Could Grouse Moors Actually Help Wild Birds?
Conservationist Chris Packham has called for an end to grouse shooting and has blamed game keepers for killing endangered hen harriers. He has dubbed grouse shooting "moorland vandalism" and appears to waging war on those who maintain moorland specifically for sport shooting.
The RSPB have also spoken out against grouse shooting. They claim that intensive land management practices including the burning of peatlands negatively impacts wildlife. They are have also expressed concern about the use of veterinary medicines and the killing of mountain hares to reduce the incidence of disease in grouse.
It would be easy to think that this is a black and white issue. Grouse shooting has to be a bad for wildlife doesn’t it? Well, perhaps not!
12 owners of grouse moors recently commissioned a study to explore the impact of their practices on wildlife. The study was undertaken by Newcastle and Durham Universities. 18 estates in England and Wales were surveyed for three months and it was discovered that many wild birds were flourishing on the estates.
The Wild Birds
The study revealed that there were 76 different species of bird on the grouse moors including 43 which are endangered. There were equal numbers of birds of prey and owls where gamekeepers were most and least active.
Skylark were 32 per cent more prolific with intensive gamekeeper protection than without it and there were six times as many curlew and eight times as many golden plover on sites with highly intensive predator control than on areas with minimal control. Curlew are extremely endangered in the UK and the RSPB have said that this bird should be considered a priority for conservation.
The researchers also discovered twenty-four times as many lapwing on the intensively managed sites with hardly any seen where gamekeepers were not active. Snipe and oyster catchers were much more prolific when protected from predators like foxes, stoats and crows.
The author of the resulting report, Dr Nick Littlewood, of the School of Biology concluded: "The preliminary results indicate the importance of grouse moors for a number of upland birds, especially waders." However, the report does not mention hen harrier numbers and conservationists are adamant that grouse shooting is contributing to the rapid fall in numbers. There are just four breeding pairs left in England at the time of writing.
The RSPB has pointed out that the report was commissioned and funded by the owners of the grouse moors and so could be biased towards highlighting the benefits of managed land. They concede that ground nesting species may benefit from the grouse moors but say that other species will not. Experts at the the RSPB are calling for more balance in the management of the land so that grouse, birds of prey and other species can co-exist.
What do you think? Should moorland be managed to facilitate grouse shooting or should it be left alone? This is an ongoing debate with those on both sides of the argument being adamant that they are right.