Should the Government ban Driven Grouse Shooting for this year due to the Virus?

May is here and for some reason large numbers of Grouse moor game keepers have been working all through the ‘Corona Shut Down’! Is this what the government meant by ‘essential work’? Well, of course, the reason is now clear – removal of Birds of Prey. Already a pair of Hen Harriers have gone missing from one such moor and we hear other harriers have disappeared from occupied nests on other grouse moors in northern England.

Consider the fact that this is a ‘VOLE’ year, resulting in the highest number of Short-eared Owls being observed on these moors for some years, and the figures of birds killed suddenly jumps to 100’s. The BTO have been doing some marvellous work with these owls which suggests that they may not be ‘ours’ after all, moving from upland Britain to Norway to breed twice in one season!

Historically Short eared Owls are shot in large numbers due to the fact that a majority of moorland gamekeepers think they kill grouse chicks. But even worse than that, when driving the grouse to the butts to be shot the very presence of a Short-eared owl can push the grouse away from the guns resulting in no grouse to shoot, and no ‘back hands’ for the keepers. One such incident had a gun man shooting owls in front of the butts only for the beaters to run in and save a bird from being shot!

There has also been a big movement of Buzzards this spring joining in on this feast of voles, but sadly large numbers of these now seem to have gone missing! This year we have witnessed several Kestrels with large clutches of eggs (7 eggs contained in a single nest), and even Barn and Long eared Owls will have enjoyed and benefited this bonanza.

Because of government corona virus guidelines access to England’s northern uplands by licenced raptor workers trying to establish the levels of raptor persecution being undertaken has been almost impossible. If governments guidelines on social gathering are still in force it will be difficult to justify grouse shoots beginning on the 12th August. The logistics of transporting dozens of beaters and flankers to the butts without close contact taking place, never mind the pairs of gunmen and their loaders standing in their butts just a few feet from one another. (See the top image where social guidelines are disrespected) Of course the gamekeeper would argue that shooting red grouse was a integral part of their management, claiming if birds were not shot many would die due to disease. Our advice to that would be if predators such as birds of prey were not illegally persecuted to the large extent they are being on grouse moors, there would be no need to shoot so may grouse in the first place because there would be a natural balance.

So, to ban grouse shooting during the corona pandemic may save the lives of those young Short eared Owls and Hen Harriers nesting away from the grouse moors, that will be attracted to move onto grouse moors along with their fledged young where they can then predate and eat these voles without the risk of being shot. Also, a ban now will tell the keepers they will not be getting their tax free ‘back hands’ for doing such a great job removing these specially protected birds!

Red grouse
Gamekeeper standing in grouse butt with loaded shot gun

In the meantime, where is Wild Justice and Operation Owl? Are they not the ones that should be asking for a grouse shooting ban right now? Operation Owl will have officers more concerned about the virus than Birds of Prey which asks the question – Why not an independent force to cover wildlife crime? And as for Wild Justice – Wait till they read this before they make a move!

We would like to thank Innocent Bystander for writing and submitting this article.

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