Every year, hundreds of thousands of animals and birds are killed, birds of prey illegally persecuted, peatlands degraded by burning and draining which contribute to flooding and 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions, all for a few months of senseless killing.
Why? So that a few people can blast red grouse out of the sky.
What is driven grouse shooting?
DGS (driven grouse shooting) is the hunting of red grouse in large numbers. The season starts on 12 August and is known to the shooting fraternity as the Glorious 12th but has been dubbed the Inglorious 12th by wildlife guardians and conservationists. Shooting parties of 8-10 guns stand in a line of butts, usually sunken and spaced 20-30 metres apart. Grouse are then driven by beaters towards, and over, the guns.
DGS first appeared in 1850 and became popular in the late Victorian era as a fashionable sport for the wealthy. The grouse shooting season can be traced back to 1853 along with the invention of the breech-loading shotgun, which enabled rapid reloading.
It is very expensive and beyond the means of most people. A day’s shooting can cost thousands of pounds, an average of £75 per grouse. The record number of grouse shot in one day by eight people in 1915 was 9,929 which, today, at an average of £75 a bird would cost £744,675. Shooting takes place on land considered to be agricultural grazing land and is eligible for the Basic Farm Payment. It is therefore subsidised by the taxpayer.
Moorland management for grouse shooting
The rearing of grouse in large numbers requires moorland to be intensively managed. Moorland and blanket bogs are a carbon sink, where sphagnum moss used to be the dominant vegetation and the sequester of carbon. To increase grouse numbers and profits, the moorland is drained and burned in order to create fresh young heather shoots, which are ideal nutrition for grouse.
60% of England’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are managed for grouse shooting, the degradation of which is the cause of 4% of the UK’s greenhouse emissions. Burning, which takes place between 1 October and 15 April, is carried out in rotational patches to ensure a continued supply of young heather shoots. Heather burning and drainage has a detrimental effect on peat hydrology and chemistry, river water chemistry and river ecology and is a contributing factor to flooding.
In 2021 the UK government introduced new regulations on the burning of blanket bog habitats; however, the legislation doesn’t protect peat less than 40cm deep. An investigation by Unearthed (investigative journalism for Greenpeace) revealed evidence of over 250 fires in six months, dozens of which may have been illegal under the new rules.
Grouse moor management has a near 200-year history of killing large numbers of animals, including many species that are now protected. The wholesale killing of all predators and non-target animals has a disastrous effect on the ecology of these areas and the industry is underpinned by a criminal tradition of raptor persecution.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) publishes a snares’ code of conduct which says if the recommended snares are purchased, all its components set correctly and users adhere to the code of practice, there will be minimal suffering to the animal. However, not only are illegal snares still in use but the code of conduct is often breached and rarely if ever monitored.
The National Anti Snaring Campaign commissioned a major review of all the available data on snaring. The report, produced in April 2022 by Professor Stephen Harris, entitled, Review of the use of Snares in the UK concludes:
“The use of snares in the UK does not meet acceptable standards of animal welfare or any of the principles for ethical wildlife control established by a committee of international experts.”
Onekind’s snarewatch survey carried out in 2022 found that 70% of animals caught, killed or wounded in snares are non-target species and include badgers, hares, deer, otters, pine martens, hedgehogs, cats and dogs. Snared and trapped predators suffer slow, painful and agonising deaths. It is estimated that 1.7mn animals are snared, trapped and killed every year. The UK’s leading mammal expert shows a ban on snaring is the only way to protect animals.
Cages and traps
Other forms of cages and traps are used to kill animals and birds, such as weasels, stoats and crows. These lethal traps, often used illegally, will capture non-target species, causing extreme suffering.
Animals killed in snares and traps are often thrown into ‘stink pits’ which amounts to a pile of rotting animal carcasses. These pits are often surrounded by snares in order to trap more animals. This is a breach of the code of conduct but is rarely if at all monitored. The carcasses are sometimes illegally baited with poison to attract and illegally kill birds of prey.
The reason for these snares, cages, traps, and stink pits is to protect red grouse from being attacked by predators – preserving them to be shot down by hunters in a barbaric ‘sport’.
Poison, shooting and nest destruction
The illegal killing of raptors, which is carried out by poisoning, shooting or nest destruction is particularly pernicious. The criminals are rarely brought to justice.
Raptor Persecution UK post regular articles on these crimes. Ruth Tingay a wildlife conservationist, blogs about raptor persecution and lists the many birds of prey which have been illegally killed since 2018, amongst which are 72 hen harriers most of them on or close to grouse moors.
Many mountain hares are killed every year, some for so-called sport and others on the unproven assumption that the tick-borne disease louping ill virus is transmitted by them. Medicated grit stations to treat the virus are widely scattered on the moors, another management tool to keep grouse numbers high. New research by Queen’s University Belfast in March 2022 reveals that there are only 3,500 mountain hares left in England. Legislation passed in Scotland has created greater protection for iconic Scottish mountain hares and it is now illegal in Scotland to intentionally kill, injure or take mountain hares at any time unless a licence is obtained.
The shooting industry, represented by organisations such as the Countryside Alliance and the BASC, argue that ground-nesting birds such as lapwings are protected by snaring and trapping predators. It is clear that the trapping and killing of these animals is to protect the income and huge profits generated by the shooting industry, money which benefits a fraction of the population.
What can be done?
Conservation bodies and wildlife guardians are totally opposed to this so-called sport. It is a cycle of destruction that kills hundreds of thousands of animals and birds, many illegally, just so that grouse can be shot.
In response to the Independent Review of Grouse Moor Management by Professor Alan Werritty, the Scottish Parliament decided in 2020 to bring forward legislation to license grouse moor management in Scotland. We are still waiting for this legislation to make its way through the Scottish parliament.
The only way to stop the large-scale and often illegal killing of our wildlife, the degradation of carbon sinks and the pollution from burning, lead shot and medicated grit would be to impose an outright ban of driven grouse shooting.
BASC reached out to Central Bylines for a right of reply to this article. Here’s what they said:
“While the recent article Driven grouse shooting: a cycle of destruction offers an opinion on grouse shooting, it would appear to be driven by a unevidenced anti-shooting agenda. Our upland moorlands are extremely complex environments, and collectively we require a lot from these landscapes to deliver for our climate emergency and key species, all the while supporting fragile rural communities and economies.
“Grouse moors will continue to be a key solution to the challenges we face, currently they provide a landscape that attracts over 30 million visits in England each year, at the same time as bucking the global trends of dramatic declines in species like the iconic curlew and golden plover. They are also home to 80% of our hen harriers ensuring the highest breeding number this year for over a century.
“The shooting community are committed to continuing the moorland restoration work started over 40 years ago, caused by government drainage grants and industrial pollution. Gamekeepers also continue to protect our precious peatland carbon stores from devasting wildfires, through education and habitat management. A resilient uplands that delivers for people and nature will require open dialogue and partnership working, not division, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation are proud to be part of the solution and not an obstacle in delivering the uplands we need in the future.”