The National Trust (NT) is Europe’s biggest conservation charity and is one of the largest landowners in the United Kingdom. As such, it has enormous potential to offer vast swathes of land which could be safe refuge for the UK’s precious and threatened wildlife. And yet the NT has, in our view, a long and established association with wildlife persecution through bloodsports, with grouse shooting and fox hunting regularly identified on land they own.
The Park Hall Estate in the Peak District National Park is a clear example. This moorland has historically been managed for Driven Grouse Shooting (DGS). DGS is known to cause significant damage to upland habitat (through the burning of peat bogs) and has a close association with high levels of wildlife crime (such as the killing of raptors and badgers).
A welcome change
In December 2022, the NT indicated that the land at Park Hall will no longer be managed for shooting, stating that “the aims of the shoot tenant did not align with the National Trust’s ambitions of caring for the nature, beauty, and history of the Peak District”.
This is what locals have been saying for years and is, finally, a huge win for wildlife. We recognise the progress made here and thank all who have worked to highlight wildlife persecution on the estate: local residents, monitors, RSPB investigators and others who may wish to remain anonymous. The mounting evidence and sustained attention have surely created conditions in which the NT have simply had to do the right thing.
Wildlife crime in the Peak District National Park
Raptor persecution has been evidenced on NT land in the Peak District National Park for years. In 2016, the BBC shared video footage showing an armed man using a hen harrier decoy on an NT grouse moor.
In 2020, a poisoned peregrine falcon was found dead on another NT grouse moor in the area. Also in 2020, a gamekeeper from the nearby Moscar Estate gamekeeper admitted to the RSPCA to using an unauthorised Larsen trap containing a critically injured corvid and a hypothermic fox cub on NT land near Stanage Edge. In the Park Hall area specifically, the RSPB report a shot short-eared owl and a shot buzzard in 2020 alone.
In early 2021, the RSPB also found evidence of poison being placed in what appeared to be a badger sett on the Park Hall Estate moorland. Badgers are a protected species and it is absolutely illegal to target them in this way. The use of illegal poison on Open Access land in a national park (frequented by many dog walkers, families and visitors) is a clear indication of how emboldened the perpetrators felt in continuing their persecution of wildlife here.
In early 2022, Moorland Monitors found further signs of intentional (and therefore illegal) badger persecution through snaring, along with the use of stink pits and environmental contamination of water courses in the immediate vicinity.
Perhaps in response to the unavoidable association between DGS and wildlife crime, the NT outsourced the land management of the Park Hall Estate, including predator control, to various DGS gamekeepers over the years. Neighbouring farmers have also hosted snares and traps on the boundaries, to ‘protect’ the moorland fringe. Those using the traps, snares, guns and poisons are wily: using anonymity, remote terrain, the cover of darkness and the slick PR machine of the DGS industry to evade detection. But the facts remain: wildlife persecution in multiple forms is widespread on land associated with DGS, not least on and around the Park Hall Estate.
Wildlife campaigners meet with resistance
Local people have campaigned for the NT to manage their moorland more positively for wildlife since at least 2016. Local campaign group Moorland Vision led an online petition, making perfectly clear the risks to wildlife if DGS was to continue on NT land.
In 2017, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust submitted a bid to the NT, offering to help manage their Dark Peak moorland around Kinder Scout and Bleaklow for wildlife conservation, but its visionary, pro-wildlife were proposals rejected. Tim Birch, Head of Living Landscapes for North Derbyshire Wildlife Trust at the time, said in 2018 that by rejecting this offer, the NT had “missed a massive opportunity to charter a new course for our uplands in the 21st century.”
The wildlife crimes already reported are very likely just the tip of the iceberg. Moorland Monitors suspect that the vast majority of wildlife crime goes undetected. Grouse moors can be vast and remote areas, with many kilometers of unvisited space. Gamekeepers can exploit the natural cycles of the seasons, along with daytime and nightfall, to maximise illegal persecution.
Simultaneously, they position themselves as ‘conservationists’ and at least one claim has been made of them intimidating walkers and local residents in the Peak District. These conditions mean that the work of Moorland Monitors and others protecting wildlife can be genuinely challenging.
There is more to be done
The ban on DGS at Park Hall is a good step forward. But the NT own much more land in the Peak District too, which is still managed for DGS (see a map of their land). Wildlife in shooting areas remains highly vulnerable and we urge people to monitor closely.
Moorland Monitors believe that ordinary people, equipped with the knowledge, skills and confidence to identify and respond to wildlife persecution, can play a huge role in protecting our uplands. We are an entirely volunteer-run, non-profit group, who support ordinary people to look after our moorland. So many visitors enjoy the Peak District National Park through walking, cycling, climbing, photography and so on. We can all use our time there to look out for wildlife.
Recognising signs of persecution, such as illegal traps, snares, poisons and shooting and learning how best to record these and respond, can help create an evidence base which ultimately leads major landowners to cut their ties with DGS. Park Hall has shown us this, but there is still work to be done. Please continue to monitor National Trust – and other – grouse moors.
Moorland Monitors can provide some useful information to do so. The National Trust, as a huge and powerful conservation-oriented landowner, could lead the way in protecting moorland wildlife and habitat for its intrinsic value, rather than for the financial value of ‘sport’ shooting.
It is not too late. A wilder future is possible for our uplands.