Grouse moors have been the subject of social media attention this week for all the wrong reasons. Firstly I read of a gas gun being deployed on the Peak District National Park. It is claimed to be on Broomhead Estate, part of which is an SAC designated because of its importance to short-eared owl, merlin and golden plover. Although the gas gun is not actually on the SPA it is on its boundary and pointing towards the SPA, where there seems little doubt that the regular bangs will adversely affect any bird, nesting or otherwise, in close proximity.
This is not the first time that adverse comment has been made about the use of gas guns on grouse moors. Up until recently their use has been on agricultural land to scare pigeon or rooks from crops. My own thoughts are that their use on grouse moors, where pigeons and rooks are not a problem, is to prevent birds settling that are alleged to adversely affect grouse production. The first bird that comes to mind in this regard is the hen harrier. With the amount of bad publicity that driven grouse moors in particular continue to receive, one would think that any sensible owner, sporting agent or factor would instruct their employees not to carry out any activity that is likely to show the estate or grouse shooting in a bad light, whether or not the activity might be legitimate. By the continued use of gas guns on grouse moors it seems that those responsible could not care less about public perceptions.
Hot on the heels of this story, a man has been given a police caution after being filmed resetting three pole traps on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire. He admitted the offences to the police, which is unsurprising since he was caught on camera. The status of the man is not known though it seems much more likely he is employed by the estate rather than having just walked in off the street. I find it unbelievable that for such a serious crime as the use of pole traps to catch protected birds he only received a police caution. Aggravating the offence are the presence of the three posts on the estate, which seem to be there specifically for the purpose of pole-trapping, feathers on two of the traps, indicating that they had already caught victims, and the cruelty involved with this type of illegal instrument. There may be some element of the investigation to which we are not privy that justifies the mind-boggling decision of the police, but if there is not I sincerely hope that it can be reversed.
With driven grouse shooting already being on a shoogly peg (as we would say in Scotland) these two incidents must bring its demise ever closer.
It is also worth thinking about the position of any owner or sporting agent who encourages or directs illegal activity in order to boost grouse numbers. They may think of themselves as respectable citizens (some may even have Sir or Lord in front of their name) but in fact they undoubtedly sit at the highest level of wildlife criminals. If a case could be proved against them there is little doubt that they would receive (and thoroughly deserve) a substantial jail term, and with a bit of luck may have to forfeit hundreds of thousands of pounds under Proceeds of Crime legislation for the value added to grouse shooting by illegal activity such as the killing of birds prey.