According to this round-up by Guns on Pegs this looks like being a poor year for Red Grouse shooting in most parts of the UK – the second year in a row. This looks like it is probably due to the weather – and the types of extreme weather events that haven’t helped this year will become more and more standard in future. Heather beetle and disease seem to be factors too – the former may well be affected by climate change and the latter is certainly an expected consequence of aiming for ridiculously high densities of a single species on any piece of land.
Clearly, the low Red Grouse numbers can’t be blamed on the tiny numbers of Hen Harriers spread over the vast grouse moor areas of the uplands. Hen Harriers are not remotely a problem for grouse shooters at current population levels, but grouse shooters are certainly a problem for Hen Harriers.
But speaking at the Game Fair almost two weeks ago Duncan Thomas mentioned a moor in the northeast that had been planning 70 days shooting of Red Grouse this season. 70? The season lasts from 12 August to 10 December (c114 days) and you can’t shoot on the 17 Sundays in that period so that’s 70 out of 100 days? Crikey!
Taking a wider view, back at the start of this year I predicted that 2019 would be another poor year for grouse shooting and it seems that I was right.
- the paper published on the satellite-tagging data from NE’s study did absolutely nail persecution on grouse moors as the problem for the Hen Harrier – a ‘sport’ which depends on wildlife crime cannot hold its head high with the public or with politicians.
- the Werritty review – we are still waiting but however weak it might be in terms of solutions (that’s not a prediction) it cannot possibly give intensive grouse shooting a clean bill of health (that is a prediction).
- the RSPB has hardened its rhetoric but hasn’t really changed its position – but relations are probably at their worst point ever with shooting organisations. The RSPB’s seemingly never-ending patience with the grouse shooting industry and with the politicians who fail to act on the subject has to change soon and turn into something more effective.
- Nick Lyall has been a breath of fresh air as chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group – I believe he is a force for good (as would be hoped for from a copper!). Superintendent Lyall will be attending and speaking at Hen Harrier Day on Sunday.
- Although we are more than half way through 2019 the chances of a general election before the end of the year look high. The appearance of Boris Johnson to rejuvenate the Conservative Party’s right wing, and alienate what is always regarded as the centre (which must include left-leaning right-wingers) wasn’t easy to spot in early January. Some of us had hoped that the slow implosion of the Labour Party might not happen – but it has. Quite who would win a general election held before Christmas is hard to predict. Having just checked the odds, Betfair regard a hung parliament with Conservatives as the largest party as the most likely outcome. Quite how good that would be for grouse shooting remains difficult to predict.
- And a no-deal Brexit would be good for grouse shooting, as it would for all whose interests will harm the environment. We might know where we are on that subject in a few months (although we might not).
But we can add a few other reasons why 2019 has been a bad year for grouse shooting already;
- although the springing into life of River‘s satellite tag, and subsequent recovery of her shot body, could not have been predicted, the choice of Swinton Estate, with its unfortunate history of the finding of one of the most celebrated of young Hen Harriers, Bowland Betty, as the first place to license brood-meddling was pretty much a PR disaster for grouse shooting and Natural England.
- images of Hen Harriers caught in illegally set spring traps and the peculiar disappearances of two Golden Eagles within hours and just a few miles of each other in Scotland were further PR disasters – and they were given much greater profile by the involvement of Chris Packham and Raptor Persecution UK.
- and the shooting industry truly shot itself in the foot, actually both feet and both knees, when it banned Chris Packham and myself from answering questions in front of a Game Fair audience. The impacts of that decision are still reverberating around shooting and many are now questioning the leadership of BASC, Moorland Association, GWCT and even the Countryside Alliance.
- today we see the publication of an IPCC report which will put more of a focus on land use in climate change – that ought to worry the scorched earth enthusiasts of intensive grouse shooting.
- from what we already know the Glover review of protected landscapes is likely to call for change – two of the more important changes (though sounding dull) might well be (if implemented) a move away from local landowners having the whip hand on the boards of National Parks and AONBs and the creation of a National Landscape Service that would lead to a greater top-down, national and wider perspective on what our ‘protected’ landscapes are really all about.
- if there were any doubt that the truth about the environmental impacts of intensive grouse shooting was spreading through the population, then Henry Morris’s join-the-dots-of harrier-persecution-locations run and the release on Monday of ‘A Distant Call’ by The Artisans are a couple of examples which demonstrate that it is so.
- and let’s hope that Sunday’s Hen Harrier Day has a good turn-out – that is a way to send a signal to all that things have to change on the grouse moors of the UK. I hope to see you there.