house on a moor

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH GROUSE SHOOTING?

Ok kids, today’s post is going to be a wild ride.

I have no interest in forming an opinion on grouse shooting other than this: people who enjoy killing animals for fun are psychopaths.

If it needs doing, that’s AWFUL, like if you need to put your dog to sleep, but you know, maybe it’s necessary for the good of the animal.

Maybe grouse must be shot, in case they begin to multiply in massive numbers and take over the world.

All the evidence I’ve looked at suggests that grouse shooting is entirely unnecessary, but I’m not a countryside person (despite having lived in rural North Yorkshire my whole life).

I’m not even an outside person.

But those wankers that pay thousands of pounds a day to shoot a tiny bird? Fuck off.

So why write the article?

Because I think the issues that surround grouse shooting are wide-ranging – it’s not as simple as saying BAN IT NOW. Thousands of acres of moorland would be abandoned.

I mean, that sounds AMAZING to me, but there would be consequences – habitats would be lost and people would lose their jobs.

Issues surrounding grouse shooting:

Killing wildlife

Predator control is a big part of gamekeeping, especially when you work with grouse, and I know this because my brother’s a gamekeeper. Anything that could predate on a grouse is eliminated – weasels, foxes, raptors, etc.

There was a big furore in the papers earlier in the year because gamekeepers in Scotland were caught killing protected mountain hares because the hares can pass ticks onto grouse.

I don’t need to say anything more on this because any vegan would abhor this. It’s cruel for one thing, and for another, it upsets the balance of the ecosystem – you can’t remove all the predators of one animal. Nature doesn’t work like that.

The response by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (booo) was incredible.

Seriously.

They said that in areas where gamekeepers weren’t killing protected species, the protected species were benefitting from the gamekeeper’s actions (source).

So the gamekeepers were helping the wildlife. Unless, of course, they’re killing them.

Flooding

The way grouse shooting can potentially increase flooding is twofold:

  • Most of the moorland in the UK is manmade. The majority of the moors you see in England were wooded at one time. The trees were cleared and the land was used for grazing. Whilst it’s unsure how much impact the clearing of the trees had on flooding (it was a looong time ago), we’re damn sure that reforesting it would be super helpful. Trees not only soak up water, but they also help prevent soil erosion.
  • Burning peat can affect its ability to retain water, so less water is being soaked up upland, possibly causing flooding further down the valley.

There currently isn’t enough evidence to suggest that burning heather causes flooding, but it certainly doesn’t help. It’s also been noted that heather burning has increased significantly over the past few years, and flooding has also been on the up.

That’s definitely a correlation, but there’s no concrete causation.

What we’re saying here is that the land could be better managed to reduce the impact of heavy rainfall.

Heather burning

Gamekeepers burn the heather to encourage new shoots to grow. From what I understand this mimics the natural process of upland wildfires (although, if it’s so natural, wouldn’t the wildfires happen by themselves?).

Young grouse feed on the new shoots.

But burning creates a LOT of CO2. In fact, the Committee for Climate Change estimate that 260,000 tonnes of CO2 a year is emitted directly due to heather burning (source).

Cruelty

Have you seen a grouse? They’re little and cute. Don’t shoot them. If you’re intent on shooting something at the very least make it something you’re going to eat, like a chicken or a cow.

There is also a lot of controversy surrounding the traps used to kill predators. Snares are not only cruel and cause the animal to die a slow and painful death, but they can also catch animals like hedgehogs and hares.

Disease

There aren’t many grouse left, because they’re delicate souls that have a niche lifestyle.

Btw, don’t come at me with the whole ‘they’d be extinct if we didn’t shoot them’. That’s the most batshit argument I’ve ever heard. If they go extinct, let them do so with dignity. If they can only survive with our help, we shouldn’t make them pay for it with their lives.

ANYWAY, long story short, gamekeepers create a cosy-ish existence for the grouse, so numbers improve. But then the increase in the amount of grouse leads to disease, specifically Strongylosis, and they all die if they’re not medicated efficiently.

Ticks are apparently a big thing too. They get them off sheep and the aforementioned mountain hares. An argument put forward in favour if grouse shooting is that by killing hares and other tick-carriers, it’ll reduce the instances of Lyme disease in humans.

Fair enough, but I can’t see them killing the sheep for the same reason. Can’t the medicate them like they do the grouse?

Toxicity

Lead shot is often left behind after a shoot, which if ingested by some unsuspecting moorland critter, can cause lead poisoning.

What would happen to the land/landscape?

This is a pro-grouse shooting argument and one that should be an easy fix.

Heather moorland is pretty useless apart from for raising grouse and grazing sheep. So what would vegans propose we do with it?

I’d suggest reforesting it, but apparently, that will take too long and who’ll pay for it?

Surely, the taxpayer, who are paying billions for the moorland in the form of the Common Agricultural Payment anyway, won’t object to loads of forests that may help to slow climate change?

(I’m fucking OVER Brexit and am ignoring it. I’ll update when something happens).

Allowing the native oakland to regrow has no downsides, and could have a significant impact on reducing flooding. If the government won’t subsidise that they’re insane. Think of the wildflower meadows we could have at the edges of the forests! And the bees! As opposed to desolate moorland strewn with the corpses of slaughtered foxes.

It sounds like a ridiculous idea because you can’t make money from it, but sheep are not exactly big earners. In fact, without support from the EU in the form of subsidies, many sheep farmers wouldn’t survive. Wouldn’t woodland and wildflower meadows be a preferable way to waste the EU’s money? It’d attract loads of tourists too.

I understand that some habitats would be lost if we got rid of the moors, but since so many animals are being hunted up there, surely we can justify a bit of a loss?

What would the government ban next?

This was always my dad’s argument. If the government ban shooting, what’ll be next? Fishing? Ferreting? Eating meat? WHERE WILL IT END?

To which I reply ‘it’ll end when something isn’t unnecessarily dying.’

To be fair, I don’t want the government to ban grouse hunting. I want people to stop wanting to do it in the first place.

Conclusion

I hope this has cleared up any questions you had about grouse shooting and the impact it has on our wildlife and countryside.

From the research I’ve done I can’t see grouse shooting being around for much longer. Maintaining grouse numbers is hard, especially if you want to stay within the law. Pheasants are more efficient because the chicks are raised by humans – unlike grouse which are wild.

A lot of gamekeepers now don’t bother with killing predators – preferring instead to increase the number of birds released, and just accept that some will be eaten or hit by cars. It also means that rather than employing trained gamekeepers, they can employ unskilled workers, since gun licenses aren’t necessary.

A beacon of hope? We can but wish.

3 thoughts on “WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH GROUSE SHOOTING?”

  1. Caroline,

    Whilst I completely respect your views on living a vegan lifestyle and your personal opposition to grouse shooting, there are several issues which your blog touches upon which are factually incorrect.

    Regarding predator control – you took umbrage with the response from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust which said that protected species were benefitting from the gamekeeper’s actions.

    Several studies have been done on wildlife on grouse moors, most recently the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (LMDP), which was undertaken over 10 years and highlighted the multiple environmental and conservation benefits provided by grouse moor management. The report found that a number of species all improved while gamekeepers were employed during the project. Curlew (one of the most threatened birds in the UK which suffered a 64 per cent decline between 1970 and 2014) saw their numbers rise by 10% per year. Golden plover rose by 16% per year and snipe 21%. A key reason for this was the predator control undertaken by gamekeepers. Predators such as foxes, weasels and stoats love to feast on wader chicks and eggs. Overall, where predator control is in place on grouse moors, birds such as curlew and lapwing are 3.5 times more likely to fledge their chicks.

    Abandoning thousands of acres of moorland has the potential to devastate many of these species as without predator control measures being in place their numbers would further plummet or face extinction in the UK.

    The Berwyn Report shows the devastating effects of removing that habitat management. In the 1990s, driven grouse shooting and habitat management stopped in the Berwyn Special Protection Area in North Wales, with the land being left to nature. This resulted in a serious fall in red-listed bird species within a decade.

    Whilst predator control may not be great for foxes, whose numbers have skyrocketed across the UK, it is good for some of our most endangered birds.

    BBC Radio 4’s On Your Farm Curlew Safari – discusses many of these issues and visits a grouse moor to see firsthand the work gamekeepers do.

    Regarding flooding – Flooding expert Prof Jeremy Purseglove is on record saying there is “no direct evidence that grouse moor management causes flooding” and that “overgrazing and a lack of trees in the catchments are a much greater problem”.

    Moorland Association members have worked with Moors for the Future Partnership and others to re-profile eroding gulleys, re-vegetate the bare peat and reintroduce sphagnum moss – the “king of the bog” – to the moors after it was killed off due to historical atmospheric pollution. Restoration burning removes dense heather canopies enabling moorland managers to inoculate the soil with Sphagnum moss plug plants and provides the mosses access to sunlight and rainfall. Sphagnum moss protects the underlying peat, slows the flow, filters the water and holds 20 times its own weight in water, reducing the risk of flooding.

    Regarding heather burning – A KEY reason for the managed burning of heather is to prevent wildfires. Climate change is lengthening the fire season in many countries through increased production of vegetation, through both warming and higher precipitation, which has led to higher fuel loads. As the wildfires in Australia and California have demonstrated it is vital that these fuel loads are kept under control. When Caithness’s Flow Country caught fire recently and burnt the vital underlying peat, it was estimated that it doubled Scotland’s carbon emissions for the six days that it burned and the fire brigade subsequently blamed the lack of precautions in allowing moors to become overgrown.

    In contrast, the emissions from the controlled burning of just shrub canopy can only release the carbon that has been locked up as the plants grow. Therefore, so long as the fires are small and do not burn down into the peat or remove the roots, controlled burning of the above surface vegetation can be a carbon neutral management technique.

    Grouse may look cute but they are also a sustainable and nutritious food source, and so we support your view that if you are going to shoot these birds you should be prepared to eat them afterwards.

    We have never claimed that grouse would “be extinct if we didn’t shoot them” but they would likely become endangered without the predator control and habitat restoration work undertaken by gamekeepers. It should be remembered that it is only when there is a surplus of grouse that they are harvested.

    Regarding heather moorland – we dispute your claim it is “pretty useless.” Rarer than rainforest, the UK has around 75 per cent of what is left of the globally recognised expanses of heather moorland, which treasured by millions of walkers and wildlife enthusiasts.

    The taxpayer is not paying billions towards our moorland, but farming activities and environmental plans do attract subsidies. For every pound of taxpayers money, grouse moor managers invest £9 privately – overall £1 million a week – for conservation measures.

    We are all for the right tree at the right density in the right place and have planted over 1.1 million on the moorland fringes to improve biodiversity. But there is a general Government presumption against planting trees on peat soils because it requires drainage and results in erosion and overall carbon losses not gains.

    Whilst we do not expect to change your views and opinions of shooting, we would ask that you consider the benefits of the moorland management activities carried out because of it and do feel free to pick up the phone to us when you research your next blog on the topic.

    Regards,
    Amanda Anderson,
    Director of the Moorland Association.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for providing such a detailed response, Amanda.

      There must be a place of compromise available, whereby we can take care of our natural landscape without having to kill animals?

      I’m all for habitat management, but it’s a sad state of affairs when we can’t do it unless there’s a financial incentive.

      Perhaps the best way to protect our moorland is to get rid of some of the controversy and stop shooting and trapping animals? It’d stop people like me banging on about it!

      Reply
  2. Dear Caroline,

    Thanks for your response.

    Unfortunately in many cases, the solution is not black or white but a compromise in the middle where some animals of abundance are controlled to allow others that are dwindling to have a chance of survival. Even the RSPB undertakes significant predator control in order to protect threatened species. https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/martinharper/posts/vert-control

    As the RSPB’s Curlew recovery programme recognises: “whilst predation may not be the only factor driving the decline, it is clear that in some areas where predators are controlled, curlew populations are faring better.”

    Thus it does not matter who is doing the habitat management as they would have to utilise predator control, unless we want many of our most endangered and treasured species to go extinct.

    Amanda

    Reply

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