The Sandford Principle

Weds 5 Aug CopyI am very fond of the people who comment on this blog – most of them anyway. There is so much knowledge, and humour, and different perspectives that I learn a lot.  Sometimes you just make me smile and sometimes you provide nuggets of information.

Yesterday, Richard Wilson, a frequent and valued commenter here, pointed us all to the Sandford Principle.

Sandford Principle
“Where irreconcilable conflicts exist between conservation and public enjoyment, then conservation interest should take priority”

So why do we have grouse shooting in National Parks? Why do we have grouse shooting, at all, in any National Parks? See this example and substitute the words Hen Harrier for Osprey and Red Grouse for fish and …?

If there is a conflict between protecting the environment and people enjoying the environment, that can’t be resolved by management, then protecting the environment is more important.’

The thing is, that driven grouse shooting is certainly not public enjoyment – it’s enjoyment by a very small number of private individuals which deprives many other people and much wildlife of their enjoyment of our National Parks.

The Peak District National Park needs to act on grouse shooting within its boundaries – with a new Chief Executive there, there must be more opportunity for change.  I don’t know exactly what its options are, for the National Park is only a relatively small landowner, but it can no longer sit idly by, setting up talking shops, while too much of the natural beauty it was set up to preserve and enhance is criminally killed within its boundaries. Raptor persecution is not a secret, it’s not a hypothesis, it’s a reality within the Peak District National Park. And it is shameful.

Signing this e-petition will send a signal that more public bodies should act to remove the ills of driven grouse shooting from our hills.



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25 Replies to “The Sandford Principle”

  1. Don't forget the Yorkshire Dales NP Mark, as bad, if not worse than the Peak District. NO successful breeding Hen Harriers AT ALL since 2007, anecdotal evidence of a heavy decline in the once healthy Short-eared Owl population, and NO successful grouse moor Peregrines since (I believe) the late 90's!!

  2. For the Sandford principle to be operated successfully, you have to decide what you mean by "conservation" and "public enjoyment".

    If public enjoyment means the management of large tracts of habitat in a particular way which results in high quality breeding grounds for Red Grouse, Golden Plover and Curlew, then you have no conflict.

    This is exactly what driven grouse shooting does.

    1. David - what about all the other species that could live there if there wasn't any grouse shooting? Badgers, foxes, stoats, corvids and birds of prey would obviously increase if the reason for killing them was removed. Stopping the intensive and environmentally destructive management would also change the habitat from heather monoculture to a more varied landscape that would include trees and scrub, which again would increase wildlife.

      1. The reason so many other species thrive on managed grouse moors is that predator removal is also practiced. All ground nesting birds benefit as a result.

        1. David - its tiresome reading how beneficial shooting is for ground nesting birds. Every shooter or real "countryman" seems to love them, but let's face it, if curlew or golden plover eat red grouse then they wouldn't be seen anywhere near a grouse moor. Waders are just a smokescreen for shooting interests to champion, as they are the only wildlife that can benefit from their intensive management, which helps with PR. The main reason why they are so popular is that they also shoot them! These birds are golden plover, woodcock and snipe.

          1. I've heard of a credible eye witness account of a curlew gulping a grouse chick, if this were a common occurence bet curlews would start disappearing off the moors bloody fast.

          2. I've heard of a credible eye witness account of a curlew gulping a grouse chick, if this were a common occurence bet curlews would start disappearing off the moors bloody fast.

    2. David Eyles,

      Grouse moors are privately owned land for an industry that is managed specifically to allow paying guests to take part in shooting red grouse. So they cannot argue that they exist for public enjoyment. If I took a gun, hired some beaters and started taking pot shots at the flushed grouse, would the estates applaud my efforts as an example of a member of the public using the grouse moors for enjoyment; or ask that the Game Acts be enforced with the full weight of the law and treat me as a poacher?

      So an analogy might be a caravan park. The caravan park is the 'grouse moor', the paying guests are the same and the activity, staying in a caravan, is the 'shooting red grouse'.

      Interestingly, the Lake District NPA refused permission for a caravan parks to open in winter on the shores of Lake Windermere because this would disturb wildfowl (Thornton and Beckwith, 2004). I would argue, as might Mark, that opening a caravan park in winter on the shores of Lake Windermere is less disturbing to fauna (birds in this instance) than grouse moors; either the actual shooting or the general management. Yet the Lake District NPA felt justified in enforcing the Sandford Principle in this instance.

      Secondly, Section 62 of the Environment Act 1995 which inserted Section 11A in to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, makes clear that the National Park Authorities shall attach ‘greater weight to the purpose of conserving...."; thus in enforcing the Sandford Principle, they must acquire the evidence; rather than rely on hearsay or PR spin that the grouse industry spews out. The evidence is overwhelming that managing grouse moors, on balance, for grouse shooting is deleterious to the principles of the National Parks; for example burning on moorlands has negative effects on carbon sequestration, flood risk etc. National Parks were not set up to create grouse moors in the same way that they were not designated for caravan parks or quarries. That doesn't mean to say that these activities cannot exist in National Parks; they can and do. But the compensatory weight, or restrictions imposed are likely to be higher than if they were occurring outside a National Park - to counteract the weight provided by the Sandford Principle. In other words, a caravan park, as an example, has to give more in a National Park to balance the arguments. And if they cannot give more, then they cannot have it. So in the winter opening example, I would assume that the prospective caravan park owners couldn't demonstrate the ability to reduce winter (!) or provide sufficient compensatory measures such as reduced opening (which may not have made economic sense) or provided screens to shield Lake Windermere from disturbance. In this context, grouse moors need to be considered - can grouse moors 'shield' their industry sufficiently to balance the greater weight afforded to conservation (which is not restricted to nature conservation).

      As to what is meant by 'conservation' in the context of National Parks; I have tried to quickly locate some case-law or other guidance which might direct me (us) as to how the Courts would interpret this within the meaning of the 1949 Act. However, I haven't been successful - there is a useful website here ( but I just don't have the time to trawl through the database! This said, on first principles, I would guess that the Courts would take 'conservation' in as broad a definition as they could within the context of why National Parks have been designated - so there would be a cultural element too, which I would suggest grouse shooting falls in to, as well as an economic one. The economic argument would lose, on Sandford Principle grounds, as this would be subordinate to conservation. The cultural conservation element MAY take equal weight to nature conservation on Sandford Principle grounds, in which case there could be deadlock without recourse to other legislation; for example Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (if SSSIs are taken in to account) and Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (if SPAs and/ or SACs are considered). This may give greater weight to the nature conservation element versus the cultural heritage element of the Sandford Principle. But I emphasise 'may'.

      I am sure other, more experienced commentators can provide either additional comments or amend anything I have misunderstood from above; but in summary, a grouse moor could not solely rely on demonstrating that there are more curlews and golden plovers on their moors versus another moor. There would still be conflict (carbon sequestration etc). They would have to outweigh this - are there enough curlews and golden plover? And what about hen harriers etc?


      1. I think I agree with all of this.

        Clearly conservation is a relative concept and NP legislation strongly relates conservation to existing agricultural and other practices. Purpose of parks to improve access and maintain existing flora and fauna, rather than necessarily to enhance it. Biodiversity agenda has changed that, but - as I understand it - is wholly based on individual management agreements (for which payments made), and to use Sandford as a way of challenging management practices it would be necessary to show that current practices have led to a significant reduction in biodiversity, which is different from finding certain long-existing uses restrict the development of greater biodiversity. There is no year zero, alas, which makes things more difficult.

        Fundamentally, this is a problem of private property. Could management grants for grouse moors be withdrawn? Yes. Could maintaining grouse moors be inhibited, at least in some places? That's a much bigger step. Were the state to do that, it would almost certainly end up making compensation payments. Maybe that's the price we have to pay.

        Incidentally, and this is more than just a historical point, for it says much about the underpinnings of the 1949 Act, the findings of the Sandford Report were cautious, mainly concerned with amenity and landscape aesthetics, rather than reflecting a sophisticated ecological outlook (despite the efforts of Nature Conservancy to steer it that way). It expressly did not bring into question the assumption that farmers are the best custodians of the land and their judgement should be trusted. Ironically for us, it also made most fuss about the ploughing up of rough grazing and the conversion of heathland into grassland, but that was in a different context. That said, in the report reference is made in Sandford's summary to 'ecological qualities', which did not make it into the version adopted by the government and subsequently used by the NPAs.

    3. Enjoyed by the 'elite' (wealthy) few but funded by the many in the form of agri-welfare subsidies? So perhaps the unspeakable chasing the uneatable have had their day?

      We had the sense, eventually, to reform child labour down the mines etc. but none of this is material, illegal acts are just that & until this is sorted there is likely to be collateral damage?

    4. ...but if your view of conservation and of public enjoyment differs... As you say it all depends on the interpretation.
      I think we chose to differ!

  3. David I definitely dispute your argument with regards to curlew and golden plover (GP). Whilst some land management practices like heather burning do create small patches of favourable microhabitat for curlew and GP, numbers are much better in areas of land managed in other ways. What is generally being suggested is a stop to raptor persecution and not necessarily the land management practices that go with it. The total removal of all managed grouse moor was never on the cards.

    1. This: suggests that you are wrong and my personal experience of Peak District grouse moors is confirmed.

      1. However, shows great improvements of many species on land previously used for grouse shooting.

      2. Its not exactly a peer reviewed article. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr Baines in action at that conference (along with grilling he got afterwards) along with an amateur presentation his colleague gave shortly after. I suppose a key question is what is a sustainable upland wader and grouse population? The levels of grouse on most driven moors is far from natural and you could probably argue the levels of some waders is probably equally unnatural in those circumstances. I would also question why we have large numbers of generalist predators such as foxes and corvids - could it not be to do with crap habitat, intensive land management practices (including game release) and a lack of top predators in the wider countryside? Although golden plover might nest on some crap over-burned heather dominated dry bog its hardly ideal natural habitat, like lapwing they can often be an indicator of trashed upland habitats so lets think wider. How about diverse bog plant communities (these are pretty rare in the Peak due to burning and grazing) or bog specialists like dunlin?

        Moorland and its surrounding upland habitats by its nature encompasses the sparsely vegetated wet bogs that don't need burning, diverse heaths of dwarf shrubs, grasses and other vegetation and areas of scrub and woodland - this mosaic naturally provides habitat for a range of species including waders, grouse (including black that failed in the Dark Peak, despite being surrounded by driven grouse moors), raptors, passerines etc. Trouble is, in the UK we have buggered around so much with our countryside by doing things like overgrazing, drainage, burning, scrub removal, intensive lambing, releasing pheasants, development (the list is endless) that habitats for key species are either fragmented, unnatural or provide a niche for more generalist species. If the dark peak for example were to get rid of the ugly non-native forestry, make grazing truly sustainable, restore native woodland, restore wet bogs and heaths and undo the legacy of current and past bad management we might be nearer to a natural system.

        Blindly continuing intensive management of some of our most important areas based on the management for 1 species is bonkers. We need to break the cycle, stop the crap and look to other parts of northern Europe where they have natural balances of species, intact habitat and are not overrun by millions of non-native pheasants, intensive vegetation management or damaging land management practices.

        I suspect if you look at this link, you might see what restoring habitat for upland breeding waders can do in the absence of the full suite of intensive grouse management:'Hara%20-%20effect%20of%20restoration%20on%20breeding%20birds%20at%20Dove%20Stone%5B1%5D.pdf

      3. David much as I respect what you are saying and that you genuinely care about these things, Seeing the full paper rather than the abstract would give an indication of the actual densities. A ten fold increase in a 0.0003 breeding pairs per hectare, for example probably isn't really that great, and compared to breeding densities in other habitats, is probably irrelivant. Things like curlew like to breed in quite boggy areas, boggy rough pasture etc. Moorland drainage is one of the managed aspects of grouse moors that needs to be reversed. This will probably increase nesting opportunities for the birds mentioned. In any case a heather monoculture is part of the problem rather than a patchwork of different microhabitats that would sustain hopefully a larger range of things in greater density overall.

  4. Sadly everyone has overlooked the Cameron-Osborne amendment to the Sandford principle, which states that profit overTrumps everything. (And the capital T is not a typo!)

  5. The Lake District National Park could also learn from the Sandford principle, not however for grouse moor management but that equally biodiversity denuding land use: sustained sheep grazing. The LDNP is a biodiversity desert, its fells are ecologically denuded by years of unsustainable sheep ranching and the park are beholden to a small minority of well connected interests who want to keep the status quo. The planed World Heritage status bid is a joke, obsessed more with cultural heritage than achieving anything that the Sandford Principle aims to protect. It wouldn't be bad if we were looking at the cultural heritage of farming practice 100 years ago but they are hoping to re-live the glory days of the post war sheep boom.

  6. Re Sandford Principle, it should certainly be applied VERY widely not just on National Parks. In my local area a lot of damage has been done by the removal of dead wood and trees not from any access or health and safety reasons, but because public consultation exercises deemed them as unsightly. So what? Even if after public education on the ecological importance of deadwood there were still people who wanted dead trees hacked down because they didn't like the sight of them, should that over ride conservation and ecological processes? One of the facetious arguments against ecological restoration in Scotland is that tourists like the hills bare so the can see the mountains and deer properly. Given that this means our mountains have to operate at an 'ecological deficit' with attendant soil erosion and flooding risk then think a few arses need a kicking with the Sandford Principle.


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