More than 10,000 people supported a recent petition regarding the licensing of grouse moors in the UK (1). This petition asked that those moors on which there was proven evidence of criminal activity against wildlife – often involving birds of prey – would lose their licence for a period of time. Thus the owner would be deprived of income as a result of their involvement in criminal activity and would have every incentive to get their house in order. Surely this would be a sound piece of legislation. What is there to object to? It makes perfect sense. After all, if there is no criminal activity there’s no problem.
Unfortunately DEFRA (the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) didn’t see it that way. Passing the 10,000 signature threshold, the petition triggered a required response. This duly came and not only failed to support the idea but virtually ignored the whole issue of grouse shooting, instead offering platitudes and waffling on about the economic benefits of shooting in general (2). However, despite the government’s unwillingness to engage with the issue, one would have thought that they would at least have been aware of a strength of feeling about this matter and perhaps trodden a little more carefully as a result.
Not a chance. Instead the government has looked at the subsidy it pays to grouse moor owners (- you mean there’s a subsidy?) and decided that it’s not enough. So now it’s been increased from £30 per hectare to £56 (3). Whoa, hold on a minute. First of all it seems that the government, as part of subsidies given to upland ‘farmers’, pays wealthy owners of grouse moors regular money from us UK taxpayers and now – following public concern about abuses in grouse moor management, for heaven’s sake – is virtually doubling this subsidy. Why? Why do these owners receive any such subsidy in the first place? We know that grouse moors depend on criminal activity in the form of the illegal killing of all kinds of wildlife – from hares to foxes to Hen Harriers – anything that might reduce the number of grouse that can be blasted from the sky. It’s been well documented (4) (5). And now the government is sticking two fingers up at anyone who is concerned about how these vast tracts of our uplands are ‘managed’. Of course, for ‘managed’ read, in many cases, ‘illegally cleared of birds of prey’.
In not doing more than simply acknowledging this widely-supported petition the government is, in effect, saying that the leisure pursuits of a small, elite club are simply not to be interfered with. And, what’s more, they’re saying they’re going to pay them more of your money to help them enjoy themselves. So there. Stuff your petition and say goodbye to a bit more of your hard-earned cash.
In the meantime we are deprived of seeing Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Goshawks, Golden Eagles etc. soaring over the hills. And now – you just couldn’t make it up – we’re paying double for the privilege.
Enough is enough. It’s about time we stopped pussy-footing around this issue and stood up to be counted. If you’re interested in joining a peaceful protest about the illegal killing of our birds of prey, organised for August 10th at various venues, see http://birdersagainst.org/projects/hen-harrier-day