Backed by an e-petition with over 100,000 signatures and recently brought up for debate in the Parliament, the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting has come a long way.
by Nikhil Sreekandan
The ‘tireless and resolute voice for Britain’s embattled wildlife’, an ‘expert campaigner’ and ‘fiercely intelligent’ – Mark Avery, the author of the hard-hitting Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands is a leading force in UK’s conservation scene.
Voted by the readers of Birdwatch as the 2016 Conservation Hero of the Year; the past year has seen Avery’s campaign to ban driven grouse shooting make some giant strides. The campaign’s e-petition collected 123,077 signatures and was debated in the parliament on 31 October 2016, which in turn has led to an enormous public understanding of this modern conflict.
Driven Grouse Shooting
Driven grouse shooting or ‘canned hunting’ as referred to by Avery, is this peculiar British field sport, where flocks of Red Grouse are chased by lines of beaters so that they fly over lines of guns that shoot the fast-flying birds.
A niche hobby among the rich that seemingly divides opinion among naturalists and conservationists.
In the eyes of the government, this multi-million business remains a legitimate activity and a significant economic and conservative contributor to the British uplands. But the intensive management of grouse moors is actually a cause for concern, particularly in terms of conservation interests.
For there to be enough red grouse to shoot, the grouse moors are intensively managed by heather burning and drainage, both of which have a number of ecological implications – affecting the water quality, flood risk, carbon emissions and aquatic biodiversity.
More importantly, predator control sees birds of prey such as eagles, falcons, and harriers being killed, as they deplete the number of grouse available to be shot.
Hen Harriers, best known for their aerobatic spring courtship displays known as ‘sky dancing’, and the spectacular passing of food from males to females in mid-flight is the most intensively persecuted of the UK’s birds of prey.
Hen harrier populations have undergone a severe decline in recent years, with only 633 breeding pairs in the UK as per the last full survey in 2010 and just three pairs bred in England in 2016 (down from six in 2015).
Avery writes in his book, Inglorious:
“When we are told by the shooting fraternity that they are ‘looking after the uplands’, the joke simply isn’t funny anymore. They burn it, drain it, poison it, denude it of any life that may possibly harm a grouse, and then kill the grouse themselves. How absurd.”
Having served as the Conservation Director at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Avery has been involved in this issue for more than twenty years and has personally spent a large amount of his time trying to find a compromise to this difficult position.
But according to him, there can be no compromise and driven grouse shooting needs to be banned. Yes, it is a major economic contributor to a few marginal upland communities, but after all ‘it is just a hobby where some men in tweed shoot chicken-like birds for fun’.
“Something only practised in the UK and nowhere else. If the Victorians hadn’t invented this rather bizarre pastime, then starting as of today nobody would invent this as a way to spend their time or money.”
And that’s quite a very good test for any radical proposal, explains Avery, “I would suggest that it should tell you that the idea of a ban is not ridiculous , it might take a long time to achieve, yes, but it is not ridiculous.”
It is abundantly clear that driven grouse shooting is a cause for serious wildlife crimes, and when coupled with its detrimental ecological impacts, one must wonder how the shooting community can so easily cast a blind eye.
As Avery suggests, there is a serious amount of money at play, “First of all, grouse shooting is not the ordinary working man’s hobby. Do you know how much a day’s grouse shooting would cost? Well, it depends on where you would go, but it could cost you easily £6000 a day.”
“And the value of your land, if it’s a grouse moor, is partly calculated based on how many red grouse have been shot on that bit of land in recent years. So the more grouse have been shot the more your land is worth, which is why you don’t want too many hen harriers floating around the place.”
Clearly, one can see why if a grouse moor has been brought for several million pounds and the fact that its capital value depends on how many grouse has been shot, that there is a certain motive.
Only a few years earlier the suggestion that there would be popular support for banning driven grouse shooting would have been unbelievable.
In fact, this was Avery’s third petition attempt. Thus, in every respect, the year of 2016 has been a definite milestone – the year when 123,077 members of the public forced members of Parliament to debate the issue of driven grouse shooting.
Avery says, “Yes, I’ve noticed that driven grouse shooting is not yet banned, but 2016 saw a very big step in that direction because the public understanding of the issue grew enormously.”
“Many people who knew little, and cared little, about what people do to our uplands and their wildlife, now know there are dark deeds done just for a so-called sport. The pressure for change has ratcheted up several notches and it will not slacken!”
Nikhil Sreekandan is a journalist with the desire to explore life through the stories he chases. He currently works as a content editor at Nature inFocus, India’s leading platform for nature and wildlife. When not lost in cinema, contemporary literature or his earphones — there is a genuine attempt at ‘giving chase’, and it is beautiful.