About the challenge
In July, myself and several friends are going to run 200km from the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, to Nidderdale in Yorkshire. We're doing this because Hen Harriers are ten times more likely to die or disappear from English grouse moors than any other habitat. The available science tells us that England could sustain over 300 pairs of breeding Hen Harriers. But in 2018 there were only nine successful breeding attempts and a decade of analysis of satellite tagged hen harriers shows that 72% of them are 'very likely' to have been illegally killed.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, grouse moor managers brazenly deny any wrongdoing. So out of curiosity, I am going to don a satellite tag and visit every last transmission site of the vanished birds, just to see if I disappear myself. Or, as is more likely because I'm not a raptor, badger, fox, stoat or anything else which predates red grouse chicks, I'll just get tired running up and down lots of hills in our intensively managed, ecologically bereft uplands.
Photo courtesy of Mark Hamblin
We are going to run 200km and 7500m of ascent in 3 days while wearing satellite tags to:
Raise awareness of this national scandal
Raise money for our friends fighting wildlife crime at Wild Justice
Raise reward money to secure prosecutions for people who commit wildlife crime
As modeled by the chumps below, you too can wear a t-shirt designed by Donald Richards and Ben Harvey, with our logo on the front and a list of the locations we are running through on the back. All profits will go to the cause!
About Hen Harriers
Never seen a hen harrier? Me neither. That's because they all get killed. But you can still find out about them in this RSPB video!
About Driven Grouse Shooting
What is it?
In driven grouse shooting, the guns stand in butts and shoot at large numbers of grouse that are driven over their heads by beaters. A group of eight can pay around £33,000 for a day’s shooting, whose success is gauged on the number of birds bagged. The densities required for the large bags that drive the sport require intensive management of the uplands. Hence predators are routinely trapped, shot and poisoned, heather is burned on rotation and the grouse are medicated. The shooting does not represent a natural harvest of birds.
It has been around for less than 200 years. For many years, the Victorians thought it was a seriously unsporting affair, then the royals got involved and it became fashionable among the ultra-elite and new-money.
Why do they do kill Hen Harriers?
From the grouse moor manager's point of view, the ideal moor is one that is devoid of any predator that can take a red grouse at any point in its life. Hen Harriers predate red grouse chicks, but they generally don't pay for the privilege, so gamekeepers protect their winged targets at all costs in order that they can subsequently be shot by people with the good grace to cough up.
Isn't it good for the economy?
Possibly, if viewed in isolation.
But if we take into account the consequences of the intensive management practices on grouse moors then it’s a derisory claim.
Firstly, raptor persecution and compliance with the law are demonstrably at odds. If we set up crack dens or brothels on the moors, they may well generate money, but they would still be illegal.
Over burnt and drained moors increase flood risk. The 2016 Boxing Day flooding in Hebden Bridge below the Walshaw grouse moor was estimated to have cost £170 million.
Increased water treatment charges
Burning moors leads to lowered water tables, increased acidity and discoloured water which consumers then have to pay water companies to treat.
Loss of carbon capture
Intensive management has been massively degrading our peat and bogs. According to the UN, 'A significant amount of carbon is leaking into the atmosphere from drained and deteriorating peatlands. This is particularly alarming as a loss of only 5% of the carbon stored in peat would equate to the UKs total annual greenhouse gas emissions ... Restoration of peatlands is a low hanging fruit and among the most cost effective options for mitigating climate change' .
Imagine if Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles flew above our moors, or if trees and pine martens and wildcats returned. What price could we put on those magnificent sights and how much ecotourism are we missing out on because of the self-limiting anachronism of grouse moors?
Hang on. This is insane. Why is it still going on?
Driven grouse shooting takes place on vast upland estates that have often been in the hands of the same families for many generations. They have run Britain through their wealth and seats in the House of Lords. The ruling classes, particularly some members of the Conservative Party, are very sympathetic to grouse shooting, either because they own grouse moors, went to school with someone else who does, or they shoot grouse themselves. They put their sectional interests before our national and natural history.
Whats the alternative?
Before grouse moor managers became, slightly, coyer about killing wild animals, they published records about what they'd killed. Between 1837 and 1840, the Glengarry Estate in Scotland killed:
27 white-tailed eagles, 18 ospreys, 15 golden eagles, 275 red kites, 63 goshawks, 462 kestrels, 285 buzzards, 63 hen harriers, 1431 hooded crows, 475 ravens. 198 wild cats, 246 pine martens, 106 polecats, 301 stoats and weasels, 67 badgers and 48 otters. Driven grouse shooting has changed our uplands more than we'll ever know. Imagine a landscape that offered just fifty percent of this wildlife. How much would eco-tourism be worth to our economy if we could return these landscapes to the self-regulated versions of themselves?
In a recent article The Shooting Times wondered: “what would happen if gamekeepers were paid properly?” Inadvertently, this highlights the inequity of driven grouse shooting as a system of managing the moorland for the people involved. The only people who really benefit are the owners and (arguably) the people paying tens of thousands of pounds a day to shoot birds for pleasure, in most cases more than a gamekeeper gets paid in a year – even allowing for tips. A ban on driven grouse shooting is emotive, but the land would still need managing, and managing the uplands for wider public benefit rather than a vested interest should be a viable alternative which could retain the wider skills of gamekeepers and estates alike. Humans have always managed their environment and how we’ve done has always evolved. Grouse moors are an anachronism, It’s time for them to move on again.
Who are The Hen Harriers?
We are a personal trainer, a nurse, a analyst and a music promoter. A normal group of fell and ultra marathon runners who are pissed off that they don't get to see spectacular wildlife because its been killed. The picture below was taken after we ran the 186 mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path in four days in 2015. If you want to run with us, get in touch.
Threatened species can’t take legal cases in their own names, so Wild Justice exists to stand up for wildlife by using the legal system and seeking changes to existing laws.
Inglorious - Mark Avery
Read all about it. Inglorious makes the case for banning driven grouse shooting. The facts and arguments are presented fairly but the author, Mark Avery, states from the start why he has, after many years of soul-searching, come down in favour of an outright ban. It is an excellent read, whichever side of the argument you're on.
Raptor Persecution UK
This excellent blog highlights and explains the relentless and illegal killing of birds of prey in the UK.
Who Owns England?
Good question. A blog that tries to answer one of the most impenetrable secrets in the nation’s thousand-year story.