My evidence to the Westminster inquiry on grouse shooting

Poisoned white-tailed eagle 'White G' recovered by the author in 2008 after eating poisoned bait set out on a driven grouse moor in Angus. This was a young bird fledged on the island of Mull

Poisoned white-tailed eagle ‘White G’ recovered by the author in 2008 after eating poisoned bait set out on a driven grouse moor in Angus. This was a young bird fledged on the island of Mull

My background is as a police officer in Scotland. I was involved in various aspects of policing for 50 years, dealing with poachers in my earlier years and during the last 20 years as force wildlife crime officer, initially as a serving officer and latterly in a civilian role. For the last three years I worked as an intelligence officer with the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

As a young man I went grouse beating, helped gamekeepers and indeed shot grouse. I was a great supporter of gamekeepers until relatively recently, but the volume of wildlife crime I saw that was clearly committed in the name of game management astonished me. I tried hard to integrate keepers into the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime, which meant I was then shunned by some conservationists. I shrugged that off but could see from policing and NWCU intelligence that on driven grouse moors, in particular those under sporting agents, the level of wildlife crime continued and showed no signs of abating.

The crimes I encountered or dealt with ranged from the killing by various means of golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, peregrines, red kites, goshawks, buzzards, ravens, badgers and otters to the illegal shooting of deer to reduce the tick burden on grouse. On one driven grouse moor all the deer were shot at night in a spotlight and the carcasses left on the hill. On another driven grouse moor the native trees beside hill burns were cut down to prevent the roosting or nesting of any birds that might predate grouse. Intelligence consistently showed that the worst areas were east and south-west Scotland and the north of England, all areas of driven grouse moors. Considering I was once part of the ‘shooting scene’ and used to shoot game this has completely sickened me.

The regular discoveries of poisonous baits or their victims present a real risk of serious injury or even death to anyone encountering and touching them. Most are found on driven grouse moors and sooner or later will lead to a fatality. In Scotland in the last five years at least eight satellite-tagged golden eagles have ‘gone missing’ in areas of grouse moors. This, together with a considerable number of hen harriers that have also ‘gone missing’ in grouse moor areas in Scotland and the north of England, strongly indicates there is no let-up in criminality.

The Scottish Parliament has made great strides forward in improving wildlife law. Examples are vicarious liability, adding the term ‘reckless’ as an option to ‘intentional’ for most wildlife crimes, upgrading snaring legislation and extending time bars for court proceeding to three years from the date of the crime. Nevertheless, despite these welcome changes, it remains almost impossible to gain a conviction for wildlife crimes committed on the vast expanse of grouse moors with multiple gamekeepers. Many landowners, sporting agents and gamekeepers on driven grouse moors are well aware of this and completely ignore the law, with the situation being considerably worse in England since the Conservative Westminster Parliament is very strongly influenced by MPs heavily involved in game shooting.

The grouse shooting lobby may try to argue that if grouse shooting is banned then many people would be out of work and the local economy would suffer. This need not be the case. There is a variety of uses for moorland, including re-wildling, that will be far better explained by others than I could ever attempt. The grouse shooting lobby try to argue that running a moor for driven grouse shooting is better for the wading birds that (should) nest there. Some driven grouse moors I have been on are almost barren of wildlife apart from red grouse, and certainly very few – if any – raptors. Many of these moors are in national parks where visitors expect to see an even bigger variety of wildlife than elsewhere. The current publicity created by wildlife crime together with a limited range of species of interest must negatively affect visitors’ impression of national parks and will adversely affect local economy. Wildlife tourism could potentially bring in much more to local economies than ever grouse shooting did.

Genuine hard-working hill farmers are well deserving of CAP payments – maybe even increased CAP payments. I have been privy to the vast sums of money given to some grouse moor owners as CAP payments. Many are already millionaires and are being given money – my money as a tax payer – to run a few sheep which are there primarily to mop up ticks that might otherwise find their way on to grouse. I object as strongly to this as I do to some of these estates running rings around the law. Whether they like it or not we live in the 21st century, not the 19th century and the killing of protected species is reprehensible and does the reputation of the UK incredible harm. The Westminster Government has been virtually aiding and abetting wildlife criminals for years and it is time they realised the sway of public opinion against driven grouse shooting, the direct cause of so much wildlife crime. Warnings and compromise have been tried many times and failed.

I never thought I would ever say this but it is time to completely ban driven grouse shooting.

There is still time to express your views on whether or not driven grouse shooting should be banned. The link is though responses are required by 5th October.

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20 Responses to My evidence to the Westminster inquiry on grouse shooting

  1. jw4926 says:

    Thank you Alan – an impassioned piece. You have seen both sides of the shooting/DGS coin, together with practical involvement in the policing of wildlife crime …… I hope they take note of your wealth of experience …….

  2. Very powerful evidence – thank you Alan

  3. Pingback: Powerful evidence - Mark AveryMark Avery

  4. Andy Jones says:

    Sad ‘uncle tom’ comes to mind. Using one experience and applying it unilaterally is contrary to natural justice. Cars kill people through poor driving but you cant take all cars away because of the few bad apples. The situation is simple. Illegal acts are illegal, grouse shooting is legal and populations will die if shooting us banned. Banned by emotionsl types fighting a class war rather than caring about the birds.

    • johncantelo says:

      Is that really the best you can do? First a petty insult and then casually dismissing a lifetime of experience by an expert in the field. The author of this blog clearly has a deep and long-standing knowledge of the subject. He started from a position of sympathy for the grouse shooting industry but has reluctantly reached the conclusion, based on intimate knowledge, that the legal activity of grouse shooting rests on endemic illegality. To dismiss this blog as ’emotional’ or ‘class war’ only indicates the poverty of your argument and a closed, blinkered mind. I salute Alan and admire his honesty.

      • Thanks John. I didn’t think Mr Jones was worth a reply. All we have been asking for years is that folk involved in game management obey the law. I appreciate there has been improvement on low ground but it seems, with some exceptions, that driven grouse moors simply can’t tolerate species that predate grouse. Patience is a virtue but it is not inexhaustible.

    • matthew dalby says:

      If only it was a few bad apples, the evidence, that the pro shooting lobby constantly ignores, is that the majority of driven grouse moors persecute raptors. You don’t need to find the bodies to realise this, the absence of hen harriers in particular from grouse moors shows that they are being persecuted.
      Illegal acts are illegal, however given the difficulty of policing the uplands just making something illegal doesn’t stop it from happening. Grouse shooting is legal but this doesn’t mean it is a good thing, after all it was legal 400 years ago to keep slaves. Populations of what will die if shooting is banned? Populations of red grouse will decline, but they are at unnaturally high levels, where as populations of virtually every other species will increase. Those who support a ban are not fighting a class war, they are fighting on behalf of every species apart from red grouse, and fighting for nature over personal satisfaction.

    • ?? so what you are saying is that if we don’t allow the murder of countless thousands of grouse they might die out? and you really believe that? I am LMFAO.

  5. anandprasad says:

    How could anyone counter that, brilliant Alan.

  6. Logan Steele says:

    Alan, well done, you have been on quite a personal ‘journey’ over the years and taken some stick, from both sides and that is why it means so much to all of us read your heart felt views. Thanks Logan.

  7. Chris Green says:

    Thank you Alan and well done. There is nothing like first hand evidence and this says everything about the needless cruelty inflicted by some very selfish individuals.

  8. Craig Waters says:

    Thanks Alan. Great to read a truthful story from someone who was involved in the shooting industry. Truth. One thing the shooters do not have on their side!

  9. Bob Morris says:

    You are very right Andy. “Illegal acts are illegal.” Thank you for making that clear.

  10. Well done, Alan. Thought provoking.

  11. Hilary MacBean says:

    An excellent summary of the problem. Thankyou Alan. This morning on radio, Teresa May was asked what makes her angry. One thing was “the powerful abusing their privileges”. We could not have a clearer example. My letter is on it’s way.

  12. Julia Underhill says:

    Hello – I’ve written to my local mp and asked him to speak up for the banning of driven grouse shooting. I’m passionate about wildlife and urge the government to stop this barbaric and outdated practice. This is the 21st century and we should be protecting our wildlife not killing it off.

  13. Sue Manning says:

    There is no place for killing for FUN. Very encouraged by the people out there keeping up the pressure to make change happen.

  14. Fantastic, balanced evidence. VERY WELL SAID!

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