Grouse moors and criminals

Red grouse. (Courtesy Lorne Gill, SNH)

Red grouse. (Courtesy Lorne Gill, SNH)

Female hen harrier protecting well-grown chicks against nearby intruder

Female hen harrier protecting well-grown chicks against nearby intruder

In his blog Mark Avery asks ‘Does driven grouse shooting rely on criminal activity?’ I may have asked the question slightly differently; ‘Is driven grouse shooting possible without criminal activity?’ I know exactly what Mark means and I’m probably being pedantic by changing the sentence format. Though I once shot driven grouse some 40 years ago that by no means makes me an expert. I have, however, spoken to some grouse moor keepers and one land owner who have told me that for a successful driven grouse shoot, grouse predators need to be kept to a minimum. By that they also meant birds of prey. I have only spoken to one gamekeeper who actually liked hen harriers. I have also spoken to a landowner that did think it was possible to have driven grouse shooting and hen harriers. He was keen to buy a grouse moor just to make that point, and indeed looked at a couple, but time is not on his side.

I suspect it is possible to have driven grouse shooting alongside hen harriers but of course these moors are likely to be much less commercial than moors that do not countenance any creature that may consider grouse as a dinner menu, or is in any way a threat to its ability to go forth and multiply. Hopefully Langholm 2 will show the way forward. One of the most despicable incidents I saw – and it was also witnessed by Roy Dennis – was the cutting down of all the rowan or birch or wild cherry trees that grew down the sides of hill burns on Millden Estate in Angus. Though there may not have been more than a few dozen trees cut down they had been part of the landscape and the ecology for decades but of course they may have provided roosting places for birds of prey. I could think of no other reason for this wanton vandalism. While no crime had been committed by cutting these trees down (and leaving them where they fell) it certainly made a mockery of the claim that grouse moor owners look after the land that they are privileged to own.

I accept that there are different degrees of criminality. Some game managers may kill the occasional protected bird or animal that is causing a problem. While this is still illegal it may be worth comparing it with certain regimes in Scotland and the north of England that strive towards creating a grouse desert, with hardly any living creature on the moor except for grouse. On moors under the control of these regimes deer have to go as they carry ticks. They are shot or fenced out. Mountain hares have to go as they carry ticks. They are shot or snared. Raptors have to go as they eat grouse. Intelligence shows they are shot, poisoned or trapped. Though otters, pine marten and badgers may not necessarily be targeted, if there is a chance to take them out it will be seized. The cull is not only against animals: humans are also victims. Gamekeepers who may have been on an estate for many years can be ousted if they are too old (no matter how experienced) or if they do not agree with the ideals of the new regime.

I have discussed this situation many times with keepers, landowners and shooting organisations. All are aware of who these problem people are. They talk openly about it. They give me the names They have told me about what I have written in the last paragraph. They are aware that these few people are ruining the name of the vast majority of the people involved in game shooting. So why the hell do they, as the majority, do nothing about it?  Why they hell do they sometimes publicly deny it is even taking place?

Apart from new sanctions by Scottish Government which could halt raptor persecution in its tracks (and may yet come), there are two other ways to bring this to an end. Gamekeepers, landowners and others with information, whether that be intelligence or evidence, must make contact with their local police wildlife crime officer and tell what they know. Have the guts to stand up and be counted. I have been saying this for years and it has not yet happened. Alternatively, funding must be found for the police to prioritise this most difficult aspect of crime to resolve. I have also been saying this for years and it has not happened, yet the answers are there. We need look no further than the options in this paragraph. Most of us are on the same side. It just needs all the good guys to stand up and be counted against the bad guys.

But why I am not holding my breath?

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