Game over: time for landowners to call time on grouse shooting

Bradford Council must be commended in the highest of terms for its decision to end grouse shooting on world-renowned Ilkley Moor, reflecting the urgent need to reverse wildlife decline, habitat degradation and public dismay which has overshadowed this treasured moorland since the ‘sport’ was introduced in 2008.

In reaching its conclusion, the Council recognised that over half of specialist breeding bird species have been driven into decline or local extinction on the moor, as a consequence of environmentally-damaging practices including heather burning, construction of grouse shooting butts into precious blanket bog and vehicles conveying shooting parties over sensitive peatland. The Council has since vowed to restore the habitat, vital for breeding birds and flood mitigation.

But let’s be realistic: any moorland where priority is given to the few who take pleasure from using red grouse as feathered targets drastically fails wildlife and natural habitat. The National Trust’s Kinder, Edale and Dark Peak estate is devoid of peregrine falcon, hen harrier and mountain hare, with incidents of actual or attempted illegal persecution well documented. Yorkshire Water has so little trust in its grouse shooting tenants that it has signed up to a bizarre ‘witness protection scheme’ which sees young hen harrier removed from its moors. Grouse shooting tenants on the United Utilities estate have killed off rare lesser black-backed gulls. And on NG Bailey’s Denton Moor, mysterious gunmen were covertly filmed taking pot shots at marsh harrier and targeting an egg-filled nest.

Thankfully, a growing tide of upland landowners have departed from the failed model of managing moorland for grouse shooting. The National Trust’s Eastern Moors, Upper Wharfedale, Roseberry Topping, Bridestones, Malham Tarn and Brimham Rocks sites, alongside every moorland-owning local authority in the UK, including Sheffield, Bradford, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire Councils and the Peak District National Park Authority, do not permit the practice on their upland estates. Instead, they opt to restore wildlife populations, habitat, serve a strong educational function and encourage responsible visitors, who provide year-round benefits to retrospective regional economies.

It is perfectly within possibility for those landowners who presently permit grouse shooting to do the same - and undoubtedly, they soon will. The list of those who call time on this jaded practice can only grow with increasing recognition that grouse shooting is a conservation calamity.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead 

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