The shooting industry and their gamekeepers are the new Hen Harrier messiah

This week the Cumbrian News published yet another propaganda broadside by the shooting industry, this time from Robert Benson, the Moorland Association’s Cumbria based Chairman  who tells us that science can break  the deadlock between grouse shooting and conservation. The proposal is based upon a study suggesting that, under certain conditions, a shooting and conservation compromise could be found to sort this long standing conflict out. Led by Professor Steve Redpath from the University of Aberdeen, the study showed that at certain densities harriers can co-exist with profitable grouse shooting. “The model envisaged suggests that across the grouse moors of England there was room for 70 pairs of hen harrier at a relatively low cost for grouse shooting” professor Redpath said. The new figure of 75 pairs appears at odds with generally accepted scientific understanding that there is sufficient suitable heather habitat in England’s northern uplands to support 320 pairs of hen harriers. What about the additional 245 pairs, are we expected to simply forget about these additional pairs to fit in with the new proposal?

Anyone reading Robert Benson’s article would be forgiven thinking the shooting industry together with the gamekeeper, are the new messiah arriving in the nick of time to save the hen harrier from extinction. Consider also that Mr Benson took the trouble to remind everyone that the country’s first hen harrier chicks for two years had recently fledged in north Lancashire -two of three successful nests on grouse managed land producing 11 young. What Mr Benson failed once again to explain, two of the nests on moorland maintained by gamekeepers had to be protected 24/7 to ensure the chicks fledged successfully, whereas the single third successful nest located on moorland in Cumbria was not maintained by gamekeepers.


The study makes it clear this could be achieved using a simple approach, when harriers breed at levels that have a significant economic impact on grouse shoots, the excess chicks would be removed from grouse moors, reared in captivity and then released into the wild elsewhere. We are not told what will happen when released birds begin to return to the grouse moor to establish their own territories. Will they then be killed or trapped and placed into zoos perhaps, who knows. In other words the plan that the shooting industry  appears to support is based upon a concept of legalised control. This approach will hardly be acceptable to most people who want the harriers to increase naturally as nature intended.

Mr Benson also said that “its careful game management that has seen significant gains in a number of at risk species. Endangered lapwing, curlew, golden plover, ring ouzel, merlin, black grouse and grey partridge all fare far better on moorland with gamekeepers.” What Robert Benson, Robin Page, Alex Hogg and Vicount Ridley all seem to have overlooked is that the species mentioned each use the same habitat to breed as the hen harrier, but harriers ( a critically endangered species) for some strange reason  are conspicuously absent form these moorland areas looked after by the gamekeeper. Do gamekeepers have some difficulty looking after hen harriers on the moorland they manage?

Benson tells readers that Cumbria is home to some of the most important areas of moorland in the country, with areas such as the North Pennines seen as critical for the survival of rare birds, while also being important for grouse shooting. Once again we are being grossly mislead here by the Chairman of the Moorland Association. Cumbria, in particular the North Pennines moors,  may well be important for red grouse and shooting, but making a claim this region is critical for the survival of rare birds is nonsense when we know the hen harrier no longer breeds in the Pennines, and the peregrine has been persecuted almost to the point of extinction on these northern moorlands by gamekeepers.

1 comment to The shooting industry and their gamekeepers are the new Hen Harrier messiah

  • John Miles

    My reply to the paper’s article
    Driven Red Grouse are dead!
    Your article in the Cumberland News claims that Driven Red Grouse and Conservation can co exist along with tax payers paying £17 million a year towards it. Sadly even Professor Steve Redpath do not give you the real facts. Not one Hen Harrier, Short eared Owl or bird of prey can be exceptable on the moor come 12th August. Why? Because the Red Grouse will not fly towards the butts if any of these species are there in front of them and regardless of how many beaters and flankers are present to drive the birds the Red Grouse will fly away from the guns. So between breeding harriers and the ‘Glorious’ 12th the moor has to be cleaned of this ‘vermin’ often when the conservationist has gone home beaming about a successful breeding season. This means only ‘walked up’ Red Grouse will be viable in the future unless the shoots want to continue braking the law and killing 1000s of birds of prey each year.