Why driven grouse shooting is doomed

getimage-3I’m quite often asked whether I really want a ban on driven grouse shooting – I do! And then I’m sometimes told that ‘It’ll never happen’ and I say ‘It will’.

This is why.

Let’s start with the very obvious, but rarely stated, fact that driven grouse shooting is not essential. We don’t need it. Most of us would not notice if it were gone. It’s an unsporting field sport for a very few people, and it’s sometimes called an industry – but it’s an industry that produces nothing.

This is important because grouse shooting isn’t like farming, for example.  We all need food, and we all need farmers. We might sometimes not like what some of them do, if they are cruel to their animals or use powerful pesticides on their crops, but on the whole we accept or turn a blind eye because we need them to produce our food. Nobody needs a grouse moor. Grouse shooting is a niche hobby like train-spotting or twitching. Providing the participants don’t do anything too nasty then we’ll all say ‘I wouldn’t want to do that but I suppose it’s OK that they do’ most of the time.

That’s why Charles Clover was right to point out in the Sunday Times (though the rest of us have been doing so for years – but he may be listened to) that grouse shooting needs public support. That means it ought to behave itself.

Driven grouse shooting already has two big problems as far as winning over the public is concerned. The first is that it involves the rather unsporting prospect of killing lots, and lots, and lots, of wild birds driven towards a line of guns. It involves killing – its whole point is killing actually. And some people will be against it from the very start because of that. Personally, I find the scale of killing distasteful but that isn’t my major gripe. That’s why I am not running a ‘Ban all shooting’ campaign. But many start as opponents of this distasteful hobby because it is steeped in killing things for fun.

Then there is the ‘rich people’ issue. It’s not really a class issue, for as we have seen, many of the proponents of driven grouse shooting are loaded but not classy.  A rich man’s hobby (of killing wildlife) is not the easiest thing for which to gain public support. But that’s not my main gripe with it either (although it does make it a lot more fun – let’s be honest).

No the real reason that driven grouse shooting is doomed is that it is based on intensive mismanagement of the uplands that will bring it into terminal conflict with the law, nature lovers and policy makers alike.

The first circle that cannot be squared is the Langholm study results (see Chapter 3 of Inglorious).  If Langholm were typical, and we have reason to believe that it was, then you cannot have driven grouse shooting, depending on massively unnatural populations of Red Grouse to provide enormous ‘bags’ of dead Red Grouse in the presence of natural levels of birds of prey – Hen Harriers, Golden Eagles, Peregrines etc.  I think the grouse shooters accepted this inevitability long before we conservationists did. It’s a choice – a clear choice. Do you want birds of prey or a useless pointless hobby for the rich? I choose birds of prey but it’s up to you what you choose.  But in the end you do have to choose because you can’t have both.  The British love of compromise runs up against a brick wall when it meets biological reality.  Bring the British people into this choice, like the taxi driver who took me to the BBC studio at Millbank yesterday or the woman behind the Post Office counter and they will choose wildlife every time. Every time.  Let’s ask them.

And with more and more satellite tags being fitted to young harriers then the more damning the evidence will be. We now know that Lush and Ecotricity will be funding tags next year. Give it five years and the scale of illegal killing will be laid bare with birds like Annie, Sky, Hope and Bowland Bess dying in the glare of publicity.  It won’t take long.

The second circle that cannot be squared is the ecological harm and damage derived from intensive habitat management for Red Grouse. Increased flood risk (and higher home insurance costs), increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased water pollution (and therefore water bills) and damaged blanket bogs are all costs of this intensive management. If you live in York and are paying higher home insurance because of grouse shooting, or live in Leeds and suffer higher water bills, grouse shooting becomes an issue for you and for the politicians and policy makers who should look out for your welfare, and the utilities who have you as a customer.  The Leeds University Ember project, and a wealth of other data, add up to an environmental Langholm study – you have to choose between intensive grouse shooting and a damaged and expensive ecosystem, and no grouse shooting and a healthy ecosystem and lower household costs. Let’s put that one to the vote too.  Rich person’s useless, pointless, unsporting sport, or lower bills for the masses? You choose – no, actually, we choose!

If the water utilities would get a grip of this issue, and if Defra would get off its backside and start delivering for the public good, and if the wildlife ngos would realise that a victory was within their grasp, then this wouldn’t take long at all. As it is, the eventual, certain, and welcome outcome, a cessation of the damaging practice of driven grouse shooting is going to take a while to achieve. But momentum is building all the time. Every dead harrier, every failed campaign of spin by the shooters, every new study of ecosystem damage, every new complaint that puts the UK’s environmental credibility at risk, every damaging report by the Committee on Climate Change, every Hen Harrier Day rally brings the demise of driven grouse shooting closer.

When it’s gone, no one will ask for its return. When it’s gone we will be better off. When it’s gone we will regard its going as progress.

Today is the Inglorious 12th, 2015 – I’ll give it 10 years.


Ban driven grouse shooting. Let’s get to 12,000 signatures on the Inglorious 12th!


33 Replies to “Why driven grouse shooting is doomed”

  1. Excellent account, Mark. Thanks for your brilliant writing. Don’t forget all those who turned out on Sunday. We will win and, hopefully, it won’t take 10 years.

  2. You are wrong Mark, when it’s gone there will still be a vocal minority of Countryside Alliance supporting individuals who continue to believe they are above the laws of the land and that they do more good than harm. Just like fox-hunting this issue will fizz on for many years after, in fact there is so much vitriol in parts of grouse shooting that some will carry on the removal of birds of prey and other predators simply out of spite. Banning driven grouse shooting on its own won’t be the end of the killing, we need tougher controls on who can own guns, laws that reduce the amount of ‘legal predator control’ and the number of game birds released into our countryside annually.

  3. Terrific blog Mark, so well written and you are so right in what you say. We will win in the end and put this obnoxious activity (it is not a sport) behind us.

  4. Raptor Persecution Scotland reporting that a Hen Harrier found dead on ‘remote moorland near the Daer Reservoir’, south Lanarkshire in April has been confirmed by autopsy to have been shot.
    No doubt apologists for grouse shooting will suggest all sorts of improbable explanations as they seek to deflect the blame but this will hopefully at least add to the pressure on government to take the problem of persecution by gamekeepers more seriously. The pressure is building and the dam cannot hold forever!

      1. The link worked for me. It would appear that although Amanda Anderson was at both the Saturday and Sunday events she wasn’t listening to any of the arguments. She still believes that “brood meddling” is the answer to HH recovery!

  5. Stating the obvious, but bloody well written blog, unimpeachable logic and case which if everyone in the UK could be made to sit down and read this at the same time, well driven grouse shooting wouldn’t have ten minutes. PS don’t forget shoals of anglers who have had their interests swept under the carpet by those supposed to represent them – can’t embarass the grouse moors owners and shooters.

  6. With the legal representative on the board of BASC congratulating his fellow barrister for getting terrible gamekeepers off serious charges by using dubious tactics, without testing the evidence, makes me think that the ‘conservation’ part of their title is used in a similar way that ‘democratic’ was used in old east European countries’ names.

  7. A truly awesome blog. Stands out even though you write many good ones. An inspiring rallying cry. If I can use a metaphor about grouse shooting, how happy would people be if they went to an art gallery and all the paintings except those by one particular artist had been removed? How about if only one form of recreation was permitted at recreational parks in cities? So why can we only see grouse and a few other lucky species on our upland moors?

    1. Grouse are not lucky!

      No birds – or other creatures – are lucky when there are people with lethal weapons allowed to stamp about the countryside.

      1. 12,000 – well passed and well on the way to 13,000! Long may the pace continue to gather momentum and the metaphoric landslide purge the putrid practice (no pun intended) ….

  8. Excellent article Mark and right on the button as usual, there’s just one question that to me needs a good answer! Why is it that it is you are shouting this from the treetops and drumming up support, why is it not the RSPB, the bird protection society with over one million members that they could raise to the cause ???

  9. Brilliantly put, succinct, in a nutshell. Thanks Mark, and thanks to everyone who was involved in Sunday’s event, We were there and were greatly impressed by the determination of everyone to bring this to an end. We are fed up with gamekeepers and their employers effectively censoring the wildlife the rest of us are allowed to see.

  10. Hello Mark

    I’ve just finished Inglorious and wanted to say that it is quite brilliant – from Chris Packham’s scathing foreword to the “End game”. The writing was engaging and informative throughout – my favourite chapters were “A short introduction to grouse shooting” and “The sunlit uplands” and I’m sure the book will accelerate the demise of driven grouse shooting.

  11. This is a great piece Mark and already I’ve been able to forward the link to people who I know have read it and then signed the petition today.

    Without giving anything away on a public blog, what is the strategy for the future? I want to do more than add to the comments on here, enjoyable as it is. How do I make a greater contribution? We can probably rely on YFTB, SGA, CA and others to continue to put their feet in it and sadly, we can definitely rely on the continued killing of birds of prey but is there more we ‘following the blog’ can do?

  12. Excellent. Perhaps it is also doomed because unbelievably we taxpayers still subsidise it. With wider awareness we will surely soon stop that.

  13. Think the really important thing is that we have yourself and Chris Packham for us to follow and that it will gather momentum with that combination especially with all the effort other organisations,families and individuals are putting in this campaign.
    Thank you all for all your efforts.

  14. As has been stated by many others, this is an excellent piece. It states the obvious in that it doesn’t tell those of us following the argument anything we don’t already know, but it does sum up all the arguments very succinctly and would make an excellent piece for the mainstream media.

    Mark, I think you’re right with your prediction of ten years although that might vary somewhat dependent on the party in power. Its also true that the diehards will try to carry on even if grouse shooting becomes illegal and the true end of this ghastly sport will be somewhat further away. But whilst all our efforts are currently directed toward getting a ban in place, we also need to avoid the mistakes of allied forces in Libya and consider what is going to fill the vacuum after the ban has been achieved. In particular:

    1) What is going to happen to grouse moors when there is no more shooting? Do we leave it all to nature and let the inevitable succession take its course? Or will they still require ‘management’ and if so, to what extent, with what end, and how will the process be paid for?

    2) There would need to be some sort of plan regarding grouse numbers because presumably there will be an oversupply of grouse on the moors once they’re not being shot at. I would expect a grouse moor to repopulate with a lot of species over time, but will this process be delayed or hindered by the excess grouse population? Presumably nature would sort it out given enough time but should we simply sit back and wait – or step in and help? And if so, how?

    I’m asking the above not because I’m trying to slip a spanner in the works but because I’m trying to think ahead and knowing nothing of grouse moors (we’re a bit short of them in SW London!) I simply don’t know.


    1. You say it is based on intensive land management but why need it be? I seem to remember that you were singing the praises recently of an estate that had driven grouse shooting.

      Surely estates could be run in a much more diversified and less intensive way with people still driving the odd bird towards guns.

      And if you are against intensive land management in the uplands why not support a ban on intensive land management of the uplands?

      1. giles – i don’t know why you are telling me this Guy – speak to the grouse moors (although my experience is that they have been deafened by the sound of gunfire).

        1. Hi Mark,

          So would you want to ban driven grouse shooting that didn’t rely on intensive land management/ BOP killing &c?

          And would you want to ban intensive land management BOP killing &c in the uplands that didn’t support driven grouse shooting?

          Those are reasonable questions are they not?

          1. ps for the record I would like to ban or at least far more strictly regulate all intensive land management on the uplands – just wondering whether you would too.

  15. Oh well Mark in lah la land the disenfranchised toil 90hrs a week ,managing the peat bog and uplands for the ever growing community of economic migrants
    Doubt you have ever worked a moor or covered workers wages from your own pocket .

  16. An interesting article as ever. I hope for the day driven grouse ends, indeed the end of all blood sports. I am however surprised at your views on harrier brood management in your earlier blog post, which to me smacks of the usual wishy-washy appeasement that has been shown to these moor owners for many years.
    Of course it is not only raptors that are persecuted in this country, untold numbers of other birds and animals are killed in this land of animal lovers. I guess the RSPB is dear to your heart, so I would be interested in your views on the morality of the predator control practised by them. Is it right to control other species in order to promote the success of a single species? Can you square this circle for me?

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