Gems from the written evidence 23 – an ex-gamekeeper

This is very interesting, and I suspect this man, an ex-gamekeeper was rather brave to speak out like this. Here are some excerpts from his written evidence:

  • I am writing regarding the recent petition to ban Driven Grouse Shooting and its proposed debate in Parliament. My name is Paul Tooley and until recently I had been a professional Gamekeeper with over 30 years experience. Mainly on Pheasant but with a fair bit of involvement with Grouse. Shooting has provided me with a greater part of my living and has been a very enjoyable career. However I have long been of the opinion that driven grouse moors have to change for their own long-term future and that of the wildlife dependent on them.
  • Although I myself signed the petition it was not from any wish to see Grouse Shooting banned but help ensure sufficient signatures were received to enable the very necessary debate to take place. As I am sure you have been made aware the majority of opponents to Driven Grouse Shooting base their main arguments on the (mis) management of moorland habitats and the control of species deemed detrimental to grouse stocks often involving the killing of protected wildlife. Up until 20-25 years ago little criticism was raised on the subject of moorland management. It was freely admitted by conservationists that grouse shooting had protected much of our upland heather moors from the worse excesses of sheep farming and blanket afforestation. Burning was a vital tool in maintaining a patchwork of heather and other vegetation that benefited many species other than grouse. However since about the mid 1990’s new management techniques and objectives have required that heather be burned more frequently on many moors. This removes much of the longer heather beloved of ground nesting raptors and some other birds. This is not a good thing.
  • …for over 20 years now research has recommended that many drains be blocked to re-wet areas. This benefits insect life and plants such as cotton grass that are of great benefit to grouse and other species. This has been done to great effect on estates such as Raby Castle in Upper Teesdale. Unfortunately some landowners have continued draining some of our best examples of blanket bog in the belief that it will give them more heather and a few extra brace of grouse. Pure greed.
  • …along with intensified heather management since the mid 90’s grouse moors have become increasingly intolerant of protected birds of prey. The scale of destruction is truly shocking. This is not a good thing.
  • Any [Hen Harriers] attempting to settle in England mainly from the Scottish population sooner rather than later end up on a driven grouse moor and that is often where it ends. My opinion is that English grouse moors in the absence of persecution could support 150 to 200 breeding pairs. From this point the population could spread to non shooting areas to come near to the often quoted 300+ pairs estimated to be viable. However this would not be a straight forward smooth progression and would take many years. The fact that in recent years there have been no more than 5 or 6 pairs and usually less show the scale of the problem.
  • Even when  the much criticised DEFRA Hen Harrier plan was in the pipeline the grouse shooting community would not make the effort and show good faith allowing a few more pairs to breed successfully. With a few exceptions shooting tenants just do not want these birds in even the smallest numbers, that is the problem.
  • Contrary to most respondents to the petition I would have liked to have tried a slightly different Hen Harrier plan but this was a none starter whilst the killing continued. I would also favour a form of licensing focused initially on habitat management which could be relatively easy to monitor. There are other issues involved with driven grouse shooting which need addressing, however I will not go into them now. Maybe this debate will lead to a serious attempt to resolve some of them at a later date.

10 Replies to “Gems from the written evidence 23 – an ex-gamekeeper”

  1. Quite possibly the best piece of evidence put forward so far. An honest opinion based on experience, and an objective view of upland management. He has hit the nail on the head when he describes the different attitudes now that the money men are involved. I think he is right when he looks back to the days when there was a balance and moorland owners did have a wider love of their natural surroundings. Top man.

  2. Thank you, Paul Tooley, for this powerful statement. It cannot have been easy for you to go public on this. All the more credit to you and your arguments.

  3. In my view, one of the most valuable aspects of Paul Tooley’s evidence is that it reminds us that it is a mistake regard all gamekeepers as ‘the enemy’ or that they are all bereft of empathy for or understanding of wildlife. Until recently, for all its many flaws, a career in gamekeeping was one of the few ways ordinary working class lads could work in the uplands and wilder places in Britain. That they come from a different tradition than most posting here does not mean that they are all vicious bloodthirsty brutes as some would have it. Whilst we should rightly deplore the criminal activities associated with the profession, we should also remember that many have little choice and that the real target of our ire should be those who pull the strings. If the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting is to reach its objective, then we need to reach out to the undecided and uncommitted. Being too closely identified with supporters of “animal rights” is a gift to those who support driven grouse shooting and one which they are all too keen to exploit.

    1. John – indeed. And this campaign has focussed much more on landowners and grouse moor managers than ‘keepers. But the NGO and SGA are not the most reconstructed of organisations, it has to be said.

    2. I agree with everything here, John, except your last sentence.

      We ‘animal rights’ advocates have strongly supported this campaign and helped towards its success – as we lobby on many other wildlife and conservation issues.

      Let’s not be divided – our fellow creatures and the environment are in such peril they need a united approach.

  4. I don’t believe that the campaign has in any way targeted the gamekeepers, certainly it recognises that they would be highly unlikely to act in isolation without instruction from land owners or their ‘agents’. Sadly, until Vicarious Liability is introduced the land owners will continue to peddle the age old ‘few bad apples / junior keeper acting on own’ argument.

    Here’s to Halloween, here’s to the aftermath and the next phase ….

    Well done Mark, an astonishing achievement thus far:)

  5. What has been said by quite a few people about landowners is very true. They are the real problem and this debate in Parliament will be a whitewash as politicians are owned by these very same landowners. I come across as a cynical bugger but I have seen and heard it all before. w We need to get rid of this feudal system before any real progress will be made.

  6. What has been said by quite a few people about landowners is very true. They are the real problem and this debate in Parliament will be a whitewash as politicians are owned by these very same landowners. I come across as a cynical bugger but I have seen and heard it all before. w We need to get rid of this feudal system before any real progress will be made.

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