2015 – a bad year for driven grouse shooting


Few Red Grouse were shot in the UK this year, mainly because of disease and bad weather. But regardless of grouse bags, this was a very bad year for driven grouse shooting and hastened the end of this worthless hobby.

The case against driven grouse shooting is that it depends on intensive management that involves a perversion of the ecology of our uplands. Other wildlife is pushed aside to produce Red Grouse for shooting and the ecological services provided by the hills (eg carbon storage, flood reduction) are reduced for all of us.  In addition, grouse shooting experienced disease problems of its own making.

Photo: Gordon Yates
Photo: Gordon Yates

Raptors:  There was a welcome increase in the number of Hen Harrier nesting attempts in England but an unwelcome increase in the incidence of males ‘disappearing’ from active, protected, guarded nests whilst away on foraging trips.  The British grouse industry, in the shape of YFTB, tried to make much of the ‘fact’ that of these Hen Harriers, ones with RSPB involvement did less well than those on driven grouse moors and the YFTB press release was essentially reproduced unchecked in the Daily Telegraph. The facts were rather different and resulted in the Telegraph having to apologise and make corrections.  The extreme unlikelihood of so many male Hen Harriers disappearing naturally in this time period suggested that pairs with RSPB involvement were deliberately targetted by criminals to produce lurid headlines.

More generally, there should be over 300 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting in northern England and there were again, not much more than a single handful of Anniesuccessful nests.  The body of a Hen Harrier named Annie was tracked down to a grouse moor in Scotland.

Hen Harriers are not, of course, the only victims of wildlife crime on grouse moors. Initial findings from the national Peregrine survey showed that grouse moors remain black holes for this species. We await the full publication of the results with interest.

The Peak District raptor project failed to make a jot of difference to persecuted raptor populations in one of England’s National Parks.

Raptor persecution is necessary to produce ridiculously high densities of Red Grouse for shooting for ‘sport’. We can’t have both – choose which you want: a pointless sport involving killing birds for fun or wildlife law to be upheld.

An ugly view in Scotland. Ripe for reform. Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns
An ugly view in Scotland. Ripe for reform. Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns

Greenhouse gas emissions: in a year when the world came together to limit greenhouse gas emissions men in tweed continue to damage the UK’s carbon stores by draining and burning our uplands to produce large numbers of chicken-like birds for the ‘sport’ of shooting.

The Committee on Climate Change, not a bunch of birdwatchers or raptor workers, said ‘The damaging practice of burning peat to increase grouse yields continues, including on internationally protected sites ‘.

Of course, those carbon emissions may be a cause of increased flood risk.

Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.
Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

Floods: 2015 draws to a close with northern towns being flooded; many of them by the rivers that drain England’s grouse moors. My eye was drawn to the folk of Hebden Bridge who have suffered in the recent past and are suffering again now. As I saw images of the centre of Hebden Bridge under water my eye was drawn to the Crown fish and chip restaurant in Crown Street and just across the road from the Crown Inn where in 2014 I talked to the then landlord about the floods of 2012. I gave a talk in Hebden Bridge this autumn and my heart goes out to those reflooded this winter. The Ban the Burn group blame previous Hebden Bridge flooding on intensive management on moorland upstream and lying above the town, the most notorious of which is Walshaw Moor (see Inglorious for lots of detail).

Across northern England rivers such as the Wyre (draining the Forest of Bowland) and Calder were part of the flood story that has dominated the news for  days.

The focus is moving towards building landscapes better able to moderate flood risk rather than building bigger flood walls, which never seem to be in the right places or quite tall enough, to try to cope with the problems. Prevention is much better than cure and grouse shooting is small beer compared with flooded towns.

The cost of the recent floods is mounting as I write, and is estimated to be around £1.5bn. That cannot, remotely, all be laid at the door of driven grouse shooting. But imagine that just 1% of the cost was attributed to driven grouse shooting – that’s £15m. That’s a high proportion of the (inflated and disputed) spend by grouse moor managers (£52.5m) in England and Wales.  It’s likely that grouse moor management has a much wider role than 1% and, of course, its impacts are not restricted to flood risk.

Grit for grouse in Yorkshire
Grit for grouse in Yorkshire

Disease: Densities of Red Grouse on grouse moors are up to 100 times natural densities whereas densities of natural predators such as foxes, stoats and raptors are closer to 0% natural levels. These are ideal conditions for disease to spread: high densities of birds (mixed together by driving of moors) and no predators to weed out, quickly, diseased birds.

Louping ill is one disease of concern to grouse shooters, and large numbers of Mountain Hares are killed simply in an attempt to produce a few more grouse. But gut worms have been one of the main problems for grouse shooters for decades, although medicated grit has led grouse shooters to imagine that they might be able to cheat nature. Hubris! The GWCT is now admitting that there is a danger of resistance to medication and there are rumours and fears that medication is being used more intensively and later in the year than it should be (see here, here and here).

As if this weren’t bad enough, another Guest Blog by Ruth Tingay revealed that the disease bulgy eye is spreading across grouse moors and its spread may be aided by the provision of medicated grit feeders (a bit like Greenfinches and bird feeders).

All in all, the year ends with a growing picture that Red Grouse populations are incredibly unnatural and are suffering from a range of diseases which have been allowed to develop and spread thanks to the management practices employed for the sport of driven grouse shooting.

Red Grouse 1c fat arrows - CopyGrouse on your plate: if the ticks, worms and protozoan parasites don’t put you off having a Red Grouse on your plate, then maybe the fact that it is likely to be heavily laden with lead might. The Lead Ammunition Group reported to ministers but their report has, so far, been buried by Defra. M&S decided, again, not to sell grouse in its stores and my money would be on the fact that they never will. Iceland, owned by keen shooter Malcolm Walker, stocked their stores with Red Grouse that they found almost impossible to flog off to their customers – which is why they were so cheap at the end of the season when many samples were bought and are even now being analysed for their lead content – watch this space. But X-rays of Red Grouse and other game demonstrated what is well-known – that tiny fragments of lead spread through the carcasses of small game shot with lead pellets and are responsible for the high lead levels in such meat even when the whole pellets are removed. It will take a callous or stupid restaurant to sell Red Grouse shot with lead in future. Let’s see!

IMG_4629 - CopyProtests increase: A six-foot Hen Harrier mascot roamed the grouse moors of England and Scotland, and the Bird Fair and Game Fair, drawing attention to driven grouse shooting and raptor persecution. This was loathed by grouse shooters as who can find the right way to combat a fluffy mascot! Birders Against Wildlife Crime organised a conference and a Hen Harrier Day event in Derbyshire that was simply one of many held across England and Scotland. An e-petition aimed at banning driven grouse shooting closed in March with over 22,000 signatures and another started in July which already has over 25,000 signatures. A book was published which put the case for banning driven grouse shooting and immediately became a best-seller in the Amazon UK category of target shooting – and stayed in that position for over three months.

The word spread that driven grouse shooting is all a bit pointless and has downsides for society as a whole. The persecution of protected wildlife is totally unacceptable, but then so is the damage to the ecosystem services provided by upland habitats, and all for a ‘sport’ for the rich.

m8ALFD4rG4jR50EoMj_a--6ZDFGIz0oYz3X9zg3FAJoSo, all in all, a terrible year for driven grouse shooting. We didn’t go away as they probably hoped, instead we grew noisier, more numerous and stronger.  More and more people heard about grouse shooting and what it actually means for upland ecology and people across the country. It’s a damaging and pointless hobby  – we should end it now, and we will end it soon, particularly if you sign this e-petition and get your friends to do the same.

If you are a gamekeeper or grouse moor manager reading this blog you can look forward to a 2016  that will be another bad year for driven grouse shooting.  There will be more satellite-tagged birds, more science criticising your management, more public awareness of your intensive management practices, more understanding of how pointless driven grouse shooting is, more scepticism about the sustainability of your sport and more and more protest and opposition to it continuing. But 2016 may be a better year than 2017 for the direction of travel is only in one direction.




13 Replies to “2015 – a bad year for driven grouse shooting”

  1. Why all the problems that the world is experiencing,do people not make more effort to not realise what can put in right. Oh yes MONEY

  2. Great piece of writing, have shared this and hope to encourage more people to sign the petition. Happy New Year Mark and thanks for standing in the gap for wildlife.

  3. Yes, thanks for all your efforts over the past year!
    I don’t see it going under the current government but, all the evidence is in place to enable the next to take action. We just need to keep the profile high!

  4. The fact that so many of the grouse shooting fraternity spend so much of their time making utterly facile ‘criticisms’ of real conservation initiatives and organisations shows they are on the run! Just when you think they’ve hit the bottom of the barrel they sink even lower, both the loss of those hen harriers and subsequent anti RSPB propaganda MUST have been co-ordinated. Would be so much better if all the parties who have a legitimate reason to be shot of driven grouse moors, that includes everyone paying extra charges to clean water affected from muirburn to Buglife, said sod it let’s just deliver the coup de grace in 2016, been mucking about for too long and the land and our wildlife gave been suffering for it. Just seen a FB post from one of the field sports lot that effectively, if not technically, claimed he had killed sparrow hawk ‘attacking’ caged birds in his garden. The same mentality that used to stick rows of dead raptors, stoats, weasels and foxes on fences still exists. Well done on all your efforts Mark and all the best for 2016.

  5. Excellent blog post yet again. One hopes that all of these loathsome creatures that enjoy destroying wildlife for fun will continue to be disappointed. As the opposition to fox hunting reaches better than 83% (84% in rural areas) in the UK, there has to be a platform for raising awareness of the insanity of grouse moor predator management on the back of their destruction of foxes: attack from all angles.

  6. Well, I wonder if there is any hope of the RSPB coming out of its corner on some of these issues in 2016? It seems to me that they, along with some other conservation NGOs, are becoming increasingly bogged down with bureaucracy and fund raising, leaving others to highlight the on-going plight of much of our wildlife. Yes, I am critical, but my ‘rose-coloured’ spectacles were trampled in the dust many years ago and I expect organisations that claim to be fighting for wildlife to speak out unequivocally, not just to their membership but to the public at large.

    1. Not the first occasion that there seems to be suggestions that wealthy NGOs are unable, or is it unwilling to upset general membership or government will do ‘gardening projects’ (& nothing wrong with that) whilst we the public will do the hard campaigning and challenge principles etc. (aka break with tradition), but we are still expected to fund them and perhaps they can in due course take credit also?

      I’m sure there are good staff in NGOs and amongst civil servants (examples escape me at the moment even though it is the season of goodwill to all men) but the challenge is to break the media barrier (those thunderclaps must have helped) and seriously interest the general public in the implications of failure to safeguard the public water supply, act holistically in terms of causes of increased floods etc. etc. Only when anything has meaning to the individual will that individual act?

      Since leaving the RSPB Mark really has taken the challenge to the establishment, can we keep up with him and collectively achieve change – will 2016 be ‘our’ year, a year that sees significant change in terms of conservation and its delivery?

      With apologies for an oft overused quaote but …. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.

    2. Sadly the facebook page for RSPB Scotland is little more than a platform for its field sports detractors. If anything involving raptors, waders is posted you can be sure there’ll be umpteen comments re shooting estates being better places for birds than RSPB reserves, shooting estates loving birds of prey whereas the RSPB sent golden eagles to certain death in Ireland in an attempted reintroduction, the RSPB is faking bird of prey persecution to get funds, it goes on and on. Total rubbish, but when enough people don’t use their brains it’s harmful especially when there are people specifically going to the page in a critical frame of mind. Then there are the general comments about RSPB fatcats and their huge salaries, the RSPB being effectively a communist organisation etc, etc ad nausea. It’s a public forum obviously, but I do wish the RSPB would do a lot more when someone makes a ridiculous claim to counter it with bare facts and research. At the moment some of us are going on and trying to counter the guff being put on the fb page, by a particularly nasty bunch, but it’s tiresome and frustrating. The RSPB is being used as a punch bag by the less progressive members of the field sports sector and it really needs to start fighting back very hard.

  7. Great blog on a dreadful subject. Keep up the good work and if another HH day is necessary you can rely on our support.

    Happy New Year to all involved in getting rid of this cruelty.

  8. All in good time. It’s going to be a long fight but you appear to have gained a lot of line over the last year. The end result will be one big fish that isn’t returned to fight another day. Keep up the great work Mark. Happy New Year!!

  9. I recently published an item on the mismanagement of grouse moorland where I had monitored and researched Hen Harriers for almost twenty years, providing what I considered to be scientific arguments based on undisputable evidence. The immediate reaction from a “leading” grouse shooter was not to argue back using any kind of scientific argument, but to accuse me of being “a comunist [sic], just like his dear friend Jeremy Corbin [sic].” Having never met Mr Corbyn and not being a communist, I was quite amused. I suppose it’s a sign of insecurity when grouse shooters resort to throwing mindless insults, particularly referring to Mr Corbyn, whose crime against humanity appears to be one of kind and compassionate social democracy.

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