driver for everything in the world as Stella says, that is what really needs changing.

    1. Mark – thanks for your comment.

      I don’t think anyone would believe that the mo9ney spent on grouse shooting would not get spent on something else, probably somewhere else, if grouse shooting ceased. There would be no loss to the economy. I am not in the same league, but somehow since my local football team, Rushden and Diamonds, disappeared, I have not gone to a football match but I don’t seem to have a pile of money to compensate for that lost activity. I must have spent it on something else. Something else that generates jobs etc.

  6. Mark, your “here” links in para 4 aren’t there.

    Otherwise spot on – always worth drilling down on the economics, I once did that for a drainage scheme on a wetland SSSI to find that WES payments to farmers for wildlife were counted as a cost against allowing higher water levels, but arable area payments to farmers for the drained wildlife free status quo were not.

    The site’s a bit wetter now…

      1. Yes Mark, the humdrum of filling out the details behind the headlines!!
        Wonder if time for an update for Terry – Silence of the Figures?

        Everybody finds it distasteful sticking a value on ‘nature’s services’ – especially when humans are integral to it – as we head into Tesco for our weekly shop at the lowest possible cost while reading Juniper’s ‘What Nature does (dies?) for Britain’ (…/Review-of-What-Nature-does-for-Britain-by-Tony-Juniper-in-Countryfile-Mag)

        Have we a vision for the uplands that works or are leaving it to Monbiot’s rewilding visions while discovering too late that one of us 64 million has put an idle match to the ensuing choking hen harrier-devoid undergrowth?

  7. “That is why perhaps that there has been little historical opposition” – I wonder about that – according to The Highland Clearances by John Prebble there was huge and bitter opposition to the Clearances in Scotland by the local tenants, but all of it crushed or suppressed by the rich and powerful land-owners. I suspect that if these vast tracts of land weren’t in the hands of a few estate-owners, they would have been populated by some people earning a living somehow, and retained light woodland and been much better-off for it. Who knows what land-use would have evolved without grouse estates? Were the original inhabitants turfed off for grouse and sheep in England as well as in Scotland? Does anyone know what historical opposition there was to the creation of these grouse moors in England? What is the economic value of uplands in other countries where they don’t have driven grouse shooting and our historical pattern of land ownership? I feel sure they will be income-generating in some way for some people. Maybe just on a smaller scale – maybe spread among more people than a few massive land-owners? In Scandinavia and Italy one of the activities in the wild areas is certainly hunting/shooting but, I think, without any associated land management and wholesale slaughter of wildlife. Does that count as economic value?

  8. Given the repeated denials over not just the scale but even the existence, of widespread persecution of raptors and other legally protected predators on these moors…is it any surprise that they have been more than a little casual with their financial “facts”?…Now if this was a scientific paper we were discussing, words such as “fraudulent” or merely “incompetent” would be getting bandied about – do we have names re the preparation of the Pay Cheque report? quote Private Eye..”I think we should be told”.

  9. Bit of Devil’s advocacy coming up.
    Say driven grouse shooting was banned from 1st April next year what would happen, who would have a say in what happens in the future, who is going to pay for it and who’s going to do it? Would the moors just become a larger sheep ranch?
    Would the ban be delayed for x years until a plan for the future was thrashed out – what would the implications for hen harriers and mountain hares etc be then?
    Obviously the people who make money out of grouse will want to make money out of something else if that income stream from their land is no longer available. Do stricter rules need to be implemented to prevent mass planting of conifer forests or inappropriately located windfarms?
    Do we need land reforms?
    Once the land has been left to its own devices for year while the debate rages the rewilding process will have begun most likely in the form of scattered conifers from seed blown from nearby plantations. While it would be great to see the return of mixed species upland scrubby woodland I’m not sure I’d like it to contain a high proportion of non-native conifers, who’s going to run round with a saw and remove them all?
    The success of any woodland generation would depend on the amount of deer present, could that be an opportunity for some stalking. I wouldn’t want to see large herds of Sika roaming the new woodlands. Maybe venison should be cheaper to make it more mainstream and less of a ‘luxury’ product. OK lynx could be put into the mix – how much opposition to that would there be from the local sheep farmers, would it result in demands for ‘management’ as we’re seeing for sea eagles or worse illegal persecution?
    Boar would also be beneficial helping break up any stands of bracken that might expand – who would be responsible for introducing those, again there could be a stalking opportunity once the population was high enough for a take to be sustainable.
    Neither would I want to see mile upon mile of deer exclusion fences marching across the moorland although some fencing will be required to prevent sheep (aka land-lice) nibbling the understory from existing patches of native woodland – it’s needed already as many small upland woodlands are slowly dying due to lack of recruitment, there being an impression among some upland communities that these woodlands are worthless – or have no value to them other than to graze sheep beneath them, I have images in my mind of two equally sheep-devastated woodlands in Derbyshire (along the Snake Pass) and in Scotland on the shoreline of the Morvern peninsular.
    Would woodland be allowed to develop on eg SPA land designated for something else even if it is the natural climax vegetation – lowered (or changed) baselines and all that. Some of our best habitats exist because of grazing and man’s intervention that would be lost, or at least much reduced and patchy if woodland cover were to increase.
    All the drainage would need to be blocked otherwise woodland would spread onto blanket bog areas and cause problems with peat formation. The carbon sequestration of active peat is becoming well known but won’t happen under woodland cover.
    Whose uplands are they or at least who/what should benefit from them? One thing is for sure the current ‘Victorian’ status quo can’t be allowed to go on much longer.
    Ah decisions decisions, where do we go from here – thoughts anyone?

    1. David – thank you.

      Some of the answers are in this previous blog

      To be brief – most English grouse moors are in SPAs and SACs and SSSIs – their management is controlled. Therefore, the tales of windfarms, sheep deserts and conifer plantations are just scare stories.

      Huge amounts of public money are going into the uplands – they can be whatever we want. Payments for carbon storage (rather than tolerance of carbon loss) would be a good shift in the basis of public support.

  10. Today the Scottish Parliament heard a talk on re-introducing lynx into some areas of Scotland to help manage the deer. This is already beginning to be discussed – and I would take most of David’s admittedly worse case scenarios over grouse shooting – because as Jane eloquently says there has always been opposition – not just to the use of the land but the way it subjugates the people. Land reform? yes please…

  11. Very interesting read. I’ve always been sceptical about the argument that shooting contributes a large amount to the economy, when in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t. It’s not worth the loss of our priceless wildlife.

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