Inglorious Twelfth: the grouse shooting industry’s shaky foundations

It’s been an interesting and telling coincidence. In the last couple of weeks, grouse shooting advocates have flooded the media with reports claiming the ‘sport’ brings financial benefits to local communities in Scotland, and that some threatened birds benefit from living on grouse moors. At the same time, following controversy about the launch of Stan Kroenke’s MyOutdoorTV in the UK, trophy hunters defended their sport with two arguments: it brings in a lot of money to local communities, and brings conservation benefits.

The reaction to the trophy hunters was as you’d expect – disgust, and the arguments were torn apart. Shouldn’t the reaction to grouse shooting be the same? You might say that a grouse and a lion are very different. Are they?

Ethical questions aside, the fact remains that grouse shooting is built on very shaky foundations.

To raise enough grouse to make a good day’s shooting (roughly 700,000 grouse are shot each year), the shooting estates burn heather to encourage it to grow and provide food and shelter for the grouse. These intensive burning practices are causing serious environmental damage, mainly in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Links have been made to climate change and urban flooding.

To ensure the birds stay alive long enough to be shot, grouse moors are ringed with wire snares, the medieval nooses which are meant to ‘simply restrain’ animals but of course cause indiscriminate suffering and death to potentially hundreds of thousands of animals each year. Birds of prey and mountain hares are also targeted for their alleged role in reducing grouse numbers.

Claims that some bird species thrive on grouse moors may be true to an extent. But this is an accidental benefit of an unhealthy one-species focus which is designed to eliminate all unwanted predators from the area. Better surely to follow the example of the League’s Baronsdown wildlife sanctuary which also attracts rare species – but without slaughtering the ‘unwanted’ in the process.

Finally, the shooting lobby like to talk about financial benefits, but – and here we go back to the trophy hunting comparison – ecotourism (the non-killing kind) brings massive financial benefits. An RSPB report found that the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles to the Isle of Mull alone brought £5m into the economy and supported 110 jobs. You can’t ask tourists to visit your wildlife if you’ve allowed it all to be killed.

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