Is there a case for banning driven grouse shooting?

Driven grouse shooting dominates much of Britain's uplands, but in recent years has come under fire, with some opponents calling for a ban. We asked former RSPB conservation director Dr Mark Avery and Andrew Gilruth from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to debate the issue.

LONDON - AUGUST 08:  Ian McColl, director of the Game and Conservation Trust, watches a grouse on the Railia and Milton Estate near Dalwhinnie August 8, 2008 in Scotland. As the glorious 12th approaches it marks the start of the red grouse shooting season in Scotland.But with increasing pressure on grouse moor managers from ticks, disease, predation and unpredictable weather, the 2008 is unknown.    (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)


The debate on the value of driven grouse moors to both the environment and the economy has intensified in recent years and the arguments may shape how Britain’s uplands are managed in the future.

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Driven grouse shooting involves managing heather moorland so that it can support high densities of red grouse. In the shooting season (12 August to 10 December), beaters are deployed to ‘drive’ the grouse towards a static line of shooters. A day’s shooting can cost over £30,000 (for the whole group).

Supporters of driven grouse shooting say that is provides excellent habitat for many wildlife species, such as wading birds. They also argue that is brings money and jobs to rural areas.

Some conservationists argue that moorland management for grouse shoots has a negative impact on the environment – and also leads to persecution of predators such as hen harriers.

Recently, former RSPB conservation director and rural commentator Dr Mark Avery has gone a stage further and called for a complete ban on driven grouse shooting, even setting up an e-petition.

We challenged him to make his case in 250 words or fewer – while also asking Director of Communications at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust Andrew Gilruth to argue against a ban.

Is there a case for banning driven grouse shooting?

Read their arguments and please tell us what you think.

Yes

Dr Mark Avery:

“Grouse shooting is simply a hobby – a pastime. If train-spotting wrecked the ecology of the places it occurred then we’d ban it. Grouse shooting requires densities of Red Grouse way above natural levels which are produced by intense predator control, heather-burning and moorland drainage. This unsustainable land management to benefit Red Grouse – which are then shot for fun – short-changes the rest of us.

“Did you know that intensive grouse moor management increases greenhouse gas emissions (and was recently criticised by the Committee on Climate Change), increases water bills (increased water treatment costs are passed on to customers), increases flood risk (hills hold water less well and flood risk and home insurance costs increase) and decreases aquatic biodiversity (bad news for fishermen downstream of grouse moors)?

“Claims that shooting benefits the economy are terribly weak – the sums are exaggerated and ignore the costs of ecosystem damage, and so do not give a proper account. Your taxes subsidise the whole sorry activity too.

“Grouse shooting is all about killing wildlife. The point is to kill lots of Red Grouse for fun, and depends on legal killing of huge numbers of foxes, stoats, weasels, crows etc. Too often, protected species are killed too because they are unsporting enough to eat Red Grouse. 2600 pairs of Hen Harrier should nest in the UK but there are only c600 because of illegal persecution by grouse shooting interests.

“For more detail, read Inglorious – Conflict in the uplands.”

No

Andrew Gilruth:

“It is easy to buckle under the weight of grouse moor questions and answers. But the detail matters, because unless we ask ‘what is the evidence?’, we simply exchange beliefs.

“Nationally, golden plover have declined 8%, lapwing 41% and curlew 45%. Yet in England strongholds remain on grouse moors, as a result of traditional and sympathetic moorland management. If the control of generalist predators by gamekeepers ceased, lapwing and golden plover would drop by 81% and curlew by 47% within 10 years.

“This is not theoretical. On a former Welsh grouse moor at Berwyn: lapwing became extinct, golden plover declined from 10 birds to just one and curlew declined by 79%. At Langholm in Scotland, hen harrier numbers also dropped from 20 to two pairs – after the gamekeepers left. This explains why the RSPB are now investing in the recovery of this driven grouse moor.

“Moorland management continues to evolve and incorporate emerging evidence on: heather burning, water quality, carbon storage, sheep grazing and the recovery of raptor populations. It is an understandable human response that those who have lost patience with a combination of little things, decide to ‘teach them a lesson’. But this is the basis of bad law.

“We simply can’t ignore that these amazing places exist because of the private investment made by moor owners to shoot grouse. It is time to celebrate and support a thriving industry that generates £100m for the UK economy, supports 2,500 jobs – and maintains our heather hills.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below or on social media.

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Photo: Jeff J Mitchell