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The Inglorious 12th: How the UK's shooting season impacts biodiversity

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

With the shooting season is well underway in the UK, Joe takes a look at how the so-called 'sport' is having an impact on Britain's biodiversity - listen up, Biology students!

August 12th Shooting Season

12 August marked the start of the shooting season in the UK, but the management of grouse moors in the north of England and across Scotland has a devastating impact on some of Britain’s rarest raptors. Here we will analyse how the illegal persecution of our birds of prey results from the management of driven grouse moors, looking at how they work and what can be done to stop us losing these species for good…

What is Driven Grouse Shooting?

All over the heather moors people will be out shooting Red Grouse, up until 10 December, when the season ends. The moors are carefully managed to provide ideal conditions for Red Grouse to breed, so any competitive species such as Mountain Hares can be legally killed (arguments against this are paramount however not something we will focus on today); however, it is the illegal shooting of birds of prey that is the most concerning.

The term ‘driven’ is derived from the way the grouse are hunted. A number of ‘beaters’ will attempt to flush the grouse so they scare into flight, at which point a line of shooters can fire on the birds. In itself this is a very controversial practice: the shooting of animals for fun in many respects is enough to start a debate, and while a number of grouse are indeed consumed, there is a lot to think about regarding the practice in its most basic form.

Driven Grouse Shooting
A Red Grouse on the moors

The Effect on Raptors

The real problem driven grouse shooting causes is the persecution of very rare birds of prey. Certain gamekeepers will do anything to protect the Grouse, and anything that could threaten them is not taken very well. Indeed, a large shoot in August can generate thousands of pounds of income, so they take the management of the moors very seriously.

Unfortunately, this has led to the illegal killing of birds such as the Hen Harrier, which is almost extinct as a breeding bird in England due to it being persecuted so heavily. A recent study suggested there is enough space for 320 breeding pairs of Hen Harrier in England, yet there are around 4 pairs and the species is at real risk of going extinct as a breeder.

An example of raptor persecution on driven grouse moors from earlier this year was a male Hen Harrier caught in an illegally set spring trap close to its nest on a grouse moor in Scotland. The bird was so badly injured it had to be euthanised, and indeed another spring trap was found near the nest (which had two eggs in it). Of course, with the Hen Harrier being such a rare bird it is an offence to disturb the birds in the breeding season, let alone to kill one!

But it is not only Hen Harriers. Golden Eagles that have been satellite tagged have gone ‘missing’ over grouse moors - their electronic tags removed, and the birds killed, along with Buzzards, Red Kites and Short-eared Owls. The future of these birds is a real concern. If illegal persecution is not stopped, then they are at real risk of becoming extinct in the future in Britain.

The endangered Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier in flight

Effects on other wildlife

The management of grouse moors does not just affect our raptors: the lives of countless numbers of small mammals are taken legally in the upkeep of the moors every year. Mountain Hares, Stoats and Foxes are all killed en masse to prevent them being a threat to the grouse, all perfectly legally. Some of the methods used are brutal, with traps set all over the moors that cause huge amount of pain to the animals.

The effect on grouse speaks for itself: far more grouse than could be eaten are shot every year, the record being on the 12th August 1915, where 8 people shot two thousand nine hundred and twenty-nine grouse. The ‘sport’ aspect of driven grouse shooting is something to be questioned and is enough to start a conversation regardless of the consideration of wildlife persecution.

What can be done?

The persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors has to be stopped, and there have been a number of petitions over the last few years, the latest currently ongoing, to ban driven grouse shooting. Whatever your position, the killing of these birds is worrying, and considerable change is needed if they are to have a prosperous future breeding in England.

Blog Post Crafted by Joe

Joe is currently working towards his BSc in Biomedical Science at the University of Warwick.

When he’s not studying, Joe tutors GCSE and A Level Science subjects in his home city of Coventry.

Joe can often be found at ridiculous times in the morning, bird ringing and searching for interesting bird and butterfly species at his local nature reserve near Coventry, or venturing further afield to find rarities on the East Coast of Norfolk.


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