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.
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.
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.