Whether it be Brexit or throwing missiles around the northern Pacific there comes a time when people have to sit down and talk things through. So might it be for driven grouse shooting?
I have to say that there has been so much talking that it is difficult to imagine quite what would come out of it. To remind you, there was a bunch of talking after the publication of the Langholm study (that’s Langholm I – in the late 1990s) which was followed by some quite expensive and professionally mediated talking from 2006-2012 (by the Environment Council) and that was followed by the Defra Hen Harrier sub-group charade which came up with a Hen Harrier Inaction Plan in 2016. No doubt some talking continues but the last 20 years have only seen Hen Harrier numbers decline (and persecution of other protected wildlife persist) and grouse moor management intensify.
And that’s because grouse moor owners have treated those two decades of dialogue as a means to kick the issues around their industry into the long grass and to keep everything the same. They simply don’t have anything to offer around any table. Their way forward is that everyone else should go away and that they should be allowed to continue the hobby of shooting birds for fun, a hobby underpinned by wildlife crime, without wider society having a say on the matter.
So it’s unclear how any conversation with a view to resolving the issues of wildlife crime and environmental damage on English grouse moors might go when the perpetrators are perfectly happy to keep perpetrating. But consider, just for a moment, who might occupy chairs around that table.
Who might it be?
The Moorland Association? No public acknowledgement of the issue. And no noticeable influence with their membership to halt wildlife crime. What do they have to offer? They are a busted flush and nobody on the legal side of the debate has much lingering respect for their ability to lead a change of position of English grouse moor owners.
The Countryside Alliance? Nah!
BASC? They aren’t really that influential in the uplands.
GWCT? Their members seem to tell them what to say these days whereas they used to listen to what they said in the past.
National Gamekeepers Organisation? Sadly, they seem to do what they are told and are not the leaders of this debate that they could be (but show no signs of wanting to be).
The situation in Scotland (as far as landowner acceptance of the problem is concerned) doesn’t look any better to me from down here, but in England the pro-grouse shooting lobby doesn’t look as though it has anything to offer as a way forward. Imagine having a serious chat with Ian Botham and YFTB about the way forward – that is the depth to which the grouse industry has sunk. But then, who is there on the nature conservation side to fill some chairs?
Defra? An appalling track record. Following Benyon the grouse shooter and Stewart the architect of the Hen Harrier Inaction Plan we still have Coffey the minister who when given the opportunity in a Westminster Hall debate to move things along a little did not even admit to the problem of widespread, systematic and illegal persecution of protected wildlife on grouse moors.
Natural England? As independent from Defra as is a manacled prisoner from their ball and chain.
Wildlife Trusts? Not a player, and have almost as many views as Heinz has varieties.
RSPB? By far the best of the bunch but one would have to ask, representing whom? They haven’t asked their members on this subject and might get a National Trust type shock if they did.
And no I’m not asking for a seat at the table – first because there doesn’t seem to be anyone to talk to but also because I know that I represent myself and that is all. Except of course that unlike anyone else who might be involved in talking about these issues it is manifest that I am one of 123,077 people who petitioned parliament to ban driven grouse shooting less than a year ago. We haven’t gone away and the chances are that we are more numerous now than we were then. The time will come when we should test that assertion, but it’s some way away. We are the elephant in the room – and we should trumpet that now and again.
So, in England, unless the RSPB seeks a mandate from its members in some way, or a bunch of moorland owners stage a breakaway group, maybe called the Moor Sense Group, then we can all expect the status quo to continue for quite a while – a few years at least.
During that period more tagged raptors will disappear on grouse moors and the already obvious scale of wildlife crime will become completely undeniable (we are getting there very rapidly), the public and decision makers will realise more clearly that the shooting community (organisations, individuals and media) has campaigned incredibly hard to keep a poison in use just because…well, just because they are dinosaurs, the economic case for grouse shooting will be further undermined, peaceful protests will grow because of a lack of government action which will increasingly look like cronyism and maybe Labour will eventually see that there is something to be gained and nothing to be lost by pitching in to this issue.
That’s what will happen – and probably a few other things too. And my record on predicting the future of this issue isn’t too bad – see Fighting for Birds and Inglorious.
So, if I were a grouse moor owner I’d be thinking of what I should do next. And the answer, I suspect is what we are seeing – deny everything, attack everyone and make the most of one’s last years of a so-called sport that is doomed. Oh yes, and maybe find an excuse to sell my grouse moor (easier for some than others) before the bottom falls out of the market what with the likelihood of subsidies disappearing and opposition to wildlife crime and environmental damage likely to increase. The difficulty is in knowing quite how long one should stay in the game and when one should bale out in order to maximise profits. It’ll be a bit difficult to face one’s shooting friends if one cuts and runs, but then, they might be thinking the same and there will be a premium to be had for first movers.
- Posted in: Grouse and harriers