Driven grouse shooting
Driven grouse shooting is the hunting of the red grouse, a field sport of the United Kingdom. It is popular because it provides a challenge due to the rapid flight of the grouse. The grouse shooting season extends from 12 August, often called the "Glorious Twelfth", to 10 December each year. Shooting takes place on grouse moors, areas of moorland in northern England and Scotland.
The name 'driven grouse shooting' refers to the way in which the grouse are driven towards the hunters (otherwise known as 'Guns') by beaters. A shooting party usually includes 8–10 Guns who stand in a line in the butts—hides for shooting spaced some 20–30 m apart, screened by a turf or stone wall and usually sunken into the ground to minimise their profile—to shoot the grouse in flight. A code of conduct governs behaviour on the grouse moor for both safety and etiquette. Grouse shooting can also be undertaken by 'walking up' grouse over pointers, or by flushing the birds with other dogs.
The red grouse is a medium-sized bird of the grouse family or subfamily which is found in heather moorland in Great Britain and Ireland. It is usually classified as a subspecies of the willow grouse, but is sometimes considered to be a separate species Lagopus scoticus. It is also known as the moorfowl or moorbird. The grouse can fly at up to 130 km/h (81 mph).
Heather moorland is rarer than tropical rainforest, and 75% of it is found in the UK as a result of grouse management, which provides an incentive to conserve heather moorland despite economic pressures of subsidies to intensify forestry and farming operations. 60% of all England's upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest are managed for grouse shooting.
To support a large population of grouse, gamekeepers employ heather burning techniques. This involves burning patches of heather on the moorland. A burnt patch allows fresh shoots to come through which are ideal nutrition for grouse. Burning is done in patches so that there is a variety of heather heights, on a rotation of between 8 and 12 years. While the short new shoots provide food, the taller, older heather provides cover and shelter for the grouse. Proponents claim that not only does heather burning help the grouse population thrive but it encourages other wildlife by creating a variety of habitats in moorland areas. One study suggests that burning heather has a large number of negative consequences on the diverse moorland environment, the underlying water table and the associated downstream rivers. The study suggested burning reduces Sphagnum moss growth and the density of macroinvertebrates which play a vital role in aquatic food webs by feeding on algae, microbes and detritus at the base of food chains before they themselves are consumed by birds, fish and amphibians and that it reduces the water content of the upper layers of peat which results in the peat being less able to retain exchangeable cations which are important for plant growth and resist acid rain. The study found that rivers draining burned catchments were characterised by lower calcium concentrations and lower pH relative to rivers draining unburned catchments and had higher concentrations of silica, manganese, iron and aluminium. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) are undertaking trials of controlled heather burning on their reserves at Loch Garten and Hobbister in order to “increase the suitability of the reserve[s] for key breeding birds such as hen harriers, short-eared owls, merlins and curlews.”
UK moorlands are a carbon sink and burning heather releases this carbon. Rotational burning in a prescribed manner may help to reduce the risk of damaging wildfires and reduce carbon loss by between 22 and 34 per cent. Large stands of rank and woody heather pose a major fire risk due to a significant build-up of fuel loads. Uncontrolled wildfires are damaging as they burn with greater intensity and are likely to burn the peat beneath, causing considerable damage to the ability of the peatland to store water and carbon.
Grouse moor management involves routine control of predators such as foxes, crows and stoats. A Natural England Evidence Review concluded that there was strong evidence that burning and predator control correlated with higher densities of red grouse, golden plover, curlew, lapwing, redshank and ring ouzel. Research has also shown that on moors managed for grouse shooting, ground nesting birds such as curlew and lapwing, both of which are species of the highest conservation concern in the UK, are 3.5 times more likely to raise a chick to fledgling stage. Studies on a former grouse moor in Berwyn found that within 20 years of grouse moor management ending, lapwing became extinct at the site, golden plover declined by 90 per cent, and curlew declined by 79 per cent. However, research also shows that the ongoing illegal persecution of birds of prey on moors managed for grouse shooting is having a significant effect on raptor numbers.
Historical management practices
Grouse moors have a near-200 year history of recorded predator control. One of the largest recorded kills was at the 6,500 acre Glengarry estate in Scotland where the following mammals were killed between the years 1837 and 1840: stoat (Mustela erminea) and weasel (Mustela nivalis) 301, pine marten (Martes martes), 246, wildcat (Felis silvestris) 198, polecat (Mustela putorius) 106, house cat (Felis catus) 78, badger (Meles meles) 67, otter (Lutra lutra) 48 and red fox (Vulpes vulpes) 11. Birds killed in the same period were: hooded crow (Corvus cornix) 1431, raven (Corvus corax) 475, kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 462, buzzard (Buteo buteo) 285, red kite (Milvus milvus) 275, goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) 63, hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) 63, white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) 27, osprey (Pandion haliaetus) 18, golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) 15 and magpie (Pica pica) 2.
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Grouse shooting supports the equivalent of 2500 full-time jobs in England, Wales and Scotland, and invests approximately £100 million in conservation projects every year. A parish survey around Blanchland, Northumberland (population 140), has found that 55 per cent of people are either directly or indirectly involved in grouse shooting and that increased guest numbers in the four-month shooting season push up the hotel's average occupancy rate from 50 to 65 per cent per year. Grouse is also served in many local pubs, hotels and restaurants, boosting the hospitality industry.
According to industry sources:
- One keeper looks after approx. 3,500 acres (14 km2).
- Managers aim to hold 16 shootings days per 7,000 acres (28 km2).
- The fixed annual cost of running a grouse moor with two keepers is approximately £75,000.
- The government subsidy to moor owners is £56/ha per annum, equivalent to £158,600 for a 7,000-acre (2,800 ha) moor.
- Each shooting day costs £1,800 to run with 30 beaters and pickers up, nine loaders at £50 per day and fuel for five vehicles at £60 per tank.
- The cost to take part in a grouse shoot at one Yorkshire estate range from £35 per bird to £43 per bird and a large shoot can charge £33,000 per day.
- Potential revenue from let shooting is £120 per brace (a brace, in hunting, is two birds) with an average of 150 brace shot per day. Birds sold to a game dealer can fetch £4 per brace.
- Visiting guns spend in rural areas per shooting day: £100 per person dinner, bed and breakfast (full party of 9 guns = £1,800 including partners), lunch for nine (£20 per head) and further unknown expense on fuel, gun equipment, shopping, etc.
The profitability of grouse shooting is under threat from both climate and disease. There has been a long-term decline in red grouse numbers. Weather conditions in recent years have resulted in shortages of grouse, to the extent that grouse shooting has had to be cancelled in some locations. This has led landowners in upland areas to substitute pheasant and partridge shooting for grouse shooting, with an increased risk of disease spreading from rear-and-release pheasants and partridge to nearby red grouse.
The driven grouse shooting industry has been criticised by some conservation bodies for harming moorland habitats and for illegally persecuting predators, particularly the hen harrier, which preys on grouse chicks. The RSPB has called for shoots to be licensed, and former RSPB Conservation Director Dr Mark Avery raised a petition calling for a ban on the practice. By its closure on 21 September 2016 the petition had attracted 123,077 signatures, triggering a parliamentary debate on the practice, held in Westminster Hall on 31 October 2016. A 2017 study commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage into the fate of satellite-tracked golden eagles concluded that "Corroborative information points to the perpetrators of the persecution of tagged eagles being associated with some grouse moors in the central and eastern Highlands of Scotland," and that "[t]his illegal killing has such a marked effect on the survival rates of the young birds that the potential capacity for the breeding golden eagle population continues to be suppressed around where this persecution largely occurs."
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