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Shooting does more to protect wildlife than the RSPB

12 August 2014

7:09 PM

12 August 2014

7:09 PM

Today, the Glorious Twelfth, is the one day of the year most anticipated by game shooters – the start of the grouse season. But, as the first grouse make their way to restaurants and butchers across the country, a battle is being fought on the moors.

The entire sport of grouse shooting is under attack because there are only three breeding pairs of hen harriers left in England – birds that the RSPB argue are endangered due to the actions of those with a vested interest in protecting red grouse from predators. A campaign to ban grouse shooting – complete with an e-petition to Defra – is being orchestrated by Mark Avery, formerly conservation director of the RSPB. His petition currently has almost 14,000 signatures, as well as the support of the likes of Countryfile’s Chris Packham. For many, this takes them back to the late nineties and the last time such a ban was being put forward. Then, of course, it was fox hunting in the firing line.

The RSPB – to their credit – don’t agree entirely with Avery. As I pointed out last week their current conservation director, Martin Harper, is fully aware of the benefits of shooting and has stated that ‘land over which shooting is carried out does some good things for wildlife’.


The thing is, the economic benefits and the environmental benefits of shooting are inextricably linked. Because shooting brings in money (some £2billion per year) from both domestic and foreign sources, moor owners are able to spend money on conservation and management of their moors. Money, it must be said, that is far greater than that spent by the RSPB. As Matt Ridley wrote in The Times yesterday: ‘More than £50 million is spent on conservation by grouse moor owners every year. That’s roughly twice as much as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds devotes to its entire conservation efforts.’

There is never any excuse for disturbing hen harriers, and as Charles Clover wrote in the Sunday Times, ‘anyone who cares about our wildlife should register their opposition to the illegal stamping-on of eggs and shooting of these protected birds’. But the lack of hen harriers (which, incidentally, are flourishing in Scotland), is no reason to ban grouse shooting. Healthy and diverse moorland is something that needs human management in order to flourish. The RSPB knows this, hence why they cull a number of birds every year (mostly crows and gulls) to protect breeding birds from predation.

Without the money that shooting brings to the rural economy (and the corresponding 74,000 full time jobs that it supports), there would be no incentive to manage the moors – and there is no way that the money currently spent on conservation by the shooting community could or would be matched by the taxpayer or anyone else. Conservation is a huge part of shooting, and not something that only landowners and gamekeepers care about. Companies such as Purdey also do their part, for example through their annual awards for game and conservation which promote biodiversity and healthy wildlife habitats.

It’s all very well sitting back and expecting nature to look after itself, but allowing nature to ‘rewild’ simply won’t work – or at least not in the ways that the likes of George Monbiot or Mark Avery would hope. Many scientists already argue that the reason there are no harriers on the RSPB moors at Geltsdale in the Lakes is because the charity don’t manage their predators. The red grouse and the hen harrier can both live in relative harmony. But they won’t do it without human help – and without shooting, said human help won’t have the funds.

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Show comments
  • Mike Fry

    The RSPB is awful with rights of way across the land they manage. Off Slough Lane in Upton, Dorset, they have chained all the gates closed and put up signs saying “Keep out – RSPB”. The population that live nearby on a housing estate are surrounded by beautiful open countryside with nowhere to roam! Plans are underway for a mass trespass because the RSPB are law breakers that cannot be trusted to manage open area’s where previously foot paths crossed.
    Just for the record, their paid up members can roam over this land but not Joe public despite laws recently passed to give us commoners rights. That’s my grouse!

  • Ordinaryman

    The hunting ban was always going to be the “thin edge of the wedge”. It’s shooting grouse now, next will be pheasants, hare and then angling. At some time, they will turn their attention to gun ownership. Who knows, something like horse-racing may even fall within their sights.

    • Conway

      I don’t think they’ll go for fishing, at least not coarse fishing, because there are too many working class votes in it. The animal rights people already have racing in their sights.

  • hesychast

    Just to place the £50 million in context. If Mr Clover was referring to grouse moors as a whole that would be about 0.5-1.7 million ha. These areas are probably all qualifying for higher level agri-environment payments at £200 – £300 per ha. So conservatively we’d be saying that they are getting at least £100 million from the government to do that conservation work. If he was only talking about England there are probably about 1/4 million ha so the £50 million sounds about right. So they are doing a lot for conservation but the public is probably paying them to do it judging by the figures. If someone could improve upon these figures then please point me in the right direction

    • Rob Denny

      Even if they did get HLS, and I am not sure they do because they are not in agriculture and would not therefore qualify, the alternatives are sheep or conifer forestry, neither of which produce anything like the conservation benefits of a well run Grouse more. HLS and other government backed schemes have not exactly covered themselves with glory when it comes to nature conservation either, especially as they do nothing about the often severe limiting factor of lack of predator control, something even the RSPB carry out.

      • hesychast

        They do get HLS payments and the point of my comment is that ALL of the money Grouse moors are claiming to spend on conservation actually comes from the taxpayer. Which slightly undermines the main thrust of the article.

  • Reece Fowler

    No one would seriously deny that raptor persecution is an issue, but using it as an excuse to ban shooting is stupid and very unhelpful. Most shooting estates have got nothing to do with raptor persecution, and hen harriers haven’t done too well on RSPB reserves either, so there are clearly other factors involved as well.

    Wanting to ban grouse shooting because some estates kill raptors is a bit like blaming the whole British public for crime because criminals are present in society.

    People using this as an excuse for a total ban on grouse shooting are not helping anything. If anything, they are distracting attention away from productive discussions that could actually help solve the problem with more reasonable proposals.

    We rarely hear things like “such and such a proposal could improve the situation and is compatible with grouse shooting”, a lot of media attention is about the “ban it now” brigade.

  • Peter Gerard

    The shooting of grouse and ducks and the running down of an exhausted and terrified fox are done purely for the pleasure of stalking and killing and reflect a regressive and repugnant aspect of human nature.

    • Malcolm Stevas

      Completely batty, and not at all original, but a
      comforting reiteration of familiar clichés from the bunny-hugging brigade.
      Pursuing the creatures of the wild is one of the most fundamental human
      activities of all.

      • Peter Gerard

        Stalking wild creatures is also a fundamental activity of lions and tigers. If you found yourself, unarmed, in the middle of an African NP, at the mercy of a lion pride, you’d experience the terror felt by the defenceless wild animals you hunt.

        • Malcolm Stevas

          Again, charmingly predictable, especially the
          “defenceless animals” cliché trotted out by your sort – as if any interaction between humans and animals was a game of cricket with rules, or the animals should be armed with automatic weapons… In the end you & yours are just sentimental anthropomorphists with a distorted, childlike view of relations between humans and the animal world, perhaps based on too much Walt Disney and Enid Blyton. It’s pure anthropomorphism to imagine that animals have
          the capacity to feel “terror” (a human emotion) rather than merely responding to a threat with fight or flight. And your view of hunting is skewed: if an animal was aware of my presence it wouldn’t stick around to be shot, but would react with alarm (not “terror”) and run away. Perhaps one shouldn’t expect you to understand this.

          • Peter Gerard

            You presume to know quite a deal about animal psychology. On what basis do you make these assertions? I’ve been associated with animal( dogs, horses and sheep for many years and am convinced animals experience terror and feel pain as we do. Studies on sheep who have had their throats cut without prior stunning or any form of anaesthesia exhibit the same physiological responses we do with elevated pulse rate, and high blood levels of cortisol and adrenaline. I will concede that animals don’t anticipate what is about to happen to them when stalked and shot at but when wounded they suffer as we do.
            You have a well rehearsed response when challenged which implies to me your sensitivity on this matter and your own doubts about the ethics of senselessly taking the life of another sentient creature.
            Hunting and killing animals may be a basic human instinct that had some relevance in the past but controlling such natural urges is part of being a civilised human being.

  • Terence Hale

    “Shooting does more to protect wildlife than the RSPB”. This may be so but the press photos of Drum Estate in Gilmerton, south of Edinburgh show another side of the story, Should we call Alfred Hitchcock ?

  • Shorne

    If people want to eat grouse, then there is no reason why they cannot be organically farmed. Instead people want to shoot them because they enjoy shooting them and have a tantrum when people oppose this.
    The notion of ‘shooting and conservation’ reminds me of a poster one could buy back in the 60s which said ‘Fighting for peace is like f**cking for virginity.’
    I grew up on a farm and my grandfather was a gamekeeper for a while so accusations of being a left wing townie won’t wash (I voted Tory last time).
    The ideal environment for the shooting lobby is a virtually sterile countryside with (in the case of pheasants) virtually domesticated living targets wandering about. I have pictures of my grandfather proudly standing next to his gibbets, a very full one would usually mean a tip from his employer
    Poisoned raptors are seldom found other than on or near shooting estates.
    Anybody reading this who is uncertain which side they are on just read the bile and vituperation that will ensue and decide if you want to be associated with it.

    • DWWolds

      And your idea of democracy seems to be: “We don’t like you doing this so we will stop you”. In others “Do as we say or else ….”

      • Stereotomy

        Yes, that’s pretty much what a law is.

        • Shorne

          Well put and when I worked in a prison I came across many people who didn’t like the idea.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …you do come off as a screw, lad.

            • Shorne

              As do you as an old lag.

    • SimonToo

      What is inorganic about shot grouse (residual pellets excepted)?

      • Shorne

        Nothing, I just think things should be farmed organically.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …and you should be able to get what you want, lad, like all of us .

    • Hototrot

      15,000 signatures- a veritable tsunami!

      • Shorne

        Give it time

    • Reece Fowler

      “The notion of ‘shooting and conservation’ reminds me of a poster one could buy back in the 60s which said ‘Fighting for peace is like f**cking for virginity.’ ”

      It shouldn’t. Shooting done within the law is 100% compatible with conservation. In that case it is a perfectly sustainable activity.

      The animal rights activists who want shooting banned, however – they have done nothing with conservation except in many cases campaign against it. They campaign against culls of deer and rabbits to protect woodland, have opposed woodland creation projects because of those culls, and want alien invasive pests like grey squirrels to be protected.

      Shooting is compatible with conservation, animal rights is not.

      • Shorne

        I did not say I wanted shooting banned, I went rough shooting with my father and grandfather where we took our chances and, as it were, competed with natural predators. It is the wiping out of such predators to ensure a massive supply of live targets I object to.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          You should focus on that then, lad, rather than all this other guff.

    • Reece Fowler

      Grouse don’t breed very well in captivity, certainly not well enough to make farming them profitable. There’s a very good reason why organically farming them is a bad idea.

      • Shorne
        • Reece Fowler

          Those are black grouse, a species of conservation concern and not one which are really shot anymore. It appears there is a conservation reason why they are being bred, such as a reintroduction. Which is definitely a good idea.

          Rearing red grouse in a way which is economical for shooting estates to do it is a different matter.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      If you want your grouse “organically farmed”, have at it, lad. Others want it free range, wild and absent all trace of farm drugs and additives.

      • Shorne

        Err…that’s what organic means you old fool…actually I’m still not sure if you are older than me.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          It doesn’t matter what you dimwits say it means, lad. The rest of us who pay attention to these things know what it really means .

          • Shorne

            Tell us then.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              No need to waste time trying to educate you, lad. You wouldn’t know what to do with it, even if such were possible.

  • Picquet

    I’m not too sure about your statement that: “The red grouse and the hen harrier can both live in relative harmony.” Rather as foxes and chickens do, I suppose. A pity that this was interjected as part of the conclusion to the piece, instead of a note that, if the environment were controlled to allow a population of the predators to survive but not extinguish the prey, the best of worlds (relatively, given inevitable human intervention) would result, to the satisfaction of, well, most. Managed reserves in Africa manage this quite well.

  • davidraynes

    Do I believe the RSPB when it says there are only 3 breeding pairs of hen harrier in England?

    If it says that, I do not.

    • Number 7

      I read somewhere that some landowners are refusing to cooperate with the RSPB. That being the case, how would the RSPB know whether the estates have breeding pairs of Harriers?

      • davidraynes

        The RSPB has sadly, like the RSPCA, lost its way. Its own website says:

        This says
        617 Breeding pairs with 29 on the IOM in 2010

        This document is dated 19th June 2014 at the bottom. Did Camilla Swift, author here quote the RSPB correctly?

        Furthermore the RSPB distribution map is wrong.

        I am based in Somerset, I have twice recorded a Male Hen Harrier on the Mendip Hills, in the height of this summer’s heat wave. No accident, I have recorded it in the same place, at the same time of day.

        I am not the only person to record Hen Harriers in Somerset or surrounding Counties

        If one were to believe the RSPB distribution map, they are just not there.

        • Reece Fowler

          “If one were to believe the RSPB distribution map, they are just not there.”

          It does say under that map:

          “Please note that the map is only intended as a guide. It shows general distribution rather than detailed, localised populations.”

          • davidraynes

            Of course it does but you are making excuses for their incompetence and ignorance. In my view they are spinning a yarn about the hen harrier.

            They are not to be trusted.

            I no longer give funds to them, or the RSPCA.

            They have both become political lobby groups.

        • Number 7

          have seen them in Gloucestershire. Again, in the summer. Not seen on the RSPB distribution map.

  • swatnan

    Whats all this twisted demented logic then? killing animals is good for them?
    Next they’ll be telling us, ‘We breed wild foxcubs and train them for the Hunt; it improves the strain’

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …maybe we should give that a try on you lefties.

      • Fritz Holt

        Leftist scum, need to be hunted..

  • Colin

    Like the rspca, the rspb has morphed into an animal rights pressure group. Ignore what they say, look at what they do. Their record of conservation is patchy and in some places their activities, driven by dogma have contributed to the demise of the very species they’re supposed to protect. As with the rspca, this shower should be barred from receiving taxpayer funding, until they cease the bigotry and politics.

    On and off, today, I’ve listened to a succession of ill informed, shrill idiots and sinister activists line up in the media to have a go at the toffs murdering the poor grouse. I despise them.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      It’s the fascist Left, seeking to destroy the concept of property, and property owners’ rights. The animals barely enter into this for these zealots, when you get right down to it. Perhaps a few of their useful idiots care about the animals much as you and I likely do, but the hardcores are similar to the global warmingists. For them, it’s purely political, and a power grab.

      • Geronimo von Huxley

        White man with hat and funny red coat stupid. Geronimo shoot to kill. Geronimo never kill for sport. Dog carry carcass. Squaw cook dinner. Geronimo and dog and squaw happy. Now Geronimo take scalp.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          White man with hat and funny red coat visit Germano teepee while him and dog are away fetching dead carcass. Squaw has it like she never had it before. Squaw run away with red coat man. Germano arrested for peyote possession and have more than just scalp violated in prison, if you catch drift of smoke signal here.

    • Reece Fowler

      The RSPB is a conservation group, not an animal rights one. Animal rights groups like Animal Aid have campaigned against the RSPB because they control predators and support culling of deer.

      Their record for conservation is actually pretty good on their own reserves, but it isn’t always the same in the wider countryside. You end up with an “island” like effect with reserves doing well and the surrounding countryside not so much. That’s where shooting is beneficial – it covers a much wider area so there is good potential for conservation.

      • Colin

        I think you’re about thirty years too late for that.

  • Archibald Heatherington

    Hear Hear! These damn loonies shan’t take our shooting from us! High time we brought back hunting too!

    • Kitty MLB

      Archie I am minded of a butcher in Norfolk ( Live in the west country but visit
      very often) he had to remove all the rabbits and pheasants hanging from hooks within his shop because it offended people. Clearly these people think that meat comes in little packets from Waitrose and have completely lost that connection with nature.

      • Archibald Heatherington

        Well put. I bet most of them have never seen a grouse in their life!