Guest blog – A Natural Tree Line? by Douglas Gooday

I work as a Ranger in Aberdeenshire, where much of my time is spent delivering environmental education programmes in which I take school children out into semi-natural habitats (we don’t really have any natural habitats in the UK, hence we use the term semi-natural) and teach them about different aspects of Scotland’s ecology.

In the photo I am standing in a grouse butt at an elevation of 400m in the Cairngorms National Park, the summit of Lochnagar is behind me to the south (this should give you a clue as to whose estate I am on!).  Notice the bare burnt patch in the heather  on the right behind me.  If I were at the same elevation and latitude (570N) in Scandinavia, Russia, or North America there would be a natural treeline higher up the hill and I would be surrounded by birch forest or small pines and spruces.  In much of highland Scotland, however, we have an un-natural, devastated ecological wasteland, made largely as a result of historical overgrazing by sheep and deer, and now maintained by muirburn, a management practice with the sole aim of artificially increasing the numbers of red grouse at the expense of natural ecological succession and to the detriment of habitats such as montane woodland and other species such as ring ouzels, black grouse, wheatears, reptiles, invertebrates, mosses and higher plants other than Ling heather.

As a young and naive biology student many years ago, I was shocked to learn in an introductory ecology lecture that there was considered to be less than 1km of natural treeline left in Britain.  This was to be found at  600m at Creag Fhiachlach near Loch an Eilein on the other side of the Cairngorms.  I’d grown up with the romantic notion of Scotland’s natural grandeur, so this revelation came as a bit of a surprise. Happily, since then, field trips and holiday travel have taken me to North America and Scandinavia where I have been able to experience a relatively more intact natural boreal forest ecology.

Today, thanks to conservation bodies and some far-sighted landowners, these valuable upland woodlands are regenerating in places like Glen Feshie, Abernethy, Creag Meagaidh and Ben Eighe.  It is wonderful to think that the next generation of ecology students won’t get taught that depressing statistic of the lack of natural treeline in Scotland.  However far too much of the Scottish uplands are still not managed with conservation as a priority and driven grouse shooting  is a major reason for this lack of progress.  It is time to ban it.


Ruth Peacey says ‘Ban driven grouse shooting’


Ruth Peacey, wildlife film maker who was voted Birdwatch magazine’s conservation hero of 2017 by readers, says:

I support the banning of driven grouse shooting because I am sick of hearing about the loss of so many birds of prey on or near these areas. These animals aren’t just “mysteriously disappearing”, they are being illegally killed to protect grouse in unnaturally high numbers. I think it is totally wrong that when people visit national parks, like the Cairngorms, they are unlikely to see hen harriers and golden eagles simply because they are the natural predators of a creature other people want to kill anyway.’

To join Ruth Peacey, please sign Gavin Gamble’s e-petition which calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting.


Dominic Dyer says ‘Ban driven grouse shooting’


Dominic Dyer is CEO of the Badger Trust and says:

Driven grouse shooting involves huge cruelty to red grouse, has a significant negative impact on the environment and leads to the illegal persecution of endangered hen harriers and other raptors and the widespread killing of ground predators including badgers, foxes and stoats

There can be no justification for allowing this so-called sport to continue and I fully support calls for it to be banned.


To join Dominic Dyer, please sign Gavin Gamble’s e-petition which calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting.


David Lindo says ‘Ban driven grouse shooting’

Photo: Susana Sanroman photography


David Lindo, author and ‘urban birder’ says:

I think that it is a national embarrassment that driven grouse shooting is still being allowed to persist at the expense of our precious Hen Harriers. Please sign this new e-petition to ban this outdated and useless form of hunting.’

To join David Lindo, please sign Gavin Gamble’s e-petition which calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting.


Jon Dunn says ‘Ban driven grouse shooting’

Jon Dunn, birder and author, says:

There’s nothing I’d like more than to see a ban implemented on driven grouse shooting in Britain. Let’s not mince our words – it’s a blood-sport, where people kill wild animals for fun.

But setting the immorality of that aside for a moment, it’s a rural industry with blood on its hands in more ways than one. To create unnaturally high populations of Red Grouse for people to line up and shoot, grouse moors are intensively managed. 

Managed is a euphemism, though – land management on grouse moors all too often takes the form of the illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds of prey, of which Hen Harriers are but one species that are regularly targeted. Grouse moors also do their best to exterminate otherwise blameless Mountain Hares, Hooded Crows, Ravens… the list goes on.

The grouse shooting industry will try to spin this with greenwash. They’ll tell you that their moors also have high breeding densities of upland waders like Curlews and Golden Plovers, thanks to their benevolent ‘management’. 

Here’s a funny thing though. I live in an upland area surrounded by moors, on which are found Red Grouse as well as some of the best populations of those upland waders anywhere in Britain. And also many Hooded Crows, Ravens, and plenty of skuas too. None of the latter predators are ‘managed’, and we have a pretty good balance going on here. The only thing that’s missing is an artificially high population of Red Grouse, a driven grouse shooting industry calling the shots, and their apologists exaggerating the industry’s importance to the rural economy.

It’s time for a change, and it’s time to wash our hands of this outdated blood-sport that’s going on, out of sight and out of mind, in some of the most beautiful and remote corners of the British Isles. Maybe then, and only then, will the blood be washed from the hands of the land-managers in question who regularly flout the law and illegally kill our Hen Harriers.


To join Jon Dunn, please sign Gavin Gamble’s e-petition which calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting.