‘Circle of destruction’: New reports call for major rethink of grouse moor management

Alasdair Clark

New reports from Revive coalition detail “industrial scale suffering” and ecological impact of Scotland’s grouse moors

  • Coalition report calls for widespread move from current grouse moor management practice
  • Animal welfare campaigners highlight “industrial scale suffering” caused by intensive predator control
  • Scottish Government accused of “dragging their heels” on reform 

NEW REPORTS from animal welfare and conservation campaigners have called for Scotland’s grouse moors to be closed and replaced in order to better tackle the climate emergency and serious animal suffering. 

The two reports, ‘Untold Suffering’ and ‘Better Way’, were publised by the Revive coalition, an alliance of campaign organisations including Friends of the Earth Scotland and the League Against Cruel Sports. 

In the first report, animal welfare campaigners describe what they characterise as “industrial scale suffering” on Scotland’s grouse moors, where animals are killed in a bid to ensure grouse stocks are kept artificially high to be shot for sport.

Writing in the foreward of Untold Suffering, wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham accused the Scottish Government of “dragging its heels” over grouse moor reform. 

Packham writes: “There is a circle of destruction that surrounds grouse moors. This report looks at the welfare impact on the untold thousands of animals that are killed so that more grouse can be shot for sport.

“It puts the spotlight on a perverse and cruel situation that is hidden from the public gaze and, in many cases, allowed by the Scottish Government.

Read more: Exclusive: Scottish Government condemn illegal raptor persecution following hen harrier death as campaigners call for action

“It calls for a major rethink about the way vast areas of Scotland are utilised.  It calls for an end to indiscriminate cruelty, and it calls for an end to the unnecessary killing.”

The report details the widespread use of spring traps, which catch and entrap parts of an animal’s body, leading to an often prolonged and “agonising” death, as well as the use of snares. 

The traps are intended to catch and legally kill animals such as foxes and mountain hares, which are natural predators of red grouse; however, the report also details how other animals such as cats, dogs and protected birds of prey are often killed by such indiscriminate methods. 

According to the report, iconic birds of prey such as golden eagles and hen harriers have also been targeted illegally, due to being predators of red grouse. Today [9 December], RSPB Scotland launched an appeal for information over the shooting of hen harrier and the disappearance of two other birds in “suspicious circumstances.”
Campaigners including the League of Cruel Sports have called for an independent review by animal welfare scientists of the welfare implications of all traps, although the British Association of Shooting and Conservation insist such traps are humane. 

League Against Cruel Sports Scotland director Robbie Marsland commented: “Thousands and thousands of animals are condemned to die a cruel death that fuels the circle of destruction that surrounds grouse moors – all to make sure there are more grouse to be shot for entertainment. It’s time for this madness to end.” 

Romain Pizzi, one of Scotland’s foremost specialist veterinary surgeons specialising in wildlife medicine, also referenced a case study he worked on where a pine marten was trapped by a spring trap: “There is no doubt in my mind that this pine marten suffered severe pain and distress. Considering that it is an intelligent carnivore, probably the best way one can empathise with the animal’s suffering is to imagine a pet dog undergoing the same experience.”

‘Better Way’, the second report for Revive written by sustainable land expert Dr Helen Armstrong, examines the environmental impact of Scotland’s grouse moor management, where the practice of heather burning has caused expansive treeless and plantless landscapes.

The report said intensive heather burning and other land management techniques used on grouse moor estates had a significant ecological impact, and recommended grouse moor estates be closed and replaced. 

“Continued management as grouse moors will maintain a large area of Scotland’s land in an impoverished state.” Revive coalition report ‘Better Way’

“Grouse moors, both burned and unburned, are lower in structural and species diversity, are less biologically productive and provide fewer ecosystem services than the woodlands, scrub and peat-forming bogs that could replace them,” the report said, adding: “Continued management as grouse moors will maintain a large area of Scotland’s land in an impoverished state.”

Armstrong advocates a widespread move away from current grouse moor management practices towards a major increase in woodland and scrub, as well as the reinstatement of functioning bogs.

Peat bogs are an crucial natural store of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas responsible for climate breakdown, and burning of the land can release greenhouse gases stored in the bogs and also prevent future absorption. 

A study in England found damaged peat bogs could release the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere as 140,000 cars annually, according to the RSPB. 

“This diversity of habitats would, in turn, support a greater abundance and diversity of wildlife, supply improved ecosystem services, be more resilient to environmental change, pests and diseases, and provide diverse resources and sources of income for local people,” the Revive report argued.
The report also highlighted the impact of grouse moor management on endangered species, including the golden eagle, which it said were prevented from prospering by current techniques. 

Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, the body that represents many grouse moor owners, told the Guardian that the new report was “ill informed”.

On the report’s recommendations, Laing said: “Such land management is funded privately and without management for grouse it is likely that the motivation for many of these benefits would disappear.”

However, Raptor Persecution UK hit back in a post on their blog, highlighting community driven efforts to repair damage to grouse moors: “She’s also obviously ‘forgotten’ about what’s going on at Langholm, where the local community, with the help of crowdfunding support, is planning a buy-out of the knackered old grouse moor to turn it in to a species-rich nature reserve to benefit local people, nature conservation and tourism.”

The report from Revive comes after a expert group set up by the Scottish Government, and led by Professor Alan Werritty, recently submitted their own, delayed report to the Scottish Government. 

The review looked at the impact grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls, as well as raptor persecution, and consider the regulatory options, including potential licensing.

Read more: ‘Pretending to be ambitious’: Greens accuse SNP of abandoning Scottish Government reforestation targets

A Scottish Government spokesperson previously told CommonSpace: “We received Professor Alan Werritty’s report and will publish it shortly.  

“We are grateful for the extensive work carried out by Professor Werritty and the review team during their independent, in-depth review of how grouse moor management can be environmentally sustainable and compliant with the law, while continuing to contribute to the rural economy.  We will carefully consider the recommendations, alongside all other evidence, and publish our response to the report in due course.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland director Richard Dixon told the Guardian: “Licensing would be welcome but we would like to go further than that, by promoting a much more comprehensive move to more sustainable land use.”

“The Scottish Government should support the phasing out of grouse moors by subsidising natural reforestation projects, paying land-owners to conserve and enhance peatlands, and by giving grants for woodland crofts.”

Picture courtesy of Andrew 

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