RSPB warns driven grouse shooting does not have future without change

There are just three pairs of Hen Harrier, like this adult female, breeding on English grouse moors this year, which could potentially support more than 300. Photo: Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com).
There are just three pairs of Hen Harrier, like this adult female, breeding on English grouse moors this year, which could potentially support more than 300. Photo: Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com).
On what has become known as the 'Inglorious 12th', the day on which the grouse shooting season begins, Europe’s biggest conservation charity has warned that reform is the only way the industry can save itself in England.

This follows the high profile demands for a ban on the sport raised by Birdwatch columnist Mark Avery's petitions to end the pastime (supported by Birdwatch), the latest of which has now topped 89,600 signatories; once it reaches 100,000, Parliament is obliged to consider debating the subject. 

RSPB – which doesn't officially support the idea of a ban – is withdrawing support for DEFRA's Hen Harrier Action Plan, as it failed to deliver the urgent action and change in behaviour needed to prevent Britain’s rarest breeding bird of prey being pushed closer to extirpation in England.

Heather burning is one of the destructive land management practices used on grouse-shooting moors, such as this one in the Stanhope Valley, Co Durham. Photo: Joan Sykes.

Jeff Knott, RSPB’s head of nature policy, said: “Today, Friday 12 August 2016, is the start of the Red Grouse shooting season, a sport that is coming under close scrutiny as more and more people look at some of the practices that support intensive driven grouse moors in England and parts of Scotland. The illegal killing of Hen Harriers has left just three nesting pairs in England, a country that could [support] over 300 pairs.

“This is starting to raise the question over whether there is a sustainable future for driven grouse shooting. The simple answer is that it doesn’t have a future unless it changes and adopts best practice. The illegal killing of birds of prey like Hen Harrier must end, and sadly this tars the reputation of every grouse moor estate and every shooter.

“There are also serious concerns about the environmental damage caused by the management practices these moors increasingly rely on, such as the draining and vegetation burning of the natural landscape, and the large scale killing of [native] Mountain Hares.”

The RSPB has concerns with the increasingly intensive and questionable management associated with driven grouse shooting, including the killing of birds of prey, burning and drainage of wildlife rich peatlands, and the use of veterinary medicines and killing of Mountain Hares to reduce the incidence of disease in grouse.

Jeff Knott added: “We have seen how licensing can work in countries like the United States of America, and believe lessons can be learnt and applied to England.

“It is in the interests of those good, law-abiding estates to stand up and embrace licensing as a means for driving up standards, building public trust and removing the 'bad apples'. The longer the current denial and spin from the driven grouse moors and their representatives continues, the stronger public opposition to intensive grouse shooting will become, jeopardising [its] future.”

Rather than the outright ban called for by Birdwatch and the signatories of Mark Avery's petition, the RSPB is calling for a licensing system for grouse moors. This system would recognise high standards where they exist and would allow a focus on driving up standards of landscape management and predator control across the industry.  Breaches of the conditions would be subject to penalties, which could ultimately lead to the withdrawal of the license to run a shoot for a period of years.
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