I’m not the only one who thinks that the GWCT hasn’t had a very good year according to the responses I’ve looked at in the readers’ survey for this blog (click here to enter your views). They are behaving so strangely that I wasn’t too surprised to read their rather odd account of the second Langholm study published on their blog just before Christmas.
This was the GWCT response to the 7-year update report of the 10-year study based at Langholm involving a whole gang of interested parties. The report itself is well worth a careful read.
The RSPB has a different take on things than their mates in the GWCT according to this blog by Stuart Housden, the RSPB’s Director for Scotland.
I’m glad that the RSPB has highlighted something that I had noticed myself, that the Red Grouse densities at Langholm are now well above those stated by GWCT themselves as being generally necessary for viable driven grouse shooting, ie 60 birds/sq km2 in July. It seems that different criteria are being employed for Red Grouse recovery at Langholm than on other moors which seems a bit odd.
The last time I visited Langholm was in July 2010 and the grouse moor owner who was with me, and who knows Langholm well, was jumping around saying that there were plenty of Red Grouse to shoot in that year. As you can see, in 2010 the densities measured over the whole of Langholm were a little under the 60 birds/sq km2 in July that is regarded as the threshold but not far under. Maybe my grouse moor owning, grouse shooting, companion was right and there were enough that year for a viable shoot – I’m in no doubt he would have had a few days shooting there if he had been in charge.
If you look at the actual report, rather than the GWCT spin on the report, Appendix 1, Figure 13, shows the decline in grouse bags at Langholm over the period from 1933 (mostly, as we know, caused by loss of heather through over-grazing or agricultural improvement). In 1990, a couple of years before Langholm I started, there was the expected 6-year peak of grouse bags at c4000 grouse. Grouse bags then declined through the period of Langholm I and did not recover in 1996 (or thereafter) as would have been expected if the Hen Harriers and Peregrines had been illegally killed.
But in 1992 there were about, by eye from that graph in Fig 13, 1500 grouse shot at Langholm. Move now to Figure 3b (p19) in the Langholm II report (reproduced rather helpfully in Stuart Housden’s blog) and look at the first year, that same 1992. What we see is that both spring and July grouse densities are now only a little below what they were in 1992 when c1500 grouse were shot commercially. Maybe 1000 grouse (500 brace) could have been shot in 2014. Since shot Red Grouse are worth £140/brace (£70/bird)(p21 of Langholm II report) then a bit of shooting might have brought in £70k or so in each of the last couple of years. Now I guess that £70k is a mere pittance compared with the amount of taxpayers’ money pouring into Langholm but it surely shouldn’t be sniffed at. It would, it seems, have paid for about a third of the cost of ‘keepering during this recovery period, after all.
Table 1 in the Langholm II report is a bit odd, to my mind, too. It appears to be a useful comparison between various grouse parameters at Langholm and on other Scottish and some English grouse moors. Such comparisons are always informative and Langholm doesn’t do too badly in the comparison although it seems to be underperforming in several areas. However, the data used for Langholm are those from 2009-12 for some reason, and the fact that there has been considerable recovery and improvement since that period in 2013 and 2014 is, rather peculiarly, not mentioned as far as I have noticed. So Table 1, which doesn’t show Langholm to be in any way appalling is using the data from the earliest years of an ongoing recovery – how strange! Why? If only 2013 and 2014 had been used, rather than not used at all, in this comparison, what would that have shown?
Another strange thing in Table 1 is the emphasis given to the fact that the overwinter mortality is in the absence of shooting – well, maybe ‘strange’ is an unfair choice of word. If there had been some grouse shooting at Langholm, and there were certainly enough grouse to shoot hundreds of brace in each of the last two years, then would that overwinter mortality figure have been higher? Not necessarily, because the Red Grouse can’t be eaten by predators if they have already been shot by shooters, just as they can’t be shot by shooters if they have already been eaten by predators (the lesson of Langholm I). Rather than get into a discussion about ‘additive’ and ‘compensatory’ mortality (which are both quite misleading phrases anyway) it would be better if this demonstration project to see whether grouse shooting will be viable at Langholm actually got a grip and shot some grouse! You may have noticed that I am not the biggest fan of driven grouse shooting, but it does seem extraordinary to me that in this demonstration project to establish a viable driven grouse shoot there is so much coyness about shooting grouse. Time is running out.
Well, we can be pretty sure that it isn’t the Hen Harriers that are eating the Red Grouse because they are being fed and aren’t taking Red Grouse chicks. No grouse chicks were seen being brought to Hen Harrier nests in 2008-12. This is the second time that the efficacy of diversionary feeding has been demonstrated at Langholm but in both cases something else, not Hen Harriers, has intervened to lower the expected number of Red Grouse in July (although there are enough Red Grouse in July for viability of driven grouse shooting on most other moors it seems).
It’s a bit puzzling, and the GWCT seem determined to cry ‘fail’ already on the Red Grouse recovery even though numbers have headed upwards quite strongly. That seems a little odd to me. If, even when Hen Harriers are taking practically no Red Grouse chicks or adults through the summer months, Red Grouse recovery is impossible then it means one of several things, but all of them are bad news for driven grouse shooting. It either means that there’s something rather rubbish about Langholm in terms of food availability and chick survival or that there are high levels of predation by other predators.
If the former then the Hen Harrier has been a bit of a scapegoat for rather too long.
If it’s other predators than either the gamekeepers aren’t doing their jobs properly with legal predator control (and no-one is likely to suggest that (although there seem to be a lot of mustelids and crows at Langholm considering how ‘well-keepered’ it is (see Figs 10 and 11))) or there are other predators that are protected that take the place of the Hen Harrier when they step aside from killing Red Grouse because they are fed artificially. If it is other protected predators then no doubt there will be calls to bump off the Hen Harriers and the Buzzards and the Goshawks and the Short-eared Owls and anything else that moves on a moor in Scotland or England. Is that where we are heading? That isn’t where I would want to end up if I were doing the PR for grouse shooting.
Maybe Hen Harriers are taking lots of Red Grouse in winter, as many of them are staying at Langholm through the winter (very wise of them in a way, as they seem to get shot if they leave), but then no-one is shooting Red Grouse in the autumn. With more normal levels of autumn shooting (this is, after all, supposed to be a demonstration project that is aiming for that to happen) there might be fewer over-wintering Hen Harriers and even higher spring densities of Red Grouse and bigger July densities and bigger bags and another step closer to viability? That’s what people will be wondering if the project doesn’t actually get some grouse shot. But the GWCT have already called ‘fail’ on the whole thing,
Is Langholm II simply going to reinforce one of the possible take-home messages from Langholm I, that driven grouse shooting and legal treatment of birds of prey are incompatible? I think we should wait another three years and see, but if that’s the choice, and it may well be, then I know which I would choose and I think that the public would undoubtedly think the same. So we could, down here in England, simply ban driven grouse shooting now.