My latest e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting was launched on 20 March 2016. Here are some questions I am commonly asked about it.
Q: Why ‘driven’ grouse shooting? And what is it?
A: Driven grouse shooting is c150 years old and is when a line of shooters wait in line, usually standing in small shelters called grouse butts, for Red Grouse to be driven towards them by a line of beaters who walk across the moorland flushing the birds towards the guns (see Chapter 2 of Inglorious).
Q: Aren’t you just anti-shooting?
A: I’m not anti shooting, that’s why this e-petition is specifically aimed at one type of shooting.
Q: Are there other types of grouse shooting?
A: Yes, but driven grouse shooting is the predominant form these days, and the problematic one (see Chapter 2 of Inglorious) because it depends on intensive management of the uplands to provide huge numbers of birds to act as targets.
Q: Why do you want it banned?
A: How long have you got? I’ve written a whole book (Inglorious – conflict in the uplands) on the subject so as to set out the arguments clearly. Two main reasons: wildlife crime and ecological damage. Protected wildlife, particularly birds of prey such as eagles, falcons and harriers, are killed because they eat Red Grouse and so deplete the numbers available to be shot and the burning and drainage of the hills to create good conditions for Red Grouse cause other ecological problems such as increased flood risk, increased greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and damage to protected blanket bog habitats.
Q: Are you saying that all grouse moors kill protected wildlife? I’ve heard it’s just a few bad apples.
A: Where did you hear that? No, I’m not saying it’s all grouse moors, although for all I know it might be, but the impact is very large – there is plenty of science to show the impacts on birds such as Golden Eagles (see Chapter 4 of Inglorious), Peregrine Falcons (see Chapter 4 of Inglorious) and Hen Harriers (see Chapters 1, 3, 4 of Inglorious).
Q: Why don’t the grouse shooters just release more grouse to shoot?
A: Red Grouse are not reared and released like Pheasants and Partridges – they are wild birds but the predator control and habitat management that is carried out produces densities of birds often 10-100 times natural densities – these are needed for shooting.
Q: Surely a few birds of prey can’t make that big a difference to how many Red Grouse are available for shooting?
A: I’m afraid they can – it’s a real conflict (see Chapter 3 of Inglorious) so you have to choose which side you are on.
Q: Someone told me that both Red Grouse and Hen Harriers need grouse shooting to survive.
A: Who told you that? Both species live in many other countries at our latitude (eg Norway, Russia, Canada) and there’s no driven grouse shooting there. Also, these species evolved long before men in tweed got fun from shooting grouse so the grouse can’t need it and neither do the harriers (or eagles or anything else).
Q: What about this ecological damage you say is caused by burning drainage etc?
A: The RSPB has an ongoing complaint to the EU about damage to protected blanket bogs from grouse moor management. There are several scientific studies that show damage to the environment from grouse moor management – it is the public that picks up the bills for that damage through increased water bills, increased home insurance costs, less wildlife etc etc (see Chapters 4 and 5 of Inglorious).
Q: OK, so your main beef with driven grouse shooting is that protected wildlife is killed by some people, but in large amounts, and that there is ecological damage. There must be some good things about grouse shooting – aren’t there?
A: Yep, that’s it. There aren’t many good things that I can see. Grouse shooting brings money into the local community and some ground-nesting birds do better on grouse moors because they benefit from lack of crows, foxes etc that are killed, legally, to produce massive densities of Red Grouse.
Q: What about those ground-nesting birds then?
A: Grouse moors definitely have higher densities of a few species than less-managed moors – I didn’t say everything about them was bad. But those extra Curlew and Golden Plover are achieved at the expense of many other species, damage to protected habitats and wider ecological damage. The profit and loss wildlife account is in the red.
Q: Talking about profit and loss then – what about the huge amounts of money that are spent on grouse shooting to the benefit of local communities?
A: Who told you they were huge? The grouse moor industry is only worth, at most, a few hundred million pounds a year by their own calculations. Academic economists say that the grouse shooters estimates are inflated, and include public grants that would go to more deserving recipients if we shut down grouse moors. Also, the grouse shooters don’t even attempt to cost the ecological damage that they cause and that means they are cooking the books. In any case, money spent on grouse shooting would be spent, probably elsewhere rather than in the uplands, if grouse shooting were banned – so it wouldn’t be lost from the economy, just spent somewhere else on other luxury pursuits.
Q: Well, I see where you are coming from, and I might read your book. What was it called again?
Q: I thought so. But what is your alternative vision for the uplands? I’ve heard they’d be covered by trees and windfarms, and destroyed by sheep, if it weren’t for grouse moors.
A: Who told you that then? No they wouldn’t. So much of the uplands are protected by designations (National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) that there isn’t much scope for those things to happen on a big scale. See Chapter 6 of Inglorious for one alternative future – in essence we should encourage landowners to re-wild much of the uplands to store carbon, produce clean water and to reduce flood risks, those are serious aims, not shooting chicken-like birds for fun.
Q: Why doesn’t the RSPB support your e-petition?
A: You’d better ask them – particularly if you are a member, please do. The RSPB prefers licensing of grouse moors to banning them altogether. I don’t think that’ll work and simply postpones the inevitable – it is inevitable that a pastime that is so pointless, so ecologically and economically damaging, and is just a hobby, is not long for this world. Nowhere else in the world practises driven grouse shooting – we don’t have to either. And because we’d be better off without it, let’s ban it now. Sign here if you agree – thanks!