I suspect that, tomorrow, there will be many Press articles, Blogs, comments on Facebook and such like relating to the "Glorious 12th ", the commencement of the grouse shooting season. Rather than sit alongside what I also suspect will be regurgitated facts, reworked summaries and repeated statistics I thought I would at least try to present something on the subject which took a slightly different approach, even if it did deal with the self same subject area. No over emphasis here on raptor persecution, wildlife regulations, economic relevance or E-petitions. No, I want to try and persuade people to think more deeply about what they believe grouse shooting represents and to come to a personal judgement of its relevance and what should lie ahead.
At the Hen Harrier Action Day at Edale on Sunday the question of "tradition" was raised. Now the Oxford English Dictionary states " Tradition a custom, opinion or belief handed down to posterity, especially orally or by practice . " Some see grouse shooting as a traditional activity, but I feel the almost automatic acceptance of any such described activity being allowed to proceed into posterity needs to be questioned. But let's see ! Autumn blackberrying is a traditional pastime, enjoyed by many and harming no one, and can perhaps serve as a useful yardstick for comparative purposes. By contrast, try a bit of independent grouse shooting and be prepared for the consequences ! So, immediately the availability of the pastime is limited to the central players ( the grouse moor owners and friends ) or to wealthy social aspirants, with relatively little relevance to the public at large. In some senses the pastime would be described by many as elitism and, indeed, subscribe and be associated with the sector of Society that Herbert Spencer alluded to in his now discredited ideas on social Darwinism. ! Even I don't go that far ! If the story ended there then it might be largely ignored, at least tolerated, but the fact of the matter is that since its inception as an activity in Victorian times things have changed dramatically. Associated practices are now deemed to have negative environmental impacts and be harmful , need to be questioned and regulated at best. Nobody would advocate that female genital mutilation, a "traditional" practice in some parts of the world is acceptable, but there are parts of "traditional " grouse management that are outmoded and no more acceptable in the modern age. Anxious cries from Uncle Hubert that things have always been done this way are somewhat irrelevant in the face of modern day research evidence that shows such outdated methods as having negative and totally unacceptable impacts. Indeed some of the activities transgress the line in a legal context too !
The practice of heather burning in order to provide optimum conditions for the grouse is now considered to be harmful in environmental terms. The UK plays host to an appreciable proportion of all heather moorland habitat, but studies completed by the University of Leeds show negative side effects occurring via management that are even supported by money from the public purse in the form of Environmental Stewardship payments. Results can be read elsewhere, but show the practice to result in carbon emissions, to affect the potential for carbon capture and to contribute to circumstances leading to flash flooding in adjacent areas. In an era of ever emerging concern about climate change and of changing weather patterns practices which clearly exacerbate such circumstances must surely be held open to review for the common good? Alongside all this is the assumed rights of management,which sees all perceived predators of grouse being removed and other wildlife such as Mountain Hares being eliminated. What practice has any conferred right to eliminate our natural heritage in the cause of personal commercial gain and satisfaction and to do so in direct contravention of our laws ?
So it could be said that, in summary, we have an absolute minority, hell bent intent on retaining a so called "traditional " activity that can be shown conclusively to have detrimental environmental side effects and to
be removing constituent members of our national fauna illegally , all in the cause of fun or commercial gain.
Uhmm, time for reflection I think ! Where are its redeeming features I ask ?
Now all this ( in my personal opinion ) is bad enough , but there is one aspect of grouse shooting which I consider to be utterly repugnant and I am NOT anti-shooting per se .
Following totally artificial circumstances being created to assist grouse breeding we then see a process emerge which aims to shoot as much of "the product" as possible. No ? Then tell me of a shoot whose activities have been curtailed on the day due to the numbers of grouse shot being excessive. In fact the opposite is quite the case with large bags being the subject of pronounced pride and general promotion. This is little more than organized slaughter on what might be described as the UK's Killing Fields. Google search the subject and exceptional days can be seen in the literature, held up as if to represent the apogee of success and attainment. This intended bonanza of pleasure killing exemplifies what the core objectives of the practice is about, what its reputation rests on and what it feeds its commercial success on. And save us the romantic nonsense of being on the fells, the wind and sun on your face etc etc.......I've done that all my life and never raised a gun to a grouse ! And don't give me the " shooting expertise" argument either ! I watched Steve Scott secure his Olympic Bronze medal for clay shooting, 30 out of 30, brilliant and very impressive.
There is one last aspect I'd like to touch on as it remains core to why circumstances are not being reviewed or improved when it comes to the practices of this industry, as its certainly nothing else. The sheer arrogance in which this industry operates is beyond belief. In fact, "belief" is the word as the constituent members , who in any other context would be judged to be part of the Establishment, have simply set themselves above the law , are proceeding as they think fit with "their" pursuit and to hell with the rest of us. Faced with the growing evidence of associated " negatives" any manager worth his/her salt would be looking closely at what might be done to improve matters. Do we see any evidence of that, do we see any peer pressure emerging, do we see any appetite for change ? I don't believe so. Sadly misplaced efforts containing misplaced notions, sadly supported by DEFRA, do little other than kick the prospect of an abiding solution into the long grass to accompanying chuckles from Uncle Hubert ( Saves the blighters right! ).
So, on balance , what do you think? Is this something that should be immune from review and regulation or something that deserves serious examination and change ?