The season for red grouse shooting starts today. Tens of thousands of red grouse will be shot over the next two months covering the Moors of Britain in rivers of blood. The shooting estates claim that grouse shooting is a traditional field sport but that isn’t true. The claim is similar to that made by the Countryside Alliance to defend fox hunting, but grouse shooting has a terrible impact on the environment and other wildlife to the cost of every taxpayer and 70% of the nation’s homes.
Save Me’s investigation has revealed that all shooting estates practice driven grouse shooting, where a line of beaters ‘drive’ the grouse towards lines of ‘static’ guns. They claim this is ‘sport’ but this is farcical - ‘guns’ need very little skill to hit a dense cloud of low flying birds with a repeat loader gun. The shooters claim grouse shooting is traditional but that isn’t true. It has, around 150 years of history only becoming popular in Britain when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought the Balmoral Estate and the development of repeat firing guns.
The estates claim shooting is good for the economy in an argument remarkably similar to Hunts - but this does not stand up to scrutiny. What is true is that big money is made by estate owners who can charge up to £30,000 a day for a 6 to 8 gun shooting party.
The estates claim they are conserving rare habitat, maintaining bio-diversity and protecting wildlife. Wild red grouse live in the heather-clad hills of the British uplands – it's a hardy bird which lives in the hills all year round and in the UK eats a diet predominantly of heather shoots. Red grouse are not reared and released like pheasants and partridge, but the moors are managed by gamekeepers to maximise the number of birds available at the beginning of the shooting season.
The heather is burned, on a rotation of perhaps a dozen years, in order to create a patchwork of old heather that’s for grouse shelter and nesting, young heather (grouse food), and wet areas (known as peat bogs) are drained, as heather doesn't do well in sodden soils, and any natural predators such as Foxes, Stoats and Corvids are shot, snared or poisoned.
Campaigners such as Chris Packham and Mark Avery have raised awareness of the killing of protected species such as hen harriers, golden eagles, peregrine falcons and buzzards. All these birds are protected by law and a lot of evidence has been collected of egg and chick destruction, poisoned carcasses, trapping and shooting, but prosecutions seem rarer than hen harrier eggs on a grouse moor. This is a very familiar situation for anyone who has monitored fox hunts.
The hen harrier, a ground nesting raptor, is particularly affected as it lives on open moors and does eat red grouse. Scientists have calculated that there is enough habitat in the UK for there to be 2,600 pairs and yet there are only around 600. Golden eagles and peregrines are also known from scientific studies, to be rare or absent from grouse-shooting areas of the country, to have low breeding success and to be persecuted too.
There is some verifiable history that the shooting industry doesn't shout about: 50 years ago, Richard Waddington’s book, 'Grouse: Shooting and Moor Management', described the hen harrier as "a nasty bird of evil habits. It quarters the moor a few feet above the ground and pounces on grouse or chicks it catches unawares. It must be got rid of at all cost."
The Grouse shooting industry is not the economy saving cash generator it claims to be. Our moors and wildlife are victims of a ‘bastardisation’ of a monoculture landscape and the relentless need to make money at any cost. And what a cost, the snaring, poisoning and shooting of protected birds of prey and native wildlife, the mismanagement of the moorlands that provide 70% of the UK’s fresh water is costing homeowners money as water companies now have to filter the carbon from the water (something peat bogs do naturally). Not forgetting, the misery and destruction of the floods that have increased so dramatically in recent years - costing hundreds of millions of pounds because rainfall, that previously landed on the hills and soaked through the rock and peat beds for millennia, can now only “run-off” the surface crashing downhill towards the nearest river.
It is not credible for the British government to continue to support a micro-industry that is costing every tax payer and householder thousands of pounds every year to subsidise whilst it devastates our landscape and destroys our wildlife.
Let’s make 12th August a glorious day to celebrate nature and not destroy it!