I read an incredibly interesting article the other day by Dr Steve Carver, director of the Wildland Research Institute. I thought the article very fairly responded to the views of Peter Glenser, chairman of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation in an article written to show how shooting benefits rural areas.
Having read Dr Carver’s comments on various paragraphs of Mr Glenser’s article that he copied in to his response I agreed with many of them. I could neither agree nor disagree with others as I don’t have sufficient knowledge. It was unfair in any case to take sides without having read Mr Glenser’s article, which I got time to do this morning.
Over the years I have worked closely with BASC at many training days and meetings. I have found the organisation and the staff with whom I have worked to be fair, knowledgeable, professional and helpful. I agree only in part with Mr Glenser’s comments that,
Where land is managed for the benefit of game, other species naturally flourish. Songbirds are more common on land managed for shooting. They benefit from the hedges, game cover crops, predator control and the food put out for game birds.
At the weekend I was on land extensively managed for driven grouse shooting. I saw plenty of heather, one or two black grouse, a number of red grouse, one or two carrion crows, some meadow pipits and …… no other birds. Others can argue this better than me but a monoculture of heather suits relatively few birds.
Where there is a mixture of habitat, whether managed for shooting or not, there is generally a far higher mix of wildlife. Trees and hedges attract many bird species and I don’t doubt that game crops and the feeding of pheasants add considerably.
One of Dr Carver’s arguments is that unnaturally high number of prey species increases predator numbers, and the killing of the predators simply creates a vacuum into which other predators move. Predators and prey have co-existed for hundreds of years but it stands to reason that creating habitat and conditions favouring thousands of game birds must increase predators.
An example of personal experience of this comes from dealing with issues on Edradynate Estate in Perthshire over many years. It is the estate on which I have picked up more victims of poisoning than on any other, with buzzards being the main victims. Nevertheless during searches there were always buzzards soaring overhead. This was hardly surprising since an exceptionally high number of pheasants were released, making the estate the equivalent of a game bird supermarket for predators. To make life for the predators even easier there was a sickening number of dead game birds lying around, probably pricked or unpicked birds from the estate’s many shooting days. Hardly surprising that there were many more predators than normal, despite predator ‘control.’ The ecosystem in fact was completely artificial and totally unnatural. It may have benefited song birds but it certainly didn’t benefit raptors.
There has recently been a change of gamekeeper on this estate so maybe this will make a difference.
This brings me to another line in Mr Glenser’s article where he states,
Those who shoot are the true custodians of the countryside.
And in a later paragraph,
The countryside is a national treasure. Maintained by those who shoot for game birds and other quarry species, they benefit us all. We cannot let celebrity campaigners and those who want to ban shooting succeed. Without it all of us would be impoverished.
It is unfortunate for those who shoot who do try to be genuine custodians of parts of the countryside for which they are responsible that their endeavours are tarnished and their good work completely negated by the criminal activity that goes hand in hand with some shooting estates. I’m afraid this completely invalidates the oft-heard remark that shooters (or gamekeepers) are ‘custodians of the countryside’. There are many parts of the countryside maintained by those who shoot which are most certainly not a national treasure, with many of us being impoverished through the killing of protected wildlife.
Shooting and conservation can co-exist. They can be of mutual benefit and, more importantly, could even be of benefit to the wider public. Regretfully we are still a long way from that stage.
Dr Carver’s and Mr Glenser’s articles can be accessed from this link and are well worth a read: