The petition, created by author and environmental campaigner Mark Avery currently stands at over 120,000 signatures and will close on 20 September.
Mark Avery told BBC Countryfile Magazine: “Those of us with doubts about driven grouse shooting, over 120,000 individuals, will make sure MPs are well-briefed and understand the issues. This is a great opportunity to educate decision makers.”
Avery and other critics of grouse shooting such as Chris Packham and Bill Oddie argue that the sport directly leads to the illegal persecution of protected birds of prey by gamekeepers, especially hen harriers. Studies have shown that the presence of such raptors can disperse the grouse and reduce the commercial viability of a grouse shoot.
It is thought that just 2-3 pairs of hen harriers bred in England this year – Avery points to data modelling that shows up to 300 pairs could breed if illegal persecution was stopped.
Driven grouse shooting involves managing large areas of upland moorlands in a specific manner so that they support high enough densities of wild red grouse to provide sport for shooters prepared to spend up to £4,000 a day. Predators, such as foxes and crows, are also controlled to maximize the numbers of grouse available at the start of the grouse-shooting season.
This management also includes burning the vegetation in a rotational system to encourage the fresh growth of heather that is the basis of the grouse’s food.
Opponents also claim that this burning can lead to loss of peat and the release of greenhouse gases – as well as increasing flooding incidents downstream.
Supporters of grouse shooting argue that the habitat management carried out by gamekeepers helps support a range of other wildlife.
Rural commentator Rob Yorke defends driven grouse shooting where the shoots are well managed: "Conservation scientists acknowledge that gamekeeper activities around habitat management (such as judicious 'cool' heather burning) and targetted predator control (selective fox culling) provides favourable conditions that help curlews, lapwing, black grouse, hen harriers and other upland flora and fauna.
"Many SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) are found on grouse moors that provide, from selling high value driven bird shooting, an ability to cover the costs of conservation land management without significant costs to the public purse."
He goes on to say that driven grouse shooting offers more to wildlife than alternative commercial uses: "Conifer afforestation or sheep ranching, could arguably have a more overall negative impact on both the landscape, watercourses and biodiversity."
Yorke is keen to stress potential financial benefits of driven grouse shooting: "The oft forgotten element of this upland enterprise are the socio-economic benefits to remote rural communities that depend on this form of shooting – from hotels and garages to beaters and game dealers. Walked up grouse shooting [an alternative to driven grouse shooting where guns walk an area in pursuit of grouse flushed usually by dogs] does not yet accrue the financial returns required to sustain these disadvantaged areas from being abandoned by human all year round habitation."
In a statement released at the start of the grouse shooting season (12 August), the Countryside Alliance, which supports driven grouse shooting, said that “With £100m invested annually in conservation by grouse shoots in England, Wales and Scotland the Glorious Twelfth is indeed a glorious day.” The grouse shooting season runs until 10 December.
Avery acknowledges that jobs may be lost if driven grouse shooting is banned “but a hobby underpinned by wildlife crime can't expect any more patience from the rest of us. The rich will spend their money on other hobbies – other areas will benefit. The economics of grouse shooting are about costs for the many (higher home insurance, higher water bills, more greenhouse gas emissions, less aquatic biodiversity, loss of protected wildlife) and monetary gain for a few. I believe society will be better off without grouse shooting.”
Image: Red grouse (Lagopus lagopus), male, in heather, County Durham/Credit: Getty