Last Monday was the ‘glorious 12th’, the day in the year when the grouse hunting season begins. From then until 10th December, red grouse will be hunted on moors across Britain in shoots where birds are ‘driven’ towards rows of guns by beaters.
Hunting is always controversial, but the start of the season this year has been particularly so. A concerted campaign, led by Chris Packham, has been calling for driven grouse shooting to be banned by highlighting the environmental damage that the management of the uplands to boost grouse numbers does.
Moors are burned and blanket bogs are drained, releasing carbon and other species, such as hares and raptors, are illegally persecuted and killed. The plight of the hen harrier has been the focus of the campaign, and a Hen Harrier Day at Carsington Water on 11th August drew 1,500 people. The debate over driven grouse shooting has stimulated such attention that Labour has called for a formal review of the practice.
Arguments have been made and insults thrown by both sides. The grouse shooting industry says that it creates jobs, but anti-shooting activists say that more could be created through other land uses and grouse moors receive large farming subsidies that go straight into the pockets of large landowners.
Hunters claim that shooting as an activity is culturally enriching and strengthens rural communities. Others counter this by saying that the practice is confined to the very wealthy and that the local community can neither afford to hunt grouse nor see any money from it.
The British Association of Shooting and Conservation claim that grouse moor management has great biodiversity benefits, mainly for wading birds. But environmentalists claim that is nonsense and, aside from the illegal killing of wildlife, the number of species that benefit from burning and draining is unbelievably outweighed by the benefits that could be had by restoring the landscape.
An easy response that gamekeepers and landowners can give to any criticism of their practices is ‘I know my land better than you, people who don’t live in the countryside don’t understand how it works’. There are merits to this, but I do not buy into it fully.
Ecosystems and landscapes do not just provide benefits to those that live in them. City-dwellers enjoy trips and holidays in the country and everyone enjoys flood protection, clean air, clean water and climate regulation. Others simply like to know that they live in a country where wildlife is thriving, even if they never see it.
It comes down to the fact that if you are an owner of the land, you are a custodian of it, for others in society and future generations. In the same way that doctors go into the profession knowing that their skills are a public good and they feel duty-bound to help in any emergency they witness, it should be an integral part of land-ownership and management that it is done in the public good, for all of the public.
How glorious can grouse moors be then, when just a handful of people enjoy using these swathes of land in a way that does such harm to both people and other animals?
Featured image: Brian Taylor/Unsplash