Is the clock ticking for grouse shooting? Or at least for ‘driven grouse shooting’, the more intensive form where the need for large numbers of grouse to be available for shooting creates ‘Dalek-like gamekeepers’ with a one-word vocabulary, ‘Exterminate! Exterminate!’ And that’s exactly what happens. Anything that might remotely eat a grouse chick is ruthlessly destroyed, particularly birds of prey. And, what’s more, just to be on the safe side, even creatures that don’t eat grouse – hares for instance – are often also exterminated. Why? Because they just might spread ticks to grouse and attract predators that could then help themselves to a grouse dinner. Hares, for God’s sake!
Hundreds of fully protected birds of prey – majestic eagles, harriers, hawks and falcons – shot, poisoned, and trapped. Eggs removed. Nestfuls of helpless chicks stamped on. The complete removal of a whole suite of creatures from our uplands to allow a few days of killing by the rich and privileged. It’s beyond belief that this is going on in Britain. It’s all very well for us to be outraged by what’s going on in the likes of Malta – and quite right that we are – but this is happening here. And what’s more it’s getting worse. A six year study of Hen Harriers in England – Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project – found that there were fewer Hen Harriers on England’s uplands when this important initiative ended than when it began!
So this is where we are.
Will these practices continue unchecked for the benefit of the ‘wealthy few’ in our society?
Is there any light at the end of this sad, depressing tunnel?
Well, perhaps the intransigence of the whole grouse-shooting fraternity towards changing anything at all might ultimately come to bite them on the backside. There is a precedent here. Remember the ‘right to roam’ issue some years ago? Officially called the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW), it allows the public access to those areas of mountain, moor and heath from which they were previously excluded.
Many wealthy landowners were confident that it would never become law because they were the rich and powerful. They had the political clout to stop it. But they didn’t. With Labour taking power in 1997 the political pendulum swung left and the weight of public opinion made it happen. Had something been done earlier to appease public concern, to show some understanding of the issue, then who knows what the outcome might have been. But no, those concerned stuck their heads in the sand with two fingers pointing skywards and lo and behold there was suddenly a right to roam.
There comes a “tipping point” on every issue; a time when it’s possible to still have some influence over what happens, and then a time when it’s too late. Was the ‘ignore it and it will all go away’ attitude over the CROW Act a classic example of doing too little too late?
And could the grouse-shooting industry be heading that way? Could history repeat itself? Can the industry afford to ignore the growing swell of public opinion? There is already a significant momentum for change gathering pace – and we have an election around the corner. The signs are there to be seen:
- In 2012 an epetition raised over 10 000 signatures in favour of vicarious liability for raptor persecution in England. Those who persecute birds of prey frequently do so at the direction of their employers or others with vested interests, and this offence of vicarious liability would bring those parties to justice. So the moor owners, rather than just their gamekeepers, would be liable. This recently became law in Scotland. The government in England, is currently ‘monitoring’ the Scottish situation.
- Earlier this year another epetition advocating the licensing of grouse moors passed the 10 000 threshold.
- In the light of the ‘head in the sand’ attitude of the grouse shooting industry a third epetition is gathering momentum – please sign it if you haven’t already – concerning the banning of driven grouse shoots – the most harmful to other wildlife.
- After a fair bit of fence-sitting the RSPB has come out in favour of a licensing scheme for grouse moors. If there’s no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on your moor then you keep your license. Found guilty of illegal raptor killing? Then you lose it for a period until you put your house in order. What could be wrong with that?
- Increasing exposure of the issue in the media is visible including a recent piece on the BBC’s Countryfile, in the BBC Wildlife magazine and in the current issue of Birdwatch, not to mention newspaper reports, blogs and other social media. Numbers of tweets about this are increasing week-by-week.
- Hen Harrier Day. On August 10th there will be a series of peaceful protests to raise awareness amongst the public about the plight of this raptor and the criminal activity pushing it to the verge of extinction as a breeding bird in England.
As the pressure continues to build remember that you can be part of this change. “It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little. Do what you can.” Sydney Smith
Here are a few things to do – and don’t forget – we – you and I – are the momentum for change:
- attend a Hen Harrier Day event – click on the banner below for more details
- Make your voice heard on social media!
- donate to the RSPB’s Hen Harrier appeal – go to the RSPB site here
- sign the epetition on driven grouse shooting – sign here
- Write to your MP or to opposition parties to let them know your strength of feeling – see my post Your right to write for details of how to do this easily
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Barack Obama