It was supposed to go without a hitch. The grouse shooting publicity machine had churned out a declaration ahead of spring, when the heather-clad hills are wiped of wildlife in the quest for game birds, exerting ‘zero-tolerance’ for bird of prey persecution.
In their desperation to out-flank critics, the game shooting industry announced it would now be supporting bird of prey protection laws—almost seventy years after they were introduced—and encouraging shoots to affirm wildlife laws in shooting leases and employment agreements, despite contracts having been able to be terminated where offences are committed since the 1960s.
The pressure grouse moors, their operators and customers are experiencing at the moment is enormous. Its apologists have finally understood that wildlife-loving Britons will never sympathise with an industry coated in controversy for driving birds of prey from the hills. We live in a country that has championed the cause of wildlife protection across the globe — in our own backyard 8 in 10 people want to see birds of prey reintroduced to areas where they are absent.
If it was incredulous to think grouse moors would stick to dodgy promises to take the initiative to end persecution last time around, this time is a whole different ball game. Examining the disturbing list of persecution incidents in Nidderdale made public last week reveals a shot buzzard found fatally wounded and two dogs falling ill—one of which died—after eating poison-laced meat suspected by police of having been laid for birds of prey.
Whilst public trust in every other rural profession has risen, confidence in grouse moor operators has continued to collapse. With egregious errors of judgement like these, it’s easy to see why gamekeepers have started speaking more publicly about pressure from shoot operators and landowners to kill protected species illegally. Last Thursday’s Farming Today saw a frustrated gamekeeper call out coercion from an employer to eradicate short-eared owls and peregrine falcons.
It’s clear that things need to change.
Grouse shooting lobbyists could have left the week on a high by backing those gamekeepers bold enough to challenge persecution within the industry’s ranks, but instead trundled out the tired excuse of ‘one or two bad apples’. Far from the image of sensible moderation the grouse shooting industry is trying to project as it continues its bad romance with wildlife crime, the longer the problem goes on, the more the salvo of persecution incidents exposes them as anything but.
As the chances of continuing business as normal fade away, the increasingly desperate grouse shooting industry attempts to make out it can be trusted to self regulate. It cannot and robust laws must be introduced to force significant reform of grouse moors. Our birds of prey depend on it. Let’s not let them down.