By Kit Davidson, Shooting Consultant to Animal Aid
Glori’ous a. possessing glory, illustrious, conferring glory, honourable, splendid, magnificent, intensely delightful, ecstatically happy with drink.
There is nothing glorious about the Twelfth of August. The only similarity grouse shooting shares with the dictionary definition of this abused adjective is the connection with drink. The hip flasks and shooting sticks will be full and the shoot lunch noisy when another season’s hapless birds meet their premature ends over the grouse butts. This extravagant cruel hedonism is shameful enough to call itself glorious.
What’s it all for? The apologists will shout that is about conservation. They will crow about songbirds and waders, but only because these birds do not prejudice shooting. The defensive will claim it is the harvesting of food. But nobody will admit that it is really about the pleasure of shooting a warm-blooded feathered target.
Grouse shooting is cruel. It is cruel because the bird makes good ‘sport’. Grouse fly low and fast and are difficult to kill cleanly. However, no skill or training is necessary to go grouse shooting. The only qualification is a fat wallet. In the UK, anyone who is lacking a criminal record, which resulted in a custodial sentence of more than three years, can obtain a shotgun licence. Grouse guns do not even need licensing, when shooting with the moor owner’s permission.
Grouse shooting is cruel because the management of the moor subjects the bird to a cycle of over-breeding and disease. All grouse moors enter the cycle by which the grouse populations collapse when they overburden the moor and increase their propensity to fatal gut infection.
It is also the moor management that ‘removes’ natural predators or fauna that might compete with grouse for moorland food. Moor management is cruel and destructive because it indiscriminately persecutes and destroys any creatures who jeopardize the maxima of the shooting. Even the humble heather beetle is vilified because it jointly depends upon the heather with the grouse.
Moor management is not only cruel, it is often criminal. Protected birds of prey are shot, poisoned and trapped. Their nests and eggs are destroyed, and gamekeepers who are successfully prosecuted do not lose their jobs protecting the moor owners’ grouse. The problem is widespread. The crimes are inflicted in the name of a selfish sport. Last month, Scottish Natural Heritage reported the disgraceful connection between grouse shooting, the decline of the Golden Eagle and illegal poisons.1 In 2007, there were at least 11 deliberate cases of poisoning of Red Kites in Scotland alone. 2 The rump of the shooting industry and others who laud the local economic benefits of shooting ignore the obvious: that Golden Eagles and Red Kites are a more inclusive and likely more profitable public attraction than is grouse shooting for selected tweedies with too much disposable income.
Grouse moor management is selfish and unconcerned about the long-term implications of moors burning and draining. The draining of upland moors for grouse shooting is contributing to the flooding of lowland settlements and the discolouration of drinking water in the northern reservoirs.
More significantly, about 13 million tonnes of carbon are released annually by bad practice on the upland moors of the UK. This is equal to a tenth of the nation’s emissions from industry.3 The upland moors can be considered as equivalent to the South American Rain Forests in their capacity for storing and absorbing carbon. Properly managed – not by gamekeepers and land owners who have the single purpose of managing a sport – the upland moors could reduce greenhouse pollution by up to 400,000 tonnes per year. This is the equivalent of removing 2% of England’s cars from the road.4 The poor management of the moors at present releases to a vast amount of carbon stored up since the last ice age.
We want the countryside conserved for its own sake and for everyone’s enjoyment, not as a by-product of conserving a cruel sport: a sport which excludes the public – to whom our heritage really belongs.
Grouse shooting is not glorious.
EIGHT REASONS TO OPPOSE GROUSE SHOOTING
1. Killing birds for sport is cruel and uncivilised.
2. A large number of native birds and mammals who interfere with grouse shooting are trapped, poisoned or snared. Victims include stoats, weasels, and even iconic raptors such as hen harriers, red kites and golden eagles.
3. An unnatural, heather-rich environment is created because the grouse thrive on young heather shoots. To create fresh young shoots, the heather is burned, harming wildlife and damaging the environment.
4. The burning of heather, reports an expert, ‘threatens to release millions of tonnes of carbon locked into the peat bogs underpinning the moors. Where burning occurs, the hydrology changes and the peat is open to decomposition and erosion. This strips the moor of carbon as surely as setting fire to the Amazon Forest.’ (Adrian Yallop, New Scientist magazine, 12 August 2006)
5. A technique used to encourage new heather growth is to dig drainage ditches. This is another source of damage to the peat bogs. It dries them out and, like burning, causes carbon to be released. Draining can also cause flooding of low-lying areas and discolouration of reservoir drinking water.
6. The harsh ‘management’ of moorlands causes grouse numbers to boom. But as they overburden the landscape, they become weakened and fall prey to a lethal parasite – Strongylosis. This attacks the gut and leads to a collapse in the population. A cycle of population boom and bust is the norm on Britain’s grouse moors.
7. Large quantities of lead shot are discharged, which is toxic to wildlife.
8. Grouse shooting estates use the Countryside and Rights of Way Act to restrict public access to mountain and moorland.