Guest blog – Ban driven grouse shooting by Gavin Gamble

Gavin Gamble is a thirty-something Naturalist, Environmentalist and occasional ink-slinger currently studying Natural Biology and Environmental Science with the Open University alongside full time employment. He is also the author of the latest petition to ban driven grouse shooting from our uplands.





I suspect many of Mark’s regular readers readers will by now know my name but very little more than that, so Mark has kindly invited me to share a little more about myself – probably more than he bargained for!

I have been, what I would describe, as a casual naturalist since I was old enough to walk; I grew up in the South Leicestershire suburbs just a stone’s throw from open countryside and spent much of my youth mucking around in woods, fields and farmland getting acquainted with all things that walk, wriggle and fly. I was a sociable youngster but also very content in my own company or more importantly, the company of the natural world and that connection with nature and wildlife has remained perhaps the one constant in my life. A life-long passion for birds, invertebrates and plants has seemingly kept me on the relative straight and narrow.

Of course school, friendships and dare I say girls provided plenty of distraction and there were undoubtedly patches where the woods were less appealing than the shenanigans of teenage life. This soon rolled into the discovery of pubs and clubs and I could have so easily lost touch with the natural world that I had held so dear as a child – in fact it’s sad to say that this is a common trend; our innocent selves start out with such good intentions, such open minds and a typical curiosity of the world around us only to dissipate with age as a ‘real life’ of jobs, bills and responsibility kick in. For myself, with age came a whole host of insecurities and social anxieties that I had only recognised in passing as I was growing up, something ‘different’ that I couldn’t quite put a finger on. These anxieties I have do play a significant role in my life, but they are something I am learning to live with and indeed something that the natural world has helped me unshackle from.

When, In late 2015 my wife and I discovered that we were going to struggle to have children and in early 2016 when our cycle of IVF failed, I (or we – my wife is a passionate Environmentalist too) were left bereft and at a cross roads. I retreated back to the one place I knew I could find solace – the natural world. I spent a long time getting to know my local edgeland like the back of my hand, discovering and rediscovering its inhabitants and the time spent surrounded by these daily wonders began to heal any open wounds I had. Since those dark days it has been essential to look upon the world with fresh eyes, to re-evaluate what is important, what our strengths are, where our enjoyment can be found and where our energies can be placed. It became obvious that we should put our time into the environment, into the natural world and it is this conviction that drives much of our daily lives now. We are both now vegan, we campaign in various ways on environmental issues and I have decided to take the leap into turning the things I enjoy into my career by studying with the Open University. Amongst many other things, it is the nightly light-trapping of moths and the recording of data for the Leicestershire county recorder, Adrian Russell, that has taken much of my recent attention whilst my other constant love is writing – it has been satisfying to merge the love of writing with a kinship to the natural world through various blogs, local and national publications. (You can read my latest offering in the January issue of Countryman magazine).

So, what of driven grouse shooting? Well, It’s fair to say that I am a latecomer to the debate. In 2013 I started the Leicestershire Raven Survey, charting the rise of breeding Ravens in Leicestershire after a long absence. They are undoubtedly my favourite bird and whilst researching Corvus corax there were plenty of alarming statistics thrown up. Like many, I had pictured the Raven as an ‘upland’ bird and whilst Raven strongholds in the UK mainly exist in uplands and craggy coastal spots I was soon aware that this hadn’t always been the case. Ravens once covered the length and breadth of Britain but persecution by farmers who (wrongly) blamed them for killing lambs drove them to the extremities of the UK. Only now are they recolonising the middle Counties and lowland countryside. My research on Ravens led me back to the uplands and this is where I first learnt of their continued persecution, mainly on Grouse moors.

It wasn’t until I read Mark’s book, Inglorious, that the scale of persecution of a vast array of wildlife in the uplands became apparent to me. The persistent culling of mountain hare, the degradation of habitat and of course the almost extinction of Hen Harriers, especially in England came as something of a shock. I hadn’t imagined such wanton destruction of wildlife rearing its ugly head on my own doorstep. Delving further into the environmental impact, the water treatment issues, the flood-risks, the mismanagement of an internationally important carbon store in the form of upland peat, well, It all left me feeling at a loss, ashamed perhaps. I don’t live in the uplands, though I’ve spent time in the Peak District, and so to many it may seem strange for a lowland Leicestershire lad to feel so strongly for an upland issue but that is kind of the point – this is a British issue, it has repercussions for all of us in the long term and of course, courtesy of our taxes, we are all paying for it too.

I started the petition knowing that Mark’s before me had been a roaring success, signatories wise at very least but also knowing that the debate that followed in parliament hadn’t quite matched the expectations we all had. There is no quick fix and of course the battle has been raging now for decades but with the shooting lobby and pro-driven grouse shooting community almost declaring victory post-debate, it felt important to me, if nothing else, to keep the momentum going and to keep the debate in the public and political eye. We couldn’t afford for the last debate to simply be the end of the line. I am aware that not everybody on our side of the argument is best pleased with my willingness to launch another petition so soon and I can easily understand their concerns; Is it too soon? Maybe. Will failure to secure a second debate hurt the cause? Maybe. If anything less than 123,000 signatures this time around gives the pro-grouse shooting lobby something to shout about, then that is purely a measure of what they consider success. It’s a pretty weak measure – that alone tells me enough really.

So what about licensing? Well, it is clear I’ve taken a hard-line approach – after many decades of talking and gathering around tables little progress is being made, not least by some of the large NGOs. Can we really afford to dither much longer? With growing evidence of continued illegal raptor persecution, a refusal to shift position from moor owners and those that govern them are we really left with much option but to call for an outright ban? In my view, probably not. That isn’t to say I’m not in support of licensing, because I am. It would at least be a step in the right direction and with the RSPB seemingly willing to discuss the licensing option at least that would add some clout (though I’d much prefer the RSPB, at now the fourth time of asking, to back a ban or perhaps even just discuss it with it’s membership). The trouble I have is that raptor persecution is already illegal, prosecutions are pretty much non-existent and evidence gathering is a logistical nightmare so would licensing change any of that? By who and how would the licences be enforced and with what budget? Would the eyes be in the right places? What are the loopholes? So many questions on licensing are still unanswered but in the interim, do I back it? Yes. I suppose I do.

There are signs of renewed hope. Each year, Hen Harrier Day is gaining more traction, more popularity and more exposure. With the recent Scottish petition now securing a study into the full economic impacts of driven grouse shooting and with the SNP adopting a policy supporting the licensing of driven grouse shooting things certainly seem to be moving forwards, north of the border at least. It is also encouraging to see the youth are now enthused by the debate, with Findlay Wilde and Dara McAnulty becoming as prominent speakers in the debate as any seasoned veteran naturalist. Raptor persecution continues to make headlines and with each disappearing bird new vigour is thrust into the debate, the stories get more coverage in the national papers and this year BBC Inside-Out even broadcast their own investigation into driven grouse shooting to the television sets of many of us.

The debate, clearly, is still prominent. Can we put an end to illegal raptor persecution in our uplands? Can we halt and reverse upland degradation? Can we secure a better future for our upland wildlife, our upland economy, improve our environmental credentials? I believe we can. I believe it is just a matter of time. As Chris Packham now famously advised: We will win!

I would like to thank Mark for his continued support with the petition and also providing me with a platform to introduce myself (and rant a little) on this blog. I would also like to thank the many, many people who have contacted me with support, suggestions and offered help in a huge variety of ways and who continue to do so unquestionably. Most of all, I thank the 19,000 or so of you who have already added your signatures to the growing campaign, have taken the time to speak out and share your passion for the natural world we all live in.

For those of you yet to sign, I hope I have convinced you to do so. If you would like to add your voice, please sign the petition here.




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26 Replies to “Guest blog – Ban driven grouse shooting by Gavin Gamble”

  1. Great blog Gavin, I agree with everything you've said and share your thoughts. What's plan to attract more support for the petition and how can we help you with that plan?

    1. Hi Chris, I have a few things lined up, like a downloadable poster/flyer to try and reach those not on twitter or Facebook so people can put them up in offices etc. Main thing is to just keep pushing it on social media as much as we can. I will be meeting up with Mark soon to discuss what more can be done after Christmas.

  2. Thank you, Gavin. At the very least, one message getting across is that we....are....not....going....away!

  3. Great blog Gavin and so good to get the message spreading wider. I think you have looked at all the options on the table in a rational but passionate way (No rant!). I love to see ravens as well. It is heart breaking to find officially sanctioned gas guns deployed on local moors because of the so called threat of marauding ravens terrorising lambs. There are no sheep and pretty much no raptors or ravens either. Just lots of grouse. Keep at it.

    1. Thanks Bob and you are right - Ravens are still persecuted by sheep farmers across the country, it's sad that they are still seen wrongly as a threat by a minority. Of course, the grouse moors are less bothered about what is right or wrong and what the evidence is!

  4. Great stuff Gavin, another extremely competent, articulate and determined anti DGS campaigner coming forward as have Dara, Findlay etc....This is what must be really frightening to the pro DGS side and their hangers on. Well done and thanks!

  5. Gavin, a while ago, under a related posting, I asked Mark whether written evidence would be required
    (as previously), should your petition reach the necessary numbers to interest parliament, he thought not.
    Am I right to assume then, that the procedure would be as before, with a presentation of the evidence
    re-hashed from the last time, presented to a committee before a fresh debate, hopefully with a bit more interest shown from both sides?.

    1. Trapit - I'll have a go at answering that. Few petitions get an evidence session. Grouse shooting was an unfamiliar subject and that's why it did. Most, in fact almost all, e-petitions go straight from passing 100,000 signatures to a Westminster Hall debate. That is the most likely thing to happen this time around too.

      And so the next question is whether such a debate would be better than last time - I'm sure it would be for a small list of reasons that I'd rather not disclose publicly. I might be wrong, but I think it would be a better debate. But of course, a Westminster Hall debate doesn't require the government to do anything.

  6. There is a reason why farmers dislike Ravens and Crows.
    That is that they will if they get the chance peck eyes and tongue out of young lambs and also older sheep when heavy with lots of wool or if they happen to get on their back in a hollow they find it impossible to right themselves and get the same treatment so while maybe not killing sheep they really might as well.
    This problem of getting stuck on their back is one reason shepherds in general try and keep a close eye on their sheep which of course in some areas is almost impossible due to the area the sheep graze.

  7. You are right when you say the debate should not be the end of the line, and it wasn't. It was something that moved the campaign on in a meaningful way, gave us new avenues of attack, and new ways to press home the advantage.

    Then someone decided to go for (personal?) glory and put up an identical petition and make us refight old battles, only with our opponents now knowing the tactics used, the coalition of signers either burned out or thinking they had already done their party, funds depleted and already earmarked for other battles, and being completely overshadowed by the Brexit debates and the Austerity debates, over the Christmas period, and also with the American politics managing to overshadow all of even all that.

    It is only thanks to the complete incompetence of pro-shooting lobby, and the decision by the SNP membership to go all in on licensing, that this has not been made the end. Gav, you did more harm than good here. Even if by some miracle your petition does get over the 100,000k mark and get another debate, what do you see happening? It will be the same thing we were already doing post-Mark's debate. The very same. The exact same. No difference.

    You say that giving the people who listen to public opinion, not to mention manipulate public opinion, hard and solid evidence that could be construed as enthusiasm is waning is not a victory for them? Or at best is not a moral victory? That is ludicrous. What they will think, and might even be right to think too, is that the storm has been weathered and they can move on and ignore the hardcore remanent of malcontents having done the bare minimum to appease the public mob.

    That might even be a correct assessment on their part. You exposed a weakness that did not need exposing, because the evil and nasty truth is that a lot of the previous signers probably have moved on to other outrages. The storm, of petition and debate, has been weathered. They can move on and say it is just us old hands signing it again.

    Even under the very best circumstances, with the most optimum outcome, you have only succeeded in delaying post-debate activities a whole year. I think, Gavin, that you wanted to do something, be a hero to your ego, leading light of the resistance, and decided that copying an already successful tactic would be an easy path to that. No plans, no backup, nothing except "oh yeah, that worked before. Bound to work again and this time I get all the credit". That is my personal opinion of your actions and motivations. Well here is your credit, you have delayed action, maybe terminated some actions, cost money that could be better spent elsewhere, cost time, effort, momentum, goodwill, and given our opponents a stick to beat us with that they didn't have before. Thanks, Gav, well done. And if that hurts your feelings, then good. It should.

    I signed your petition, by the way, but only because the cause needed me to. Not because having the petition was the right thing to do.

    1. Random22 - you are a hard man (or woman), and it is unfair to think that you know someone's thoughts and motivation.

      1. Gavin,remember Random22 opinion just one opinion and we are used to similar ones.Suggest you ignore it as over 19,000 not counting him think differently.
        Do not let it hurt your feelings.

      2. A hard woman. Yes. I am. Right now I am far more involved in the fight against Universal Credit, something that is far more personal to me and mine and which leaves little time for fighting old battles on Driven Grouse. I've also spent a long time fighting campaigns, and I've seen this happen on big and small campaigns, someone like yourself gains a big victory and then someone looking to make a name for themselves or to boost their own ego and get all the same plaudits does the exact same thing only less well, and it almost always damages the campaign.

        I wouldn't be so harsh on Gav if he was on the heels of one of your first petitions, those clearly were exactly this, keeping momentum while looking for the win. However you had the win, the movement had the win, it was definitely won and one that set up a whole new front to press. That always brings the me-toos out of the wood work. I'm sorry, but I am hard and I think that Gav has done what he did for his own ego and what he has said here -especially his sob story- really only confirms it. Its a classic "I meant well" plea, with a hard luck story attached, and a spirited effort to shift blame. Seen it many times before. Now we're all stuck with it.

        1. You are of course entitled to your opinion, but with so much hatred for people trying to do good, I can't help but feel a little sorry for you, you are clearly battle weary. The fact is, you do not know anything about me and if I was in this for personal glory do you think that picture of me at the top of this post would be the first anyone has seen of me? I commend your honesty, but my feelings are not damaged, you are anonymous after all. I'll keep working with those who are passionate about the cause, rather than embittered by it! Infighting is about as damaging to a campaign as it can get so whilst you might have vented some aggression and tried for the second time to rid your shoulder of that chip, it hasn't really done much good for the debate, but then I suspect that's exactly what you want.

        2. Random 22 you've raised some valid concerns but we are where we are. And anyway Gavin's petition is exceeding expectations. So, well done to Gavin.

          As for your 'sob story' slur -- OK you're anonymous, but do you really want to stand by that?

    2. Madam22,

      what a bizarre argument you present. Signing petitions is hardly difficult. Having more debates cannot possibly harm while the evidence of persecution is real.

      The point is to keep on continually pointing this out until we get a change in the law to address the situation.

      1. Gosh, I'm having a seriously bad day today - disagreeing with lots of folk I normally agree with.
        "Having more debates cannot possibly harm..." I just don't get the logic here. It all depends how well they go.
        Just suppose (hypothetically) a reluctant government is wondering whether it should bow to public opinion on an issue like (say) non-payment of tax by big multinationals, and they hold a series of non-binding referenda 2 years apart. If the first referendum yields 25 million votes in favour of a crackdown, the second 15 million votes and the third 5 million, are you really saying that the two later votes will not harm the cause and make it easier for the government to do nothing? IMO they may keep the issue in the public eye, but wreck the chances of firm government action.
        What am I missing here?

  8. Unfortunately Gavin the Peak District is not an area one would want to waste much time exploring and looking for all kinds of moorland biodiversity. If you want to see large numbers of raptors, waders, black grouse and Ravens, etc you should head North to Scotland. I'm very fortunate in living in an extremely highly biodiverse region called Angus and if you are ever in these parts please get in touch and I can show you what you are all missing in England.

    1. Mike that's very kind and you are certainly right - my time in the dark Peak wasn't exactly filled with wildlife encounters. I'm sure I'll make it that far north at some point!

  9. Usual.load of emotive fake news clap trap with a hidden class war agenda same as Mark Averys agenda.


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