The gift of grouse?

Roosting tawny owl near the shooting lodge

Roosting tawny owl near the shooting lodge

Blue-phase snow goose on the fishing loch

Blue-phase snow goose on the fishing loch

Willow warbler on broom beside hill road

Willow warbler on broom beside hill road

I read last week, with a degree of comfort, that a wide variety of bird species are thriving on some grouse moors. Surveys were carried out on three Tayside estates as part of “The Gift of Grouse” – a year–long campaign to ‘highlight the wide range of benefits of grouse shooting and moorland management’. While I am yet to be convinced that grouse are a ‘gift’ to anyone but a select few, there is no doubt that these surveys go some way to ameliorating negative publicity often associated with grouse moors.

Of the three estates, many times in the past I have walked over Glenogil Estate in Angus to recover poisoned baits or their victims, or to seize illegally-set traps and snares. My thoughts on those visits were that the estate was like a desert, with little other than a monoculture of grouse.  Now 63 different bird species have been noted, though I would like to have seen the documentation of raptor species seen. Changes may have come in with the arrival of the new owner, and if so these are to be applauded. Ultimately it is an estate owner who calls the shots, irrespective of the views of his employees, whether they be a sporting agent or head keeper. If there have been changes I look forward to more good news from Glenogil.

The second Angus Estate surveyed was Invermark. I know this estate well, having assisted with several gamekeeper training courses there. I know the landowner, factor, and though I don’t know the present headkeeper I knew the late headkeeper well. It does not surprise me that the survey showed 81 bird species on the estate, specifically mentioning ten species of raptor. The estate was always extremely helpful, encouraged access, and the factor participated in a police-chaired project aimed at trying to reduce wildlife crime.

The Perthshire estate was Glenturret, also well known to me.  I knew the owner, factor and past and present headkeepers well, and the estate was one of the first participants of Operation Countrywatch Partnership, a project which I co-chaired and which was designed not just to reduce wildlife crime but to increase dialogue amongst disparate groups which should in effect have had similar aims. This estate boasted 61 species and on my own visits I have seen just about every species of raptor and I was delighted to read that ring ouzels are thriving.

There is some good news here and long may it continue. The comparisons are interesting in that in my own year on a Highland Perthshire estate, which is utilised for both pheasant and partridge shooting as well farming, I noted 89 species of birds (see the previous blog re my book A Wealth of Wildlife.) Of these, six were raptors and 15 were red-listed birds. Just after the completion of my year I noted a further three species: golden eagle, merlin and grey wagtail, which would have made the total 92, of which eight were raptors. I suspect that not too many estates can equal that.

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2 Responses to The gift of grouse?

  1. ptarmi says:

    Of course, there are two sides to every ‘story’ & you might find this post interesting.
    “The gift of grouse: spectacular propaganda from the Angus Glens”: https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/the-gift-of-grouse-spectacular-propaganda-from-the-angus-glens/

    • I’m aware of considerable propaganda from both sides of the grouse argument, but have a look back through my blog and see my views on driven grouse shooting. As I said I have been on all three estates a number of times. The visits to two of the estates were for positive reasons and what I saw by way of raptors appears to agree with the survey. My experiences of the third estate have been negative in the extreme but if a new broom, in the sense of a new owner, sweeps clean then they deserve some support (with a degree of mitigation as the species of raptors seen were not listed). If this turns out not to be the case then I will be the first to condemn them. My new book, ‘A Wealth of Wildlife’, detailing the wildlife seen on a Highland Perthshire estate during the course of a year, shows what an estate that takes account of conservation can look like.

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