What is driven grouse shooting?
What is it Driven Grouse Shooting?
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.
Although it is sometimes depicted as a country tradition that has existed since time immemorial, in fact it has been around for less than 200 years. For many years, the Victorians thought it was seriously unsporting - until the royals got involved and it then became fashionable among the landed and new-money elite.
Why do they do kill Golden Eagles?
From a 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. Golden eagles can predate red grouse chicks, but they generally don't pay for the privilege, so gamekeepers protect their winged targets at all costs so 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 you take the consequences of intensive management practices on grouse moors into account then it’s not a sustainable claim.
Raptors are protected by law. The fact that driven grouse shooting generates income is beside the point - if we set up crack dens on the moors, they too might make money, but they would still be illegal.
Over-burned 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 practices such as burning and drainage have been 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 UK's total annual greenhouse gas emissions ... Restoration of peatlands is a low hanging fruit and among the most cost effective options for mitigating climate change.'
Before grouse moor managers became coy about killing wild animals, they published records about it. 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. In the same period they killed 198 wild cats, 246 pine martens, 106 polecats, 301 stoats and weasels, 67 badgers and 48 otters.
In it's 180 years, driven grouse shooting has changed and emptied our uplands more than we'll ever know.
Why is this 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 who does, or they shoot grouse themselves. They put their sectional interests before our national and natural history.
What's the alternative?
We need a new business model for the uplands. Imagine a landscape that offered just fifty per cent of the wildlife that existed two centuries ago. What would eco-tourism be worth to our economy if we could return these landscapes to a state nearer their natural selves?
In a recent article The Shooting Times asked what would happen if gamekeepers were paid properly. The question highlights the inequity of driven grouse shooting as a means for managing moorland in the interests of upland communities at large. The only people who really benefit are the owners and (arguably) the people who pay more to shoot birds for pleasure in a day than in many cases 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 to be managed, 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 have done it has always evolved. Grouse moors are an anachronism. It’s time for them to move on again.
The UK is one of the most nature depleted nations on earth. It's time we prioritised the natural world over our instincts for self-destruction.