It’s been over a year since I last blogged on the issue of driven grouse shooting: since I last expressed a view on a subject that, as both a raptor lover and a pragmatist, deeply interests me. I would be delighted to say here that things have changed over the past year; that the brazen atrocities that take place in our uplands had ceased. I would like to say that I had witnessed a concerted effort on behalf of the grouse industry to wheedle out the criminals in their ranks, to adapt, and to drag the pastime (screaming if necessary) into the 21st century. Sadly, however, I have not. And the situation we are faced with now is one of woeful familiarity. Things have not changed in the slightest.
Since my last blog on the subject, raptor persecution, despite bold claims and recovery plans, has continued unhindered. Recently, there was the case of the breeding Marsh Harriers near Denton, and before that, the killing of a Hen Harrier in Moray. There was the Red Kite shot near Nidderdale, a Buzzard caught in an illegal trap near Strathdearn and, of course, the publication of a report confirming that Golden Eagles still regularly disappear over grouse moors. Nothing has changed in this regard: birds continue to die and the raptor populations continue to find themselves suppressed by criminal actions. Whether that be Hen Harriers, with only three successful nests in England this year, or Peregrines, which remain few and far between in our uplands.
Such repetition has not been limited solely to the killing and disturbance of raptors, however, manifesting itself also in the rhetoric of the grouse industry. Lies still abound and facts continue to be distorted: just look at the recent comments of Magnus Linklater, quickly dispelled by the BTO and very similar to false assertions made in the past. Elsewhere, the Countryside Alliance, instead of working towards any sort of productive solution, appears to be focusing its efforts (once again) on calling for the head of Chris Packham. All while pro-shooting celebrities continue to push their agenda in the public forum. Indeed, Sir Ian Botham continues to spout the same twaddle he has done for many years. Why should one media personality be allowed to speak freely on a controversial issue but not another? Meanwhile, pro-shooting commentators continue to attempt to justify their chosen hobby by diverting attention away from the issue at hand, and in doing so, outright ignoring the problem that has turned a substantial (and growing) portion of the population against them. It’s all very tiresome, isn’t it?
On a positive note, another thing that has remained the same is the commitment of those working to raise awareness of the plight of our raptors. There was Findlay Wilde’s resounding thunderclap, there was the success of Hen Harrier day, attracting more people than ever before – including a number of passionate younger conservationists – and, of course, the persistent efforts of conservation commentators to highlight the crimes in our uplands. I particularly enjoyed its been a bad few days for the grouse shooters series of posts by Mark Avery; though I recommend this Guardian article by Patrick Barkham too. Of course, the personal attacks that angered me previously continue to an extent, and some continue to choose the inflammatory language when addressing their perceived adversaries. This bothers me; though for the large part, the most venomous attacks I have seen have come from the opposing side.
I have never attempted to justify raptor persecution, it’s abhorrent, but have, in the past, tried to keep an open mind with regards to the positive aspects of DGS: the benefits of management to breeding waders, the importance of shooting to local communities, the lack of viable alternatives etc. I will not apologise for this and still, from time to time, find myself shying away from the idea of an outright ban (I believe we should try licensing, as advocated by the RSPB, first). It is, however, impossible to disagree with the logic of such when the process of killing, empty words and no progress repeats itself year on year. Talk of change is all well and good, but without evidence of such, and faced weekly with the same old vacuous tripe courtesy of DGS supporters, you can only take so much before you get fed up. I certainly find myself fed up at present, and with no noticeable signs of change in the situation, it seems many others are too. How long will it be until everyone – excluding, of course, those with a stake in shoots – begin to get fed up too? The more things repeat themselves, the more the future of DGS looks sealed.