Posts Tagged ‘Grouse Shooting’

While I was away on Holiday I had the chance to watch one of our most majestic birds of prey, the Hen Harrier, also known as Skydancers due to their spectacular breeding flying displays. On Mull there is a reasonable population and they are fairly easy to locate given a little knowledge and the ability to sit and observe quietly.

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A stunning male Hen Harrier – photo: Robin Newlin

However as you may have heard these birds are now making the main stream news (BBC , SkyIndependent) due to their desperately low numbers in the UK and England especially. The  population survey revealed that in England (2016) there are now only 4, yes 4 breeding pairs. Hen Harriers are upland birds, they like open moorland and hunt a variety of birds and small mammals and this is why they are at risk of extinction in England. While there is suitable habitat for over 300 breeding pairs the vast majority of that habitat is managed for Grouse shooting.

hh-territorial-pairs-2010_2016Grouse shooting is big business, very big. On an exclusive, driven shoot that cost can run up to and over £1000 a gun. The shoots owners want the biggest number of birds for their clients to shoot and so intensively manage the moors to provide the optimum habitat and minimum threat to their game bird numbers. Heather is burnt to provide fresh new shoots for the birds to eat, medicated grit is put down to help against disease and predators are exterminated. This creates a completely artificial habitat where Grouse numbers are excessively high and biodiversity low.

“The reasons for the population changes are likely to be a combination of factors that vary from region to region. From previous research, it is known that the main factor limiting the UK hen harrier population is illegal killing of these birds associated with driven grouse moor management in northern England and parts of mainland Scotland” – Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director

The extermination of predators takes the form of trapping with fen traps for Stoats & Weasels, the snaring of Foxes (and probably Badgers), (Mountain Hares are shot in huge numbers in Scotland because its believed they carry a virus which can effect Grouse) the use of Larsen traps for Corvids and also the shooting, poisoning and trapping of birds of prey. While some predator control is perfectly legal (but morally abhorrent) any persecution of raptors is illegal. The Hen Harrier is a schedule 1 protected species, this is the highest afforded protection offered by law however this doesn’t stop them from being illegally killed by Gamekeepers (along with many other birds of prey), no doubt under instruction from their employers.

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The female Hen Harrier – photo: Alamy

Due to the remote nature of Grouse moors and the solitary existence of the sociopaths that are gamekeepers, catching and prosecuting these criminals is extremely hard. Even when solid evidence is produced it seems once again that money and social standing become a get of jail free card. The Countryside Alliance, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) and the Game & Wildlife Trust will make lots of noises about how intensive management is good for wildlife and some ground nesting bird species in particular and how raptor crime is committed by just a few bag eggs but this is nothing more than smoke and mirrors are far from the truth. Sure some species may benefit from what they do but any thriving ecosystem needs a top to bottom balance of predator and prey species and managed Grouse moors are nothing like this. And the “few bad eggs” claim is complete nonsense. The science simply does not back up these claims and the illegal persecution of raptors is endemic in the gamekeeping community.

I have met quite a few keepers in my time and I’ve yet to meet one who I’d consider a ‘normal’ person. They are nearly all loner types with a pathological hatred for all predators and a love for killing things. They seem to show a complete lack of compassion and empathy – these are the type of traits exhibited by murders and there is a direct scientifically proven link between those who kill animals going on to kill people.

The most galling aspect of this is we, the tax payer are supporting this. Grouse moor owners get huge Government subsidies to the tune of millions each year and yet they provide virtually nothing in the form of food for the human population. Whether this will continue after we leave the EU remains to be seen however it shouldn’t be the case in the first place. Why should these land owners take money from the general population so a very rich minority can blast an intensively reared game bird from the sky in large numbers while our native predators and Hen Harriers in particular become extinct due to their actions. The situation needs to change before we lose this iconic species.

If you want to get involved Hen Harrier days are being arranged across the country with more to be finalised soon, see below.

harrier days

UPDATE:

The Game & Wildlife Trust has responds to the survey results. You can read it over on the excellent Raptor Persecution UK site along with their comment. When you read this you’ll understand what our wildlife is up against and I’m as blown away as the people at RPUK.

I like Chris Packham, he’s my kind of naturalist.

On TV he doesn’t beat about the bush and paint nature as some kind of children’s book where it’s all fluffy bunnies and cutesy pie. It’s warts and all, predator and prey and the real circle of life . . . and death. Another fine trait he has is he’s prepared to stand up and be counted when it comes to highlighting the injustices that occur in our countryside. He’s prepare to take the fire from the heavy hitters in the wildlife abuse industry and face them off using solid science and sound arguments.

Of course the “nasty brigade” as he so eloquently described them are now seriously irked and have taken it upon themselves to tarnish his considerable reputation via his employers, the BBC (and not for the first time). Apparently the BBC and Springwatch have editorial guidelines which prevent them from engaging in debate on controversial issues. However Chris isn’t on Springwatch discussing these issues but independently as Chris Packham the naturalist and the last time I looked it wasn’t a crime to express an opinion. Tim Bonner the Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance released a statement complaining bitterly, it is a rambling, slightly desperate attempt to justify their claims using words like “obsessive” and “extreme” when describing Mr Packham.

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It always amuses me when these people start these frothy mouthed rants, Boner . . . sorry Bonner is famous for them. They mostly consist of long winded diatribes lacking in any real substance. They paint themselves as the traditional land managers, guardians of the countryside no less while generalising wildly that anyone with compassion and an alternative point of view is some kind of demented and dangerous terrorist on a par with IS. Well, they certainly don’t fool me and I’m pretty sure the only people who enjoy having this much sunshine blown up their arses are their animal abusing cohorts and lackies. The simple fact is times are changing. The CA may be big, rich and powerful but these Victorian attitudes to our landscape belong in the past and it’s only a matter of time before they go the same way as the dinosaurs. Chris Packham is only telling it like it is and that scares the crap out of them.

Of course this is all the more relevant right now after the Government refused to ban snares yet again (see here) even though the only MP’s to vote against the proposition were pro-hunting and shooting, like Simon Hart (member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and also, unsurprisingly Chairman of the CA) but also that the start of the Grouse shooting season will be soon upon us, the inglorious 12th. The series of short videos made by Chris and showing the real price of Grouse Shooting are hugely effective and gaining significant coverage. He’s also urging Marks and Spencer to stop selling Grouse on the basis that the management of the moors from which they are shot is unethical.

It’s very hard to argue against what are undoubted the facts. These include the failure of Hen Harriers to breed in the Forest of Bowland once again, an area which should be their stronghold, purely due to illegal persecution from Gamekeepers. Shooting estates and Grouse moors in particular are wildlife wastelands, raptors and mammalian predators are conspicuous by their absence, they are man made environments designed purely for the benefit of raising an unnatural level of game birds, game birds which will be shot, for fun, by a very small minority.

These are the facts and as such are undeniable. It doesn’t matter how many teddies you chuck out your pram they are never going to change.

Ban Driven Grouse Shooting

For more info visit the excellent Raptor Persecution UK

UPDATE: Chris Packham’s management have just issued this statement.

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The nasty brigade show are showing their true colours once again. As one person commented, “they don’t like it up em!”. Indeed they don’t.