The Problem With Occupying the Middle-Ground

There is a fundamental problem with occupying the middle ground in any argument, particularly one as polarising as the debate surrounding driven grouse shooting. This problem is simple and stems from the fact that, sooner or later, something (or many somethings) is going happen, and pull you one way, or the other. Towards either side.

I have tried, time after time, to find a glimmer of light in the world of grouse shooting, often to the point of a near aneurysm. And, truth be told, I have. In the form of many dedicated, yet conservation-minded gamekeepers. Many of whom I have engaged with positively and many of whom I still refuse to generalise alongside those partake in wildlife crime. I still believe that keepers have a part to play in conservation, providing, of course, they abide by the law. And would never rule out working with, or engaging with them in the future. Likewise, I have seen promise in some shooting estates – where management is more sympathetic, and the custodians less trigger happy.

This said, while I have put considerable thought into notions of “getting along” and “cooperating”, I have come to see that attacking driven grouse shooting, is entirely separate from attacking all sportsmen. It has little to do with stereotyping – the very thing that I often dislike about such arguments.

An attack on DGS is an attack based on science, as opposed to a generalistic assault on all shooters. By attacking DGS, one is attacking a highly damaging practice, nothing more. The benefits offered by the practice, for waders lets say, and people, not going far enough to compensate for the deluge of negativity the hobby brings about. An attack on DGS is not an attack on shooting for sport, it is an attack on one facet of an industry that would continue to flourish without it. Something which, in retrospect, makes my previous arguments about livelihoods and community seem a little void. And while I have held off joining the “anti” ranks for quite some time, I can now see no other way of bringing about the change our uplands so desperately require, without raising the prospect of a ban. Something which, I hope, will inspire change, or in the absence of said change, result in an all-out ban on the practice.

Already a number of people – sportsmen mainly – have claimed that, over recent days, I have become more “radical” in my views. Radical seems a harsh word seeing as all I have done is share a few links to Mark Avery’s petition and a number of intriguing anti-DGS articles, but anyways. What choice does one have, when each time hope presents itself, something catastrophic occurs to render it obsolete? It is thoroughly depressing, infuriating even, and such things appear to be occurring with more frequency than ever before.

These “thing” referred to above, have crushed any hope I had of compromise and have inspired no end of soul searching. Particularly when it comes to the livelihoods vs wildlife argument. One which I have tried to navigate without choosing a side, and have failed. Only to come to the conclusion that, as a nature lover, I will always choose the wildlife. Truthfully, I have been teetering on the brink for some time – but for those people who have questioned my decision, a list of the deciding factors can be seen here:

  • Yet MORE persecution – it is all well and good claiming that you are open to compromise, and thus, working with conservationists, but while protected species continue to die and disappear on your watch, on your land, it becomes clear that such commitment is vacuous, at best. And as raptor persecution continues unabated, claims by the sporting fraternity that they are attempting to get their house in order, sound more hollow with each breath. Some recent examples of such persecution including the illegal traps unearthed on the Invercauld Estate, and the disappearance of yet another Golden Eagle in the Monadhliaths.
  • The resounding failure of the Hen Harrier Action Plan – Unlike many of my peers, and indeed, many of my friends too for that matter. I was happy when Defra’s announced their call to arms to save our embattled Harriers. I felt like their plan could work, though – given the low breeding numbers in England again this year – it is clear that it has not. It has failed: at both bolstering harrier numbers, and inspiring faith in those involved. And now, much like the RSPB, I have lost faith in both Defra and the other organisations involved with the plan.
  • Vile personal attacks, far surpassing any I have seen before – I have written, on numerous occasions, about how I disapprove of the way many conservationists engage with sportsmen. I abhor personal attacks, needless insults, and counterproductive slanging matches, under any circumstance. What I have seen recently, however, from many shooters (not all), is a tenfold increase in the usual bile. Including, but not limited to, disgusting attacks on the individuals behind the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog, and equally troubling comments aimed at the owners of the Bowland Breweries.
  • The Packham witch hunt – Now this one has really irked me. I have made no secret of my admiration for Chris Packham. He is a dedicated naturalist, an advocate for animal welfare and, above all else, a mighty fine TV presenter. He is also a human being – with a right to express his views, and campaign as he sees fit. The witch hunt currently being waged by various countryside factions is nothing short of infuriating and seems to me, like nothing more than an attack on freedom of speech. And an attempt to silence someone deemed as an “enemy” of sporting interests. It is shameful.
    Hypocrisy, hypocrisy, hypocrisy – Now this one relates to a number of the points mentioned previously. Predominately the latter one, with public figures such as Beefy Botham condemning Chris Packham for “exploiting their stature to promote personal views” while doing just that themselves. It is really rather silly. It does, however, also relate to my frustration with the attacks launched on a number of conservationists. With insults (and worse) hurled about by sportsmen who previously sung a song of victimisation. Retaliatory? Perhaps, but hypocritical nonetheless. Both of these go without mentioning another glaring example of straight up hypocrisy. Applying equally to those professing to care for our wildlife, while illegally killing it. Can’t let that one slip.

You see, I am in a bit of a pickle at present. I still believe some sporting estates hold promise and believe in a number of the people who work such estates. I also detest the continued destruction of our wildlife and ecosystem at the hands of a minority. Would it be wrong of me to side with both? No, not at all, but at present, it seems impossible. And it will continue to be so until sportsmen begin backing up their words with action.

Sport is all well and good, when it is sporting, and not wreaking havoc with biodiversity. And while I look forward to the day when we can all “get along” and work towards the protection of our beloved wildlife, with so little change currently taking place, and that minority I mentioned earlier seemingly stuck in their ways, I see no choice. Today, on the “Glorious 12th” I am supporting a call for a ban on driving grouse shooting. And will continue to do so until those who practice it, manage it, and promote it, restore my faith in compromise. I have been told to “choose a side” on many occasions and have shrugged it off, though today, my mind is made up.

Sign here to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting:

– James (@CommonByNature)

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James Common
James is a nature writer, conservationist, blogger and birder; holding an MSc in Wildlife Management and working previously in the fields of ecology and practical conservation. He maintains a popular natural history blog at, writes regularly for Northumberland Wildlife Trust and, as its managing director, runs New Nature - the youth nature magazine.

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1 Response

  1. Dave Blake Dave Blake says:

    James, I can’t help but think that we’ve been here before – with cormorants and trout lakes, badgers and cows, foxes and dogs, hares and hounds …. and the real casualty is the ability to have a discussion about wider, deeper issues. I work in a lowland landscape, so I can in some ways leave the grouse / harrier fracas to my colleagues in Bowland and North Pennines, but on the great sweep of chalk landscapes we are having discussions that are hardly happening at all in the northern uplands. We are talking about hydrology, about which of nature’s services can be sustained into the future, about sustainable agriculture on the most profitable soils in the UK and how he might be able to continue to wedge even more people in to the most crowded part of the island … and how we do all this while enhancing the landscape for wildlife.
    The grouse / harrier thing will burn itself out eventually, when both sides move on and realise that they still have to share the land which means both will have to come down from the positions they are presently defending. Then the really important discussions about the future for some of Britain’s most wonderful landscapes, their function as well as their form, can get going.

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