Let’s just stick with Hen Harriers for a while – I’ll come back to wider environmental issues next week.
And as far as Hen Harriers and driven grouse shooting go – you can’t have both, you have to choose.
Ever since the results of the first Langholm study (see Chapter 3 of Inglorious and here) it has been clear that it would be very difficult to have protected birds of prey and driven grouse shooting. Driven grouse shooting depends on unnaturally very high densities of Red Grouse and to get those massive densities you have to declare war on any predators that might eat Red Grouse adults, their eggs or their chicks. A whole range of predators will eat Red Grouse and many of them can be killed legally which is why gamekeepers spend so much of their time setting snares and traps to kill Red Foxes, Stoats, Carrion (or Hooded) Crows etc. But many birds of prey will eat Red Grouse too – and they are protected by law. The Langholm study showed that when Peregrine Falcons and Hen Harriers were protected at Langholm Moor then their numbers increased (showing that their numbers had been kept low by some means in the preceding years) then they would eat enough Red Grouse to make driven grouse shooting unprofitable.
Ever since then we have all been looking for some sort of compromise, because we British love a compromise, but we haven’t found one. So, you have to choose – do you want driven grouse shooting (in which case you have to cull raptors) or do you want wildlife law upheld (in which case it’s bye-bye intensive grouse shooting)?
Driven grouse shooting is just a hobby – that’s all it is. So it’s not a difficult choice for me – I want the law upheld and birds of prey to be protected. I don’t want shot or poisoned Red Kites to be found in the Yorkshire Dales every few weeks, I don’t want Peregrines to be persecuted so intensively that the impacts are clear enough for scientists to write papers documenting it, and I do want Hen Harriers to return to our National Parks. I don’t care if the hobby of driven grouse shooting has to disappear – it’s underpinned by wildlife crime so it has no place in our uplands.
We have made no progress at all through talking to the grouse industry for decades – things are worse now, and in the first year of the hopeless Defra’s hapless Hen Harrier Inaction Plan, than at almost any time for 50 years. The choice is not between ‘Nasty intensive grouse shooting and no Hen Harriers’ and ‘Nice intensive grouse shooting and lots of Hen Harriers’ because Langholm showed that intensive grouse shooting and lots of Hen Harriers are incompatible. You have to choose.
And the clearest possible evidence that we certainly aren’t going to get both, is that there are practically no Hen Harriers nesting on driven grouse moors across the UK. A mere handful or few hands full in the best of years. The grouse shooting industry has operated a ‘no-compromise’ policy for years, and the Defra Hen Harrier Inaction Plan has not changed that at all this year – thus we have only a tiny handful of Hen Harriers attempting to nest in England in 2016.
Let’s just compare England and Wales. In Wales there are lots of hills and the scientists tell us that there is enough habitat for c250 pairs of Hen Harrier. England has lots of hills too, and the scientists tell us that there is enough habitat for c330 pairs of Hen Harrier. Welsh hills have very little grouse shooting – practically none. But in England there is lots of grouse shooting – about 140 grouse moors. In the last Hen Harrier survey there were 57 pairs of Hen Harrier in Wales and the population was increasing. In England in recent years there have been 2-12 pairs of Hen Harriers and the population is bumping along the bottom. Both countries have lower Hen Harrier populations than they should because the level of persecution overall drags the whole population down, but Wales, where grouse shooting is practically absent, has an increasing Hen Harrier population whereas England, with many many grouse moors has a tiny Hen Harrier population and it’s not increasing at all.
The grouse industry isn’t going to go quietly, and they know their industry is doomed in the long run. They are just milking our uplands for as much money as possible until the end comes. And the only way to bring that end about quickly is to ask parliament to ban driven grouse shooting. The more people sign this e-petition the greater the pressure will be – and in the end that pressure will force change.
It’s not all about Hen Harriers – read Inglorious to see that – but one selfish industry is responsible for wiping out hundreds of pairs of a protected bird – deliberately, systematically and illegally and that is a disgrace. The fact that much of this wildlife crime occurs in our National Parks is an utter disgrace.
So, please come along to the Yorkshire Dales National Park on Saturday to express your disgust at the fact that the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a massive crime scene, and please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.