Driven Grouse Shooting: the Bluff’s Been Called, by Les Wallace

This post was originally written for  Bowland Raptor Politics. The thoughts expressed here are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent my own.


Well with clockwork regularity another season’s fledged hen harriers ‘disappear’ over grouse moor. They’re not even making an effort to throttle back in the face of growing censure in fact they seem to be giving conservationists, the public and the law a bigger two finger salute than ever.  Time to return the gesture, but the thing is we don’t have to resort to breaking the law or raw insult we just have to ask as members of the public for what we always should have had. Given that it’s our taxes and too often politicians that are already supporting driven grouse shooting – we need an independent, comprehensive economic analysis to see if we are giving subsidies to something that actually deserves them.

What’s really keeping grouse moors afloat politically is not the phoney conservation case they put forward with more holes than a Swiss cheese; it’s the phoney jobs one. I know genuine environmentalists who detest driven grouse shooting (DGS) but cannot bring themselves to campaign against it because they truly believe rural communities will be devastated by job losses  –  the threats that families will lose their homes, schools will close and villages die hit home although they are almost certainly not true, but  jobs blackmail works.

Common sense and history, especially of industrial areas that were dependent upon the local steel mill, coal mines or shipyards, tell us that economically as well as ecologically it’s best to be ‘diverse’ – a strong local economy with many elements that can shift and adapt to knocks rather than collapse from one foul stroke of misfortune. This year’s ‘poor’ grouse shooting season where local businesses suffered because grouse chicks haven’t done too well really underlines this. How idiotic it is to depend upon the intensive and extensive ‘management’ of vast swathes of land for something that compromises virtually every other activity that could take place there. Something that can never, ever be for anything other than a tiny minority and doesn’t even have the saving grace of being a spectator sport, something which countries across northern Europe, Asia and America could do with the willow grouse – but no other country in the world will touch with a ten foot barge pole.

To this end government petition 226109 ‘An Independent Study to find if Driven Grouse Shooting is of Economic Benefit’ has been set up. If it reaches 10,000 signatures an official government response will be required which will be very interesting indeed. Official responses to government petitions wanting to ban DGS would typically include some reference that it is a vital contributor to the rural economy – how can it say that in response to a petition asking if that’s true? The Scottish Government is already conducting a wide-ranging review of driven grouse shooting which includes an economic study so it would be very difficult to justify not having one south of the border given the dearth of comprehensive, up to date and independent studies currently – obviously the various ones produced by the grouse shooting sector don’t make the grade except perhaps as comedy material or toilet paper.

To get to the 10,000 mark and hopefully beyond by the closing date of Feb 2nd 2019 is doable, but challenging. Rather ironically (but understandably) it ‘s much, much easier to get lots of signatures  for petitions against animal cruelty and loss of wildlife than it is for an economic study, but if we prove DGS is driving away jobs as much as it is wildlife then it will lose political support and with that its capacity to ‘cull’ mountain hares, get dodgy licenses for killing ravens, to snare, trap and build stink pits, to blame ramblers and raptor workers for scaring off birds of prey while the accusers are killing them illegally, to bulldoze hill tracks to get fat stock brokers on to the moors, to create a fire-prone landscape then say they’ve got to maintain it to reduce fire risk, to pollute and degrade watercourses with muir burn and exacerbate flooding downstream. If they lose the capacity to apply jobs blackmail they lose the grouse moors and with it will go every single one of its cruelties and absurdities.

This might sound like wishful thinking, but the petition isn’t just about getting signatures it’s about making a political point. Considering that pro-DGS organisations repeatedly claim that without it communities will die etc should they not absolutely cock a hoop at the opportunity to get official verification that no one could effectively challenge? Makes you wonder why they didn’t initiate this petition themselves. So it was with great surprise that when I contacted the Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, GWCT, BASC and four English moorland forums with the news they now had a petition for an independent study they could and should promote to their heart’s content not only did they not do so, they didn’t even acknowledge my communications! It was if they wanted to pretend the petition didn’t exist. Of course in any subsequent statements, they make re the positive economics of DGS I (and now you) can point out this anomaly – their bluff’s been called.  I also contacted the constituency parties of four of the MPs who stood up in support of DGS at the notorious parliamentary ‘debate’ on the 31st of October 2016 that resulted from Mark Avery’s petition to ban DGS. It was pointed out that they now had the chance to back up their MPs’ assertions by supporting the petition, again absolutely no reaction from any of them. What would the public make of that? Would we be right in saying they are all frightened of the petition, do they believe it’s the DGS nemesis?

If we’ve identified the Achilles Heel of DGS, which for years they’ve tried to make ours, let’s hammer the nail into it just as remorselessly as they kill hen harriers.  Nowhere in the north of England can be very far from a driven grouse moor, we need ‘petition champions’ who will do what they can to raise the issue in the local papers, ask local conservation and environmental groups to support the petition, contact the local branches of the political parties, councillors, ramblers clubs – and in fact anybody that might spend time on the moors, local businesses that might like to know if they’d do better without DGS and might think their family income shouldn’t be dependent on grouse chick productivity, animal welfare charities obviously and no doubt many more you can think of. And if there’s more than one person in a locality doing this – all the better. There cannot possibly be any legitimate objection to a proper economic study of something which receives public subsidy and effects so many directly and indirectly – in fact, all rational individuals should sign it.

Of course getting the public interested in grouse moors when most have very little to do with them is difficult, but rather the point too – they mean so very little to most when they should mean a lot – the places where you really can get away from the big smoke and see amazing wildlife and a genuinely stunning landscape – places where fell runners don’t get caught in snares. Places so much better to visit and live in with more jobs and more wildlife. We could use everything from peat bog restoration to riparian tree planting, and yes even beavers (wouldn’t they draw people into the hills!) in the right places to reduce the effects of flooding and drought downstream, improve water quality and reduce fire risk. With proper ecological restoration, you’d start getting wildlife back including the dramatic raptors, that means far greater scope for wildlife photography, bushcraft and foraging classes – how many people could do these rather than shooting grouse, hundreds, thousands? Better business plus far, far more of us genuinely benefitting from OUR heritage. Imagine a place which still has red grouse, but also hosts bat walks? Then there are conservation working holidays like the two I did in the Forest of Bowland after the end of the grouse shooting as it happens – we spent a fair amount in the local shops, pubs and even the local pantomime, and had a great time!

There are families who don’t want a wood stove because it would look nice and make them ‘carbon neutral’ but because they don’t have access to mains gas – that’s what’s called a legitimate need for woodlot forestry. I’ve stood in Fort William after interviewing families in dire fuel poverty, spending more than 10% of their income trying to heat their homes in a particularly cold and damp climate, looking up at the surrounding hills seeing miles and miles of heather being burnt off – for grouse or sheep or both I’m not sure, but that could have at least been producing logs for people who really struggled to keep their kids warm – that I have to say pissed me off. Better fire in the hearth than fire on the hill – another option for the new mix.

It’s not only about fully-fledged ecotourism it’s also just being better places to walk and picnic in where you’re not a second class citizen because you have nothing to do with grouse shooting. Do any grouse moors have pony trekking on them, even offseason? Not dramatic or original, but I imagine a nice change or opportunity for many people. In my mind’s eye, I’m trying to visualise a group of pony trekkers going across what was a grouse moor, so much nicer than a line of shooters. Of course, the public should be asked to make suggestions, emphasizing the need not to compromise wildlife or the environment, and we can look abroad for ideas too.

We need people to get signatures for the petition and to use it as a catalyst to raise awareness and stimulate debate – we’ve been getting shortchanged for a long, long time. No matter how powerful, pampered and influential the grouse moor owners are they can’t ignore public opinion; for one thing their on a leash MP friends still need to get voted in. As long ago as the 1930s the Kinder Scout trespass showed that people with dedication and right on their side could give the grouse moor owners one hell of a bloody nose. I’m positive that no amount of raptor persecution or mountain hare massacres will ever be enough to get DGS stopped as long as people think doing so means a young family in the street, but turn that round to mean all children are missing out on the chance to see real wildlife and that jobs helping to make that happen are being lost among so many other things due to DGS then it has really had it – and ‘they’ know it.

There’s the story, now cliché really, that Al Capone wasn’t chucked behind bars because he was nabbed for bootlegging, extortion or murder, but for income tax evasion. I think there’s quite a lot of relevance there for DGS and all the missing raptors, damaged moor and lies. Please, please, please get behind the petition at local level – remember the lost harriers, get stuck in and have fun doing it! Thanks.

Links

The petition – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/226109

The 2017 petition to get the Scottish Government to commission an independent economic study of DGS (carries far more background information than the Westminster one) – http://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01663

Labour MP Sue Hayman shadow secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – her statement regarding the need for full ecological and economic analysis of DGS – https://labourlist.org/2018/08/sue-hayman-its-time-to-end-grouse-moor-practices-that-harm-the-environment/

Glen Tanar –  a rare, but brilliant example of a grouse shooting estate that is genuinely diversifying – the other estates hate it! – https://www.glentanar.co.uk/about

 

Well with clockwork regularity another season’s fledged hen harriers ‘disappear’ over grouse moor. They’re not even making an effort to throttle back in the face of growing censure in fact they seem to be giving conservationists, the public and the law a bigger two finger salute than ever.  Time to return the gesture, but the thing is we don’t have to resort to breaking the law or raw insult we just have to ask as members of the public for what we always should have had. Given that it’s our taxes and too often politicians that are already supporting driven grouse shooting – we need an independent, comprehensive economic analysis to see if we are giving subsidies to something that actually deserves them.

What’s really keeping grouse moors afloat politically is not the phony conservation case they put forward with more holes than a Swiss cheese; it’s the phony jobs one. I know genuine environmentalists who detest driven grouse shooting (DGS) but cannot bring themselves to campaign against it because they truly believe rural communities will be devastated by job losses  –  the threats that families will lose their homes, schools will close and villages die hit home although they are almost certainly not true, but  jobs blackmail works.

Common sense and history, especially of industrial areas that were dependent upon the local steel mill, coal mines or shipyards, tell us that economically as well as ecologically it’s best to be ‘diverse’ – a strong local economy with many elements that can shift and adapt to knocks rather than collapse from one foul stroke of misfortune. This year’s ‘poor’ grouse shooting season where local businesses suffered because grouse chicks haven’t done too well really underlines this. How idiotic it is to depend upon the intensive and extensive ‘management’ of vast swathes of land for something that compromises virtually every other activity that could take place there. Something that can never, ever be for anything other than a tiny minority and doesn’t even have the saving grace of being a spectator sport, something which countries across northern Europe, Asia and America could do with the willow grouse – but no other country in the world will touch with a ten foot barge pole.

To this end government petition 226109 ‘An Independent Study to find if Driven Grouse Shooting is of Economic Benefit’ has been set up. If it reaches 10,000 signatures an official government response will be required which will be very interesting indeed. Official responses to government petitions wanting to ban DGS would typically include some reference that it is a vital contributor to the rural economy – how can it say that in response to a petition asking if that’s true? The Scottish Government is already conducting a wide ranging review of driven grouse shooting which includes an economic study so it would be very difficult to justify not having one south of the border given the dearth of comprehensive, up to date and independent studies currently – obviously the various ones produced by the grouse shooting sector don’t make the grade except perhaps as comedy material or toilet paper.

To get to the 10,000 mark and hopefully beyond by the closing date of Feb 2nd 2019 is doable, but challenging. Rather ironically (but understandably) it ‘s much, much easier to get lots of signatures  for petitions against animal cruelty and loss of wildlife than it is for an economic study, but if we prove DGS is driving away jobs as much as it is wildlife then it will lose political support and with that its capacity to ‘cull’ mountain hares, get dodgy licenses for killing ravens, to snare, trap and build stink pits, to blame ramblers and raptor workers for scaring off birds of prey while the accusers are killing them illegally, to bulldoze hill tracks to get fat stock brokers on to the moors, to create a fire prone landscape then say they’ve got to maintain it to reduce fire risk, to pollute and degrade watercourses with muir burn and exacerbate flooding downstream. If they lose the capacity to apply jobs blackmail they lose the grouse moors and with it will go every single one of its cruelties and absurdities.

This might sound like wishful thinking, but the petition isn’t just about getting signatures it’s about making a political point. Considering that pro DGS organisations repeatedly claim that without it communities will die etc should they not be absolutely cock a hoop at the opportunity to get official verification that no one could effectively challenge? Makes you wonder why they didn’t initiate this petition them selves. So it was with great surprise that when I contacted the Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, GWCT, BASC and four English moorland forums with the news they now had a petition for an independent study they could and should promote to their heart’s content not only did they not do so, they didn’t even acknowledge my communications! It was if they wanted to pretend the petition didn’t exist. Of course in any subsequent statements they make re the positive economics of DGS I (and now you) can point out this anomaly – their bluff’s been called.  I also contacted the constituency parties of four of the MPs who stood up in support of DGS at the notorious parliamentary ‘debate’ on the 31st of October 2016 that resulted from Mark Avery’s petition to ban DGS. It was pointed out that they now had the chance to back up their MPs’ assertions by supporting the petition, again absolutely no reaction from any of them. What would the public make of that? Would we be right in saying they are all frightened of the petition, do they believe it’s the DGS nemesis?

If we’ve identified the Achilles Heel of DGS, which for years they’ve tried to make ours, let’s hammer the nail into it just as remorselessly as they kill hen harriers.  Nowhere in the north of England can be very far from a driven grouse moor, we need ‘petition champions’ who will do what they can to raise the issue in the local papers, ask local conservation and environmental groups to support the petition, contact the local branches of the political parties, councillors, ramblers clubs – and in fact anybody that might spend time on the moors, local businesses that might like to know if they’d do better without DGS and might think their family income shouldn’t be dependent on grouse chick productivity, animal welfare charities obviously and no doubt many more you can think of. And if there’s more than one person in a locality doing this – all the better. There cannot possibly be any legitimate objection to a proper economic study of something which receives public subsidy and effects so many directly and indirectly – in fact all rational individuals should sign it.

Of course getting the public interested in grouse moors when most have very little to do with them is difficult, but rather the point too – they mean so very little to most when they should mean a lot – the places where you really can get away from the big smoke and see amazing wildlife and a genuinely stunning landscape – places where fell runners don’t get caught in snares. Places so much better to visit and live in with more jobs and more wildlife. We could use everything from peat bog restoration to riparian tree planting, and yes even beavers (wouldn’t they draw people into the hills!) in the right places to reduce the effects of flooding and drought downstream, improve water quality and reduce fire risk. With proper ecological restoration you’d start getting wildlife back including the dramatic raptors, that means far greater scope for wildlife photography, bushcraft and foraging classes – how many people could do these rather than shoot driven grouse, hundreds, thousands fold? Better business plus far, far more of us genuinely benefitting from OUR heritage. Imagine a place which still has red grouse, but also hosts bat walks? Then there are conservation working holidays like the two I did in the Forest of Bowland after the end of the grouse shooting as it happens – we spent a fair amount in the local shops, pubs and even the local pantomime, and had a great time!

There are families who don’t want a wood stove because it would look nice and make them ‘carbon neutral’ but because they don’t have access to mains gas – that’s what’s called a legitimate need for woodlot forestry. I’ve stood in Fort William after interviewing families in dire fuel poverty, spending more than 10% of their income trying to heat their homes in a particularly cold and damp climate, looking up at the surrounding hills seeing miles and miles of heather being burnt off – for grouse or sheep or both I’m not sure, but that could have at least been producing logs for people who really struggled to keep their kids warm – that I have to say pissed me off. Better fire in the hearth than fire on the hill – another option for the new mix.

It’s not only about fully fledged eco tourism it’s also just being better places to walk and picnic in where you’re not a second class citizen because you have nothing to do with grouse shooting. Do any grouse moors have pony trekking on them, even off season? Not dramatic or original, but I imagine a nice change or opportunity for many people. In my mind’s eye I’m trying to visualise a group of pony trekkers going across what was a grouse moor, so much nicer than a line of shooters. Of course the public should be asked to make suggestions, emphasizing the need not to compromise wildlife or environment, and we can look abroad for ideas too.

We need people to get signatures for the petition and to use it as a catalyst to raise awareness and stimulate debate – we’ve been getting short changed for a long, long time. No matter how powerful, pampered and influential the grouse moor owners are they can’t ignore public opinion; for one thing their on a leash MP friends still need to get voted in. As long ago as the 1930s the Kinder Scout trespass showed that people with dedication and right on their side could give the grouse moor owners one hell of a bloody nose. I’m positive that no amount of raptor persecution or mountain hare massacres will ever be enough to get DGS stopped as long as people think doing so means a young family in the street, but turn that round to mean all children are missing out on the chance to see real wildlife and that jobs helping to make that happen are being lost among so many other things due to DGS then it has really had it – and ‘they’ know it.

There’s the story, now cliché really, that Al Capone wasn’t chucked behind bars because he was nabbed for bootlegging, extortion or murder, but for income tax evasion. I think there’s quite a lot of relevance there for DGS and all the missing raptors, damaged moor and lies. Please, please, please get behind the petition at local level – remember the lost harriers, get stuck in and have fun doing it! Thanks.

Links

The petition – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/226109

The 2017 petition to get the Scottish Government to commission an independent economic study of DGS (carries far more background information than the Westminster one) – http://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01663

Labour MP Sue Hayman shadow secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – her statement regarding the need for full ecological and economic analysis of DGS – https://labourlist.org/2018/08/sue-hayman-its-time-to-end-grouse-moor-practices-that-harm-the-environment/

Glen Tanar –  a rare, but brilliant example of a grouse shooting estate that is genuinely diversifying – the other estates hate it! – https://www.glentanar.co.uk/about

 

 

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