Henry goes to Langholm Moor

Mon 13 July  Copy

Admittedly you can’t see my friend Henry in this photo, but I promise he was here. And ‘here’ is Langholm Moor, the Duke of Buccleuch’s place which hosted the first Langholm study and is hosting the second one (of which more on Thursday).

It’s a crow trap in the foreground, and Whita Hill in the background, with the obelisk commemorating Sir John Malcolm atop the hill.

The first Langholm study (the subject of the whole of Chapter 3 in Inglorious) was very important in setting the framework for the conflict between nature conservation (particularly of birds of prey) and driven grouse shooting. When birds of prey were protected at Langholm their numbers increased – this was true of Hen Harriers and Peregrines.  The higher numbers of birds of prey resulted in much lower numbers of Red Grouse than expected on the moor at the end of the breeding season, although breeding numbers each spring remained pretty constant.  What this meant, and showed for the first time, was that when protected from persecution, birds of prey could remove the shootable surplus of Red Grouse on which grouse shooting depends.  In other words, the raptors were unsportingly eating the Red Grouse before rich people could shoot them for fun. That is the essence of the conflict between birds of prey and grouse shooting. It’s a bit more complicated than that – but not really much more complicated.

The law of the land says that you can’t kill Hen Harriers and Peregrines but the laws of nature say that if you want to run an intensive driven grouse shoot then those raptors are likely to destroy your business. That’s why there is a conflict. Killing birds of prey is entirely rational if you want to make money from shooting Red Grouse and entirely illegal.

It’s not very easy to square this circle – and nobody has succeeded (though see tomorrow’s blog) – and that’s why, eventually, on this issue, you have to make up your mind which you want. Driven grouse shooting or birds of prey?  I started, as many do, by thinking I could have both – it’s the British search for compromise – but now I’m pretty sure you can’t have both (partly because the grouse industry is intransigent and partly because killing raptors is so easy) and so I have to choose. I choose birds of prey!

I choose birds of prey for a variety of reasons, and I reject driven grouse shooting for a variety of reasons. My reasons are set out in Inglorious – reading it might help you make up your mind, either way, too.






10 Replies to “Henry goes to Langholm Moor”

  1. “When birds of prey were protected at Langholm their numbers increased”.

    This narrative has always struck me as odd. Was it not illegal to kill birds of prey before the study? How did the protection offered by the study differ from the legal protection theoretically in place on all our uplands? How, in other words, did this functional protection come about? Did the Duke just pass word down for his keepers to stop killing birds of prey? Or was it increased patrolling/monitoring of activities on the moor by RSPB types?

    I know, it’s probably all in your book Mark and I plan to buy it, but perhaps you could summarise?

    1. Yes, I agree. However the new, effective protection was achieved, the study effectively proved that birds of prey were being bumped off before the project started. I don’t know why that is not more widely and frequently pointed out. Since we are always told that any persecution of birds of prey that does occur is perpetrated by a tiny minority of bad apples it must have been absolutely rotten luck that the study should have taken place on one of the ever-so-rare bad apple estates. Rather more likely, I’d think, that Langholm is or was typical of grouse shooting estates. As Andrew Gilruth recently remarked, the study proved that the gamekeepers who killed Hen Harriers had been right to do so – from the perspective of maintaining a commercially viable shoot – and we can only conclude that the cold logic of his assessment applies equally to all grouse moors and therefore that Hen Harrier persecution must have been widespread on all moors maintaining successful shoots.

      A proposition that we knew anyway from the absence of the birds across swathes of otherwise suitable habitat.

      1. Jonathan and Hugh – it would be impolite to criticise the host of the Langholm study for making that land available. He should be praised for clamping down, in whatever way, on whoever it was who was responsible for the lack of Hen Harriers and Peregrines at Langholm before the study started. But if it wasn’t a reasonably typical estate then there wasn’t much point in doing the work there, was there? And yes, the increase in Hen Harrier and Peregrine numbers showed what the uplands might be like if there were rather more clamping down going on.

        1. Impolite maybe, but the implication of earlier systematic persecution is remarkable and somewhat damning. I also find the Langholm Project website unhelpful. Hen harrier numbers are only viewable on their graph for the period 1980-2009, although they allude in the text of the site to large numbers breeding in 2014. Why not update this graph?

          They also only devote two lines to the key issue of hen harrier impact on grouse, in which they state categorically (on their project details page) that “Based on grouse and hen harrier densities observed to date, hen harriers have not constrained grouse numbers”. Yet on a different page of the same site (the Joint Raptor Study page) they say: “Raptor predation at Langholm reduced autumn grouse abundance by 50%, leading to the cessation of driven grouse shooting.”

          Too many stakeholders with different agendas seem to have had an input on this study so that a disinterested conclusion must be drawn by the reader trying to gaze between the lines, rather than rely on the double speak and occasionally apparently contradictory statements on the website.

          Ultimately though, as Mark says, it is impossible not to conclude from this long-running study that commercial driven grouse shooting and natural hen harrier densities are incompatible. Thus the need for a ban; or the need for persecution, if you’re Andrew Gilruth.

        2. I agree completely that the study had to be done on a typical estate if it was to have any meaningful bearing on the issue and I acknowledge that credit is due to the Buccleugh estates for making the land available as a step towards identifying solutions to the problems. However, as Hugh says the results are damning and, assuming the estate is indeed typical, damning for the driven grouse industry as a whole.
          It seems to me that it is tacitly acknowledged quite widely by the grouse shooting community that persecution is widespread. The inclusion of brood management in the draft recovery plan is a case in point – it could only be of any possible benefit to Hen Harriers if it was accepted as a concession by shooting interests in return for ceasing to kill Hen Harriers and destroy their nests. Insisting that it must be in the plan therefore seems to me to be an admission that the persecution is indeed going on to a significant degree and makes pious statements condemning those who ‘few’ who get caught in the act ring very hollow indeed.

          1. Jonathan – Your logic seems unassailable to me.

            I’m sure you will enjoy reading Chapter 3 of Inglorious which is all about the Langholm study (Langhom 1 – pages 83-101).

    1. Most visitors to Liddesdale and the Langholm Moor say they find it beautiful.

      Have you ever been there?

  2. There are actual bushes in this photo of a grouse moorland and I can’t recall any other image on this blog or the Raptor Persecution Scotland site where there has been any presence of native trees on the moor itself. Not what may be the smudge of a bit of native woodland way, way in the distance or in a deep gully, or a commercial conifer plantation, but honest to goodness young trees growing through the heather. Limited though it is what a very refreshing change from monotonous burnt and unburnt moor. Imagine what it would look like a few years down the line and how much more wildlife there would be. We’re unlikely to find out according to a commentator on RPS someone at Langholm plans to remove the native trees and from this photo I’m pretty sure I now know what that means.

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