Book review – The Moorland Balance by GWCT


I bought this slim volume to see whether there was anything new in it. It’s a fascinating read, as much for what it neglects as for what it says. For £8.95 (+P&P) you don’t get many words – 56 pages including lots of decent photographs, a list of references, an advert for the GWCT and a foreword by Sir Max Hastings.  Arguably you would get a lot more words (more than ten times as many), a lot fewer photographs (ie none), around twice as many scientific references and many others besides and a better argued case if you were to buy my book Inglorious which would cost you around the same amount of money. Also, as best I can tell, you will find just about everything in this book on the GWCT website (except the references) so there isn’t much new here – which is a shame.

The booklet claims to cover the following areas and if you follow these links you will find them all already on the GWCT website: grouse shooting; conservation on grouse moors, heather burning; moorland drainage; disease control on grouse moors; upland predator control; hen harriers and red grouse; mountain hares and red grouse; alternative moorland use; commonly heard criticisms of driven grouse shooting and references.

In some ways the most interesting part of the document is how it ends with, allegedly, some commonly-heard criticisms of driven grouse shooting and the GWCT’s comments on them.  These are so witty and interesting that they deserve more coverage than I can give them here and so I’ll tackle one a day through next week. But, according to the GWCT, commonly-heard criticisms of driven grouse shooting are: conservation organisations want to ban it; there is illegal persecution of raptors by moor keepers; this rich man’s hobby damages the environment and society; heather burning contributes to the release of greenhouse gases because it releases carbon dioxide and heather burning on grouse moors increases flooding. I’ll come back to each of these next week.

Sir Max Hastings, a GWCT trustee, writes the foreword to this slim volume. He characterises the views of the foes of driven grouse shooting as ‘they believe they see simply rich men in antique fancy dress killing wild creatures for their amusement, in a setting that should properly be the playground of raptors and hillwalkers‘.  It’s a minor triumph of the campaign against driven grouse shooting that even its proponents now recognise that this is merely a hobby or pastime – indeed GWCT itself does not demur from the description of hobby (p49) – I’m glad we have got that settled.  But the more revealing part of Sir Max’s sentence is the bit about ‘playground for raptors and hillwalkers‘ – he doesn’t sound keen does he?  But it’s not the opponents of driven grouse shooting who think the hills should be enjoyed by the public and by protected wildlife, it’s parliament and the law.  The 1954 Protection of Birds Act passed into law when Sir Max was 9 years old (and 4 years before I was born) but he doesn’t seem to have come to terms with it yet.  And those hillwalkers have the right to roam. These may be inconvenient laws for the few but they are still laws, so, Sir Max, get used to them.

There’s quite a lot about ‘urban’ visitors and dwellers in Sir Max’s foreword and he believes that these people perceive grouse moors, which he claims are managed for the benefit of all wildlife (except presumably raptors), as being ‘wildernesses in a state of grace‘ which is presumably a misprint for ‘mismanaged upland crime scenes in a state of disgrace‘ for that is what they are.

Sir Max is a distinguished journalist and author and he may have hit the nail on the head when he writes that ‘only science, hard evidence about the positive contribution of shooting to the environment in general and the uplands in particular, can make it possible to sustain grouse shooting in the face of increasingly fierce opposition‘ – he’s right about that, and he is clearly rattled, and he must be disappointed that this slim volume is particularly weak on that subject.

Sir Max has form on raptors.

This booklet is, essentially, the GWCT’s best shot (!) at defending driven grouse shooting from stronger regulation (as Sir Max seems to recognise) but vicarious liability is not mentioned, licensing is not mentioned and banning is only mentioned a few times.  Brood meddling is mentioned but its rationale is not explained, lead ammunition is not mentioned, Mountain Hares apparently love grouse moors, the relative unsuitability of Red Grouse moors for Black Grouse is not mentioned, rewilding is not mentioned, public payments to grouse moors out of agri-environment subsidies and grants are hardly mentioned, the first Langholm study is hardly mentioned and the second is not mentioned, and most RSPB science on the subject covered here is not mentioned. Most amazingly, wildlife crime on grouse moors gets practically no mention, presumably because there is no defence against the evidence nor any justification for the massive scale of raptor persecution.  No wonder this booklet is a bit thin!

I’m very unimpressed by this booklet- it’s more spin than science. It’s written to avoid many of the difficult issues and to muddy the waters on others.  Maybe that’s why no GWCT scientist has their name attached to it?

This booklet won’t find its way into many libraries – it’s too insubstantial. But if it did, it would find itself on the same shelf as the tobacco industry’s guide to lung cancer and the petroleum industry’s guide to climate change.  Bringing all this web content together in a single physical publication documents how shoddy are the arguments for giving driven grouse shooting a place in the uplands, for that we must thank GWCT.




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18 Replies to “Book review – The Moorland Balance by GWCT”

  1. Its funny how enthusiasts for killing stuff always love to talk about 'balance', a warm sounding word that suggests everything is just right and natural. The truth is that grouse moor managers are focused on maintaining a highly imbalanced state in the uplands in which natural predation has no place.

    1. Jonathan - just as conservationists use 'balance' to manage nature reserves; grouse moors use balance to maintain their heather-dominated moorland habitats. It was the 1992 Rio Convention on Biodiversity that ratified the global importance of the UK's heather moorland

      1. Andrew you can wave the word about but that does not mean there is anything balanced about the management of moorland for driven grouse shooting. Predators are systematically killed - illegally in the case of raptors - on grouse moors in order to produce artificially high numbers of grouse for the guns to shoot; that is almost the definition of imbalance.
        There is no conservation organisation I am aware of that systematically seeks to eliminate native species entirely from vast areas of the country - perhaps you can point me to one?
        The Convention on Biodiversity does include 'the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity' amongst its declared objectives. 'Sustainable use' is a notion that is good in principle but, arguably, something that has proven very difficult to achieve and demonstrate in practice in the years since Rio. I very much doubt that anyone outside the shooting community would consider that driving wild species such as the Hen Harrier towards national extinction in order to benefit the hobby of a tiny minority of the population constitutes sustainable use. The persecution of protected and rare species is also flatly at odds with another of the Conventions objectives, namely the conservation of biological diversity.

      2. What on earth does importance have to do with conservation status.
        The Amazon is precious, does that stop it being threatened?
        These kind of straw-men might wash with grousers but we don't buy it.

  2. " in a setting that should properly be the playground of raptors and hillwalkers‘. "
    This one sentence, written in the context of justifying DGS, by listing arguments against it, encompasses everything that they seem to believe. The current impasse on upland management goes all the way back to the days of mass trespasses. The crux of the matter is their indignation at having their entitlement questioned.

  3. Isn't it time the conservation organisations each provided their own objective views on whether or not driven grouse shooting is good for their particular field given that it covers a massive area of Northern England and Scotland? Depending on latitude, altitude and topography even slight changes in 'management' regime could mean substantial gains for many, many more of our declining species than the pitiful few that sometimes do well incidentally from grouse shooting - if they are not persecuted. That ranges from simply obeying the law and not killing raptors (and I suspect pine marten, otter and even wildcat) to allowing a genuine habitat mosaic to develop that includes the single trees, areas of scrub and bracken that are derided by the tweeded 'conservationists', to full blown climax vegetation.

    The RSPB now aim to have approximately five percent of the chalk grassland under scrub. It makes a substantial contribution to biodiversity through creating micro habitats, the edge effect and greater habitat complexity. Even predominantly open habitats should not mostly be totally tree free like grouse moors. What have the Woodland Trust and Bat Conservation Trust got to lose by not keeping in with the grouse shooting estates...sod all, but what could they gain from change? It was interesting to see that one of the signatory groups for the Moorland Vision aim to get the NTS to stop DGS on its Peak District property was the local bat group. The Angus Glens Moorland Forum posted a pic of a group of waxwings crowded into a very lonely rowan tree on one of their moors. Ironically that one tree was there inspite of grouse shooting not because of it, any ring ouzel needing to fatten up on Rowan berries pre migration would also be pretty scuppered.

    DGS's contribution to conservation is truly pathetic and if we are really concerned about waders there must better ways of helping them than rotational incineration of the uplands and intensive slaughter of predators that compromises so many other species. Would be brilliant if we just had honest, objective info from the conservation NGOs to counter guff like this.

    1. Les, since you take a great interest in the Angus Glens I thought that you'd like to read yesterdays blog written by David Adam. Raptors galore and to put your mind at rest Ring Ouzel were feeding up on Rowan berries before their migration and the later arrival of Waxwings.

      1. I've read David Adams posts well before you ever mentioned them (I'm way, way ahead of you Mike) came over as the petulant rambling of someone wanting to be one of the lads with the local huntin, fishin, shootin set down to making nasty little claims about real raptor workers and a thinly veiled attempt at undermining a well regarded study on ring ouzels carried out by the RSPB in the Angus Glens. Predictable. And what Rowan trees that might be in the Angus Glens are only there due to the grouse shooting are they, suspect the waxwings might be going hungry if they turn up again it really was a spindly and lonely Rowan they were in. How much is missing that should be there, how many other jobs in the glens if DGS wasn't driving them away?

        I'm sure you were ecstatically happy to see that both Andrea and Logan are up for an award at the Nature of Scotland. Bloody well done the pair of them, highly competent field workers no doubt and certainly wonderful human beings who've had to put up with all kinds of abuse from nasty and creepy people. I hope to come up to the Angus Glens sometime to see all these raptors that neither I nor my friends have ever seen on a grouse moor. I'm going over to see grouse moors in the Pentlands shortly, genuinely looking forward to it will this be the first time after Ilkley Moor, the Forest of Bowland, Lanarkshire and Perthshire I get to see a respectable amount of wildlife on one?

        1. Les, you need to come along to one of my very popular talks entitled ''Our Wonderful Angus Glens'' which clearly highlights the wealth and variety of moorland biodiversity found on Angus grouse moors.

          Also surely you aren't naive enough to believe everything you hear or read. Better to have first hand knowledge and experience then pass judgement. Take for example a recent publication ''Population and breeding biology of Merlins in the Lammermuir Hills''. In the discussion section the Angus Merlin coordinator makes reference ''In Angus the merlin population is decreasing''. However what is true is really the complete opposite. From very limited fieldwork carried out this breeding season I can categorically state that Merlins are thriving in the Angus Glens.

          1. You're right I am not naive enough to believe everything I hear or read - sorry. Your talks are popular amongst whom I wonder, perhaps you should have them videod so we can all enjoy them, again what isn't there that could or should be and perhaps you can explain to us all how this wildlife managed for thousands of years since the last ice sheets melted away before grouse shooting came along two hundred years ago. What makes you think I don't have first hand experience I've never seen a wealth of waders or raptors on grouse moors and neither have acquaintances and I fully plan to be making more trips I assure you. 'From very limited fieldwork carried out this breeding season I can categorically state that Merlin's are thriving in the Angus Glens' if it's very limited fieldwork then it's very small or even selective sampling even if it's accurate (honest?) and not much use for extrapolating figures for the full Angus glens. I'm afraid Mike I don't see you as an independent researcher and I have doubts re your competence - the people I do know from the Tayside Raptor Study Group I do trust re their impartiality and abilities and am therefore extremely glad they are up for awards.

    2. Les Wallace..when was the last time you were in any angus glen? You do not seem to know much about the angus glens in rowan trees what guff!

  4. I feel it would be wrong to denigrate something for being 'just a hobby' ot 'just for fun'

    Fun is bloody great we badly need more fun and less of the miserable stuff.

    1. It's not fun for the wildlife that's persecuted or for people who really appreciate our natural heritage. That's when 'just for fun' is justifiable criticism. Think nasty addiction might be more applicable term for those wanting big grouse bags come to think of it.

    2. The point about acknowledging that an activity is 'just a hobby' is surely that that has a bearing in how far it is reasonable to go in eliminating anything that gets in the way of that activity. You are absolutely correct that people need to have fun and should be encouraged to have hobbies but surely not at the expense of eliminating large amounts of wildlife from vast tracts of the countryside.

  5. Its not a 'playground' for Hen Harriers - it is where they live, or, on Grouse Moors, die. As Bob says, that sentence effectively sums up the whole issue.

  6. 'they believe they see ..... a setting that should properly be the playground of raptors'
    As Mark hints, the implication is that grouse moors shouldn't be the playground of raptors,
    So thick he doesn't even realise what he is saying and the own goal is that GWCT thinks this is OK to have in their introduction.
    Quite staggering.

  7. I'm reminded of those "what is the world's smallest book?" jokes we used to tell when I was a schoolboy in the 60's.


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