In our opinion a lack of support by the RSPB for a ban on driven grouse shooting may well turn out to have been a major mistake made by the Society; time will tell if the RSPB’s position will prove detrimental to any future plans to return hen harriers back onto keepered moorland in England.
One MP stated to the committee Hen Harriers were better off on managed moorland. Another stated there was no justification for a ban of driven grouse shooting due to the result of the illegal actions of the few (presumably gamekeepers). Gamekeepers were praised as the unsung heros of our uplands providing the healthy biodiversity of our grouse moors. Not too surprising very few of the Tory MP’s who spoke today mentioned the loss of hen harriers from grouse moors at all. Sadly no one speaking during today’s debate highlighted the important fact there were no nesting hen harriers on grouse moors this year, although two MP’s did say there were only three successful nesting pair of hen harrier in England this year.
We felt that the verbal personal attack made by one Tory MP on both Mark Avery and Chris Packham, clearly instigated to damage their credibility, was outrageous and unwarranted. But what can we expect from the Tory MP’s speaking against the proposed to ban driven grouse shooting. The Labour Shadow Minister spoke strongly in support of Vicarious Liability bringing England into line with Scotland. She also said we needed better enforcement pointing out that financial penalties for wildlife crime were not working, therefore the government must look again at custodial sentences being a viable option.
Therese Coffey made a statement relating to autumn and spring heather burning on grouse moors stating there were no birds nesting at this time of year. This claim is not supported by the facts. Although heather burning can legally be undertaken into early April, by this time however species like hen harrier and peregrine, both ground nesters, are known to have already nested or are in the process of nesting.
The comments below were provided by a professional gamekeeper with over 30 years experience as evidence to the Parliamentary Committee discussing the proposal to ban drive grouse shooting. It makes very interesting reading. Before publishing this information below we received the approval from the author to do so:
I am writing regarding the recent petition to ban Driven Grouse Shooting and its proposed debate in Parliament. My name is Paul Tooley and until recently I had been a professional Gamekeeper with over 30 years experience. Mainly on Pheasant but with a fair bit of involvement with Grouse. Shooting has provided me with a greater part of my living and has been a very enjoyable career. However I have long been of the opinion that driven grouse moors have to change for their own long-term future and that of the wildlife dependent on them.
Although I myself signed the petition it was not from any wish to see Grouse Shooting banned but help ensure sufficient signatures were received to enable the very necessary debate to take place. As I am sure you have been made aware the majority of opponents to Driven Grouse Shooting base their main arguments on the (mis) management of moorland habitats and the control of species deemed detrimental to grouse stocks often involving the killing of protected wildlife. Up until 20-25 years ago little criticism was raised on the subject of moorland management. It was freely admitted by conservationists that grouse shooting had protected much of our upland heather moors from the worse excesses of sheep farming and blanket afforestation. Burning was a vital tool in maintaining a patchwork of heather and other vegetation that benefited many species other than grouse. However since about the mid 1990’s new management techniques and objectives have required that heather be burned more frequently on many moors. This removes much of the longer heather beloved of ground nesting raptors and some other birds. This is not a good thing.
For over 20 years now research has recommended that many drains be blocked to re-wet areas. This benefits insect life and plants such as cotton grass that are of great benefit to grouse and other species. This has been done to great effect on estates such as Raby Castle in Upper Teesdale. Unfortunately some landowners have continued draining some of our best examples of blanket bog in the belief that it will give them more heather and a few extra brace of grouse. Pure greed.
Along with intensified heather management since the mid 90’s grouse moors have become increasingly intolerant of protected birds of prey. The scale of destruction is truly shocking. This is not a good thing.
Any [Hen Harriers] attempting to settle in England mainly from the Scottish population sooner rather than later end up on a driven grouse moor and that is often where it ends. My opinion is that English grouse moors in the absence of persecution could support 150 to 200 breeding pairs. From this point the population could spread to non shooting areas to come near to the often quoted 300+ pairs estimated to be viable. However this would not be a straightforward smooth progression and would take many years. The fact that in recent years there have been no more than 5 or 6 pairs and usually less show the scale of the problem.
Even when the much criticised DEFRA Hen Harrier plan was in the pipeline the grouse shooting community would not make the effort and show good faith allowing a few more pairs to breed successfully. With a few exceptions shooting tenants just do not want these birds in even the smallest numbers, that is the problem.
Contrary to most respondents to the petition I would have liked to have tried a slightly different Hen Harrier plan but this was a none starter whilst the killing continued. I would also favour a form of licensing focused initially on habitat management which could be relatively easy to monitor. There are other issues involved with driven grouse shooting which need addressing, however I will not go into them now. Maybe this debate will lead to a serious attempt to resolve some of them at a later date.