You can’t have both – you have to choose.

Photo: Gordon Yates
Photo: Gordon Yates

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.

Photo: Gordon Yates
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6 Replies to “You can’t have both – you have to choose.”

  1. After my last comment dated back to events in 1993 in parliament when you said we should 'move on'. Today will make history either way and hopefully we will 'move on' History is all about learning that is why it is taught in schools even if it is not always the truth that is being taught.

    History at Geltsdale shows that a Red Grouse moor was being run at the same time as an RSPB reserve and driven and walked up shooting took place even when birds of prey were on the increase.

    Some years were good and some years were bad often depending on the amount of vole prey available for the birds of prey. This is not supposed to happen according to the Game Conservancy.
    Vole cycles on Langholm correlate negatively with brood survival, which opposes expectations that suggest that APH will cause a reduction in red grouse numbers in low vole years (Angelstam et al. 1984; Reif et al. 2001; Redpath & Thirgood 1999; Tornberg et al. 2012) . This suggests that when generalist predators such as buzzards switch to alternative prey during years of low vole abundance, they do not switch to small game birds. It is likely that more sufficient prey sources can be found away from the red grouse habitats (e.g. rabbits), so raptors are spending less time foraging in red grouse areas in low vole years. This implies that red grouse are not the main food source of generalist predators, but may be taken opportunistically when raptors are hunting in red grouse habitat."

    As we know this was written in 2013 and in 2014 - the maximum number of red grouse coincided with the maximum number of voles and breeding Hen Harriers [12 nests] and SEOs [42 nests] Again pointing to the fact that birds of prey can live with high numbers of Red Grouse.

    So what is the problem? If you are used to killing protected species and see that as the easiest option then that will continue until the culprits are brought to court. If you want to keep by the law and use your Red Grouse moor as an example of proper management what help have you had from Mark Avery or Raptor Persecution Scotland now called UK or even the RSPB?

    History now tells us that if you are not interested in learning nothing will happen.

    1. John - it does seem that the grouse industry has chosen the illegal route - probably not all grouse moors - rather than trying to make the legal route work. Langholm, crawling with scientists, is hardly a typical moor but Langholm2 has folded up with the estate apparently wanting a cull of raptors 'Oddy said ‘…we have to now grasp the nettle and try and put forward a case, which probably in the first instance under licence, will allow some type of lethal control…‘. see blog of 15 January this year for more on this The GWCT have called the project a failure. So the grouse shooters are walking away from this approach.

      I'm not aware of any grouse moor that has come forward asking for help - I know of some who have been approached offering it. I can't, any longer, speak for the RSPB.

      1. I think competitive market forces have also been at work within the shooting business. In order to attract the highest-paying shooters, estates now have to offer (and almost guarantee) very large bags, leading to ever-more intensive management, including predator killing.
        Something similar has occurred with lowland pheasant shooting, which took place for decades without the release of millions of captive-reared birds and attendant ecological damage. Now the various shoots' success in attracting customers largely depends on average bag size, which has led to massive intensification of the whole show. It ain't like it was!

    2. Mark i love the argument, which was probably in Inglorious but i;ve forgoten, that if you believe in the law you have to support either a cull or a ban.
      That is beautiful. Sorry but rational has its beauty (i get tingles listening to Noam Chomsky).
      But it seems to me there are rather two provisos that have been left out. Red Grouse and hen Harriers are incompatible if the grouse lobby demand ever higher bags and refuse diversionary feeding.
      Surely Langholm was a success. Before it had even finished the Red grouse numbers had reached numbers equal to shoots before the trial, before the trial of gamekeepers obeying the law.
      So if the grouse lobby weren't demanding ever increasing bags it would be possible.
      The experiment in obeying the law included diversionary feeding. This is also possible.
      Just not embraced and apparently hated by the grouse lobby so it would require a law to get them to comply.
      So we come full circle.
      The choice is a cull or a ban.

  2. Actually, having watched all the argument about how and what could be done, I do think Grouse shooting is rescuable - and I have some expertise in rescuing apparently hopeless cases. But, as Alan points out today, and has been clear for some time, the shooting & grouse lobby have headed in exactly the opposite direction - foolishly stoking the fires by eliminating the tiny number of HH that some slightly brighter owners allowed to succeed in England for many years. As a result they've succeeded in sharpening the illegal killing vs ban argument to a point where a retreat is almost impossible. There may be estates that don't carry out illegal persecution - but would they if HH arrived ? And surely they are implicated in that they quietly go along with what their neighbours are doing - and, as we've seen, its actually a pretty small community of Grouse moors. The words Mark put into his gamekeepers mouth 'we believe in balance and the best balance seems to be no hen harriers' pretty well sums up the position of all 500 odd English Grouse Moors.


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