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Why Scotland SHOULDN’T ban Grouse shooting

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Recent news has been trending on Scotland’s plan to license Grouse shooting. A step further than this is the total ban of grouse shooting. Many of these articles use emotive language to paint grouse moors as a barren wasteland used solely for shooting. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Time and time again, managed grouse moors prove to be some of the most diverse areas of habitat in the world.

Curlew on a grouse moor

The Argument against

This particular article from The Natural Scot uses such linguistic contortion that even Harry Houdini would be impressed. The author, Max Wiszniewski also happens to be the Campaign Manager for Revive. In short, Revive describe themselves as “a coalition of like minded organisations working for grouse moor reform in Scotland.” By reform, their objectives include, a ban on lead shot, a ban on heather burning, increased police funding for rural crime and the end of government subsidies. In theory, making it prohibitively expensive to operate a grouse moor in the hope they close.

The thought is that Grouse moors are a detriment to Scottish wildlife. I’m under the impression that in an ideal world, Revive would bring this land under public ownership. Unfortunately it seems like they might have skimmed over the financial implications of doing so. To keep the moors as they are would be financially complicated without shooting.

Dispelling the myths

To answer these requests quite quickly, banning lead shot now would force the use of steel. This isn’t an issue as long as you are comfortable with single use plastics and steel replacing lead shot. Norway reversed their lead ban in 2015 due to poor ballistics and maimed birds. To ban heather burning would be the same as storing more kindling in a fire prone environment. The consequences of inadequate burning are already evident in recent years. Consider the cases in Marsden & Saddleworth and you will see why heather burning is essential.

Increased funding into rural crime detracts from the work the police force do in Urban areas. While the motive will be to pursue legal action against persecuted birds of prey, we have enough evidence in the UK to prove these birds thrive on managed moorlands. We will never try and justify bird persecution of these endangered birds. However, not every dead bird of prey is persecuted. For animals living on moorland, the expectation should be that life and death will occur on the moor.

The topic of Government subsidies is more complicated than Revive makes it out to be. Subsidies are there to incentivise Estate owners to keep the land as original as possible. If it was all about money, a wind farm can return you 40,000£ a year per turbine. In the same 2010 document Revive use to calculate the economic value of grouse, it also states a meer 47% turn a profit on grouse shooting. The Financial Times estimated that big estates cost 1 million pounds a year to run at a bare minimum, smaller shoots for as little as 100,000. The GWCT estimate there are 140 core estates and then another 164 shoots operating as syndicates or not wishing to comment. The private investment in these estates is astonishing. Should the end result be to bring this and under public ownership, the quality of the land will fall rapidly.

Team of guns on a grouse moor

Bias Statistics

Upon initial reading, the most troubling aspect of the article was the approval rating for Grouse shooting. The article quotes a 70% disapproval rating which is troubling for any industry. This would be troubling if the source of the statistic wasn’t LACS. A member of Revive’s coalition is the League Against Cruel Sports who kindly provided this statistic. This blend of Confirmation and Selection bias here is too absurd to be considered impartial. To do this in a research study wouldn’t be ethical and in this case, is misleading. Using a statistic like this brings doubt into how balanced and argument has been put forward.

Why we need Heather burning

Heather burning is an essential part of managing moorland and creating suitable habitats. We’ve written on this topic before but without it, heather won’t be heather for long. The burning stops the presence of ferns and tree saplings taking root before they take over the moorland.

Side by side shooting grouse

Just like pruning a tree, heather burning is designed to trim back the older heather and leave space for new young heather to grow. The old heather is also at a higher risk of catching alight in an uncontrolled manner. We’ve already seen the fire this year started by visitors using disposable BBQ’s on the dry moorland. Between April and October is when Heather burning isn’t permitted and when the moors become most vulnerable.

It only takes a discarded cigarette butt to start a destructive wild fire. These wildfires have no boundaries and will continue to burn until completely squashed. The consideration is do you manage the problem as it builds or hope that nothing happens. To ban heather burning entirely guarantees that there will be some monumental fires to come. You can read some more words from Geof Eyre here.

Why unmanged moorland doesn’t work

Nature benefits from managed moorland too. Rare birds are breeding far better on managed moors than unmanaged. The RSPB didn’t manage to hatch a single curlew chick last year while populations on managed moors were up 250%. Rewilding doesn’t invite more species just more predators. Any ground nesting bird becomes easy pickings for animals like foxes and crows. Those who believe managed moorlands are a bottle neck for nature should look at the alternatives. The Natural Trust land at Pateley Bridge is a key example. In 30 years the land has gone from moorland to acres of ferns. You can also look into Langholm moor which has declining numbers of Waders, Harriers, Grouse and Merlins as well as an estimated 1 million pound loss to the local economy. This is ever since Langholm has become a community-owned endeavor. After scrolling through over a year’s worth of posts not a single mention of bird numbers or improvements.

Heather burning on a grouse moor
Dunmaglass Estate Moorland Controlled Burning
Dunmaglass Estate Head keeper Iain Hepburn and
Station Officer Alex McKinley Scottish Fire Service

PIC TREVOR MARTIN

Another alternative often thrown on the table is the allure of forestry. A brilliant environment for Deer and other wildlife. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. As we’ve seen only just this month, the forestry commission has had to apologise for planting over peat bogs. While the trees would have absorbed Carbon eventually, the now dying moss hard released far more than they’d absorb in a reasonable amount of time.

Doesn’t Heather Burning damages the Peat bog

Peat Bog sits below the heather that you would expect on moorland. The heather is burned to kill off the older Heather to make way for new roots. This is perfect for grouse as younger heather provides more food and better cover. One aspect of Grouse shooting that is always vilified is the Heather burning. The misconception is that the Peat below the moor is burned and dried out. However, watch this video below and you will see how little damage is done to the layer below the Heather.

This is typical of a cold burn and will only skim off the top layer of Heather. If a mars bar can stay intact under the burn then the soaked Bog will be fine. The period immediately after burning opens up room for Sphagnum Moss to grow which is the main converted of CO2. If you change the land to have bushes, ferns and trees then their roots ruin any chance of Sphagnum moss growing. If you want to learn more we recommend looking at Gamekeeper Max’s Instagram page who lives on a grouse moor fulltime.

So why shouldn’t we ban Grouse shooting?

To ban grouse shooting would start a period of exceptional uncertainty. With the majority of the moors in private hands, the future of Moorland will be in doubt. Some will maintain them as areas of beauty while others will fold. The UK contains 75% of the world’s heather moorland so its important that we look after it as best we can. Australia has already seen what’s happened to its Barrier Reef and this isn’t any different. Tourism in these areas will begin to dwindle as moorland disappers.

You also risk loosing Red Grouse from the British Isles. Grouse populations are completely natural and rely on healthy moorland. If you remove the Heather burning and manage moorland you welcome the beginning of the end. While the economic benefits of shooting are dismissed as insignificant this isn’t the only metric you need. If this was the case you’d see Scotland’s economy is 75% services. In that case, you’d concrete over Scotland and create Europes biggest trade park. You must also consider the trickle effect of shooting. There’s no doubt clientele flying from around the world to experience this unique form of shooting contribute elsewhere. Whether it’s a night in a local pub or a trip that includes shooting as one aspect it’s all important.

Heather burning on a grouse more

Conclusion

For Scotland in particular, Grouse shooting is a huge part of its identity. The country is synonymous with Tweed, Whiskey and Grouse and for good reason. Scotland is famed for its wild landscape and its history, the rich tartan that went on to inspire tweed, the birth of whiskey and the Famous Grouse (pun intended). To turn this rural landscape into a myriad of wind farms and motorways would detract from what Scotland is. The Scots do wild better than anywhere in Europe, to take grouse shooting out of it is nonsensical.

Shooting grouse in Scotland is something all game shots aspire to do at some point. While you look to Wales, the southwest and Cumbria for high bird pheasant shooting, you look at Scotland for Grouse shooting. Remove Grouse from Scotland’s future and the outlook becomes rather muddled. Moors become forest land, barren of any natural diversity. The Hebrides gets a wind farm and those living there lose out. This wouldn’t be the opportunity for rural revival but its decline instead.

Labrador retrieving a grouse

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