Heather moorland. Our uplands are surrounded by it. Glorious purple pink heather than lights up rather beautifully in the sunshine. But this rather attractive habitat has rather a sinister edge to it. And this edge relates to it’s management. Management that occurs to increase the numbers of one bird. The red grouse.
Now, the two main management techniques practised, consist of heather burning and predator control. Predator control? Ironic, as control is the last word I would associated with it. Predator uncontrolled definitely, predator desecration maybe, predator annihilation probably, but never mind that (watch the monty python shooting sketch, that’s rather accurate I feel).
Foxes, corvids, stoats, weasels and birds of prey are all the target of this ‘control’ and haven’t they suffered because of it? I needn’t point out that many of these practices are illegal; raptors are protected, and some traps and poisons are illegal. But then, why would they let something as minor as the law get in the way right? I do what I want, when I want, seems to be the motto of some of these individuals. The irritating thing is, they don’t even try to hide it. Traps are littered around moorlands, sometimes empty, sometimes containing some poor creature that had the misfortune to enter. The logic behind it seems to be that they either don’t think they will get caught or they don’t care if they do. Give me a couple of hundred pounds fine and then I’ll go out tomorrow and do it again. Fantastic idea. No. Or perhaps they think the public won’t get involved. Well, then they haven’t met me. I have come across many illegal traps and though they have irritated me, I have stepped around them and guided my dogs away. Or did I step around them? My memory escapes me….
So how can this continue to happen? Well, the argument is that management does not just benefit grouse but many other threatened species! Oh! Do go on. Lapwings, curlews, golden plovers all benefit from such practices, apparently. Or do they. In my university days I decided that I would carry out my research project on moorland management and its effects on non-game birds. I found that grouse were significantly higher on managed moorland (expected) but that meadow pipits were significantly lower on managed moorland. Interesting. In addition, lapwing, curlew and golden plover were all too low to draw conclusions. Now, I’m not saying that my research is the study to silence all others, of course not. But it was interesting and I promise I was fair!
So, the arguments against are simple. Biodiversity is poor, invertebrate populations suffer as do soil and vegetation structures. In fact, 32% of all SSSIs in upland areas are significantly damaged by burning practices. Let’s be honest, this ‘sport of kings’ is fairly outdated. I use the term ‘sport’ loosely. A team of men with guns and dogs against a defenceless bird is rather an unfair match in my opinion. However, it attracts many. People come from all over the world to shoot our grouse and pay for the privilege. Though this year, the grouse bag has been rather low, with some shoots being cancelled or postponed due to low numbers. My heart breaks.
Petitions have been signed and are being signed to ban driven grouse shooting! Get involved, it’s definitely worth it! But ultimately, the decision lies with the government. A conservative government. I’m saying nothing. So, we wait. We wait to see what the decision will be. Though if you’re going to hold your breath, make sure you take a big breath and make sure you survive. It could be a while.
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