Yesterday I took part in a discussion with Andrew Gilruth of GWCT for this morning’s BBC Farming Today programme. Our discussion followed nearly four minutes (3:42 I make it) of a positive piece about grouse moor management with the Chair of the Moorland Association and a gamekeeper. There then followed a four minute discussion.
Of course the discussion was edited but I took the precaution of recording my side of it. I can hear Andrew’s responses too (he was over a hundred miles away) but I won’t transcribe those here.
This is what I recorded and the bits of the interview used by Farming Today are in red:
‘That’s not a great argument is it. I’m vegetarian four days a week, not all the time, and you’d need an awful lot of grouse shooting to supply the country with free-range meat. It’s not the killing of wild birds that bothers me that much, but this is a sport. It would be more of a sport if the grouse had guns too but this is a sport where basically people pay a lot of money to shoot wild animals – that’s what it is.’
‘There are lots of different types of shooting in the UK. There’s wildfowling, pheasant shooting, partridge shooting. My e-petition is not to do with them. There are two types of grouse shooting, one of which is very intensive where the birds are given every possible advantage over other species on grouse moors and then from the Inglorious 12th on Friday the shooting season opens, and beaters will drive birds towards a line of guns, that’s why it’s called driven grouse shooting, and they’ll try to shoot them. There’s another type of grouse shooting called walked up shooting which is kind of what it sounds like – you go for a walk, maybe with a couple of dogs, and you shoot far fewer birds. That doesn’t require the very highly intensive management that driven grouse shooting requires. So it’s one particular aspect of one particular bit of shooting which is, I think, the worst example we have in the UK. And that’s why it ought to cease.’ (that’s over a minute of me, half my time, and although this piece was introduced in the broadcast by the interviewer saying ‘He [Mark Avery] told me why he campaigns against driven grouse shooting’ she actually asked me to explain the terminology behind this subject first).
‘There’s an awful lot. I think there are two main bits. One is that the burning and drainage of the moors creates ecological problems for lots of people who have never seen a Red Grouse and are never going to go grouse shooting. That intensive management increases flood risk because water flows off the hills more quickly, it increases water bills because water companies have to treat the water coming off the hills more. It increases greenhouse gas emissions, it reduces aquatic life. So there are lots of side costs to the management which are bad and we all pick up the bill for that. The second area is you can’t really have driven grouse shooting unless you get rid of birds of prey. And birds of prey like Golden Eagles, Peregrines, Hen Harriers, Red Kites, Goshawks are fully protected by law but many of them are bumped off by grouse shooting interests. Not on all grouse moors but in large numbers and so there are large parts of the country where you can’t see a Hen Harrier, you can’t see a Golden Eagle and you hardly ever see a Peregrine Falcon even though the habitat is otherwise perfect – and these are often National Parks. So our National Parks are massive wildlife crime scenes.’ (That’s 34 seconds of me)
‘He’s wrong. You could read my book – there’s a whole book about this that you can sit down and read at your leisure. It’s got the references to all the papers. But you notice that Andrew cannot bring himself to admit that grouse shooting is the cause of wildlife crime which reduces the numbers of birds of prey. There ought to be 300 pairs of Hen Harriers nesting in the hills of England; this year there weren’t 300, there weren’t 100, there weren’t 30 there were 3 pairs – none of them on grouse moors.’
‘No, no – it’s not difficult at all. As Andrew knows full well, there’s a whole load of scientific papers that show where Hen Harriers disappear, what their survival rate and productivity is on grouse moors and on other areas. And we’ve known this for 20 years. In fact the Game Conservancy, in more enlightened times, was one of the organisations that admitted all this. So Andrew on national radio cannot bring himself to admit, that this so-called sport is the source of wildlife crime which wipes out protected birds over large parts of the country. Grouse shooting has lots of other problems but that’s a pretty big problem for a sport.’
‘Well again, although Andrew is going to duck it, there’s a whole load of science by geographers and people who study water movements in the uplands that show that the intensive burning of grouse moors, in outbursts of heavy rain the water flows off the hills far quicker. And that’s aided by the extra drainage ditches and tracks and things that are often put in to grouse moors. You ask the people in Hebden Bridge who, I think have been flooded three times in five years and who are protesting in their town square on Friday and Saturday about the fact that the grouse moors above where they live, they believe, are the reason why businesses and houses have been flooded to the cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. Their worries are not only backed up by their own experience but backed by the science as well.’ (and another 21 seconds).
‘It’s published already Andrew’
‘Andrew can’t accept the wildlife crime argument against his sport because that is quite difficult, he can’t accept that there is increased flood risk, increased water bills and increased greenhouse gas emissions because that’s quite difficult to swallow if you are practising a sport. The economics – if you take into account that increased flood risk, the increased water bills, the reduced wildlife in streams coming off grouse moors, so fewer fish I’d guess, the increased greenhouse gas emissions which we are supposed to be cutting down on. If you take all of that into account, that wipes out any notional benefit of grouse shooting. And let’s just remember, we the taxpayer are pouring tens of millions of pounds into subsidising grouse shooting through payments to landowners. So the economic argument is shot to pieces.’
‘I think it would be difficult. And we’ve got to this position after about 30 years of looking for the compromise, so to come along and say ‘Surely chaps there must be a compromise’ – we’ve been doing that for years. Grouse moor management has intensified and there are fewer Hen Harriers in our hills. So Andrew’s side of the argument haven’t given an inch, they’ve taken a mile. So, it would be a bit rich, I think, to suggest that I ought to compromise because all the faults of grouse shooting are getting worse. The grouse shooting industry is intransigent.’
So, there you go. We had equal time but the editing allotted half of my time to describing the subject – as I was asked to do – so Andrew was given much more time to make his substantive points. And this followed a long piece which only quoted grouse shooting proponents. So, in eight minutes of coverage there was about one minute of challenge for driven grouse shooting. But thank you BBC for that one minute.
Let’s see how BBC Countryfile edits a similar discussion appearing on TV on Sunday evening. And you can hear the rematch live and unedited on the World at One today. And there should be a Spectator podcast too.
You may well have been persuaded to sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting by listening to Farming Today. Maybe, reading this fully (albeit one-sided because I only have rights over my own words) transcription of the information available to Farming Today you will be persuaded to add your name to 82,000 others who have asked for a ban on driven grouse shooting.