Hen Harrier Day 2016: Ban Driven Grouse Shooting

The following piece is what I wrote and spoke for my Speaking and Listening exam for my English Language GCSE (and it got high marks). There is also a section at the end where I unleash what I really think, this section was not included in the exam as it may have been hard for the examiner to understand and may have been unsuitable for the exam environment.

“The uplands of Britain are where many people go to ‘get away from it all’ and to immerse themselves in nature or the wilderness. But what many people do not know is that this environment is about as natural as the manicured lawns we see in parks and gardens today. The reason for this is management for the hideously highbrow ‘sport’ known as driven grouse shooting.

Driven grouse shooting usually involves a very rich man, who has paid a lot of money, sitting in a grouse butt while his workers drive the birds towards him. The grouse eventually take fright and fly over the shooter while he unceremoniously blasts them out of the air with a shotgun. This is his idea of fun. Shooters regularly judge each other by how many dead grouse have accumulated at the end of a shoot. This is why unnaturally high densities of grouse have to be created on the hills.

The management needed for this is extremely detrimental to the local and wider environments. An example of this is the burning of heather on some of our most delicate and rare habitats, which is needed so that the huge, unnatural numbers of grouse have more than enough to eat. Our uplands hold a very unique, internationally important habitat known as blanket bog. Blanket bog is home to many rare and specialised organisms but also has many more importances. One of these is carbon storage. This is a benefit that is becoming increasingly important in our ever-warming climate. Unfortunately, a large proportion of our blanket bog is situated on land managed by driven grouse shooting gamekeepers who show a complete disregard for the environment and the law. They illegally burn the heather on these protected habitats which dries out and destroys the bogs, releasing the carbon that was being stored. This adds to the greenhouse layer, contributing to global warming. The UK’s peat soils are estimated to store 5.5 billion tonnes of carbon, which is the equivalent to 31 times the UK’s annual emissions. This is the scale of the effect burning our uplands will cause and blanket bogs are a significant part of this, being a particularly effective carbon store.

Even more immoral, perhaps, is the widespread murder of our upland wildlife. On grouse moors anything that could potentially harm a grouse is routinely and barbarically killed, without any regard for the negative effects it could cause, by either shotgun or poison, legally or illegally. This includes much of our enigmatic upland wildlife but there is one bird that one bird that stands out from the rest and acts as a beacon to bring the illegal and immoral murder of our wildlife to wider attention, as it is so often in the firing line of the grouse shooting community, metaphorically and literally. This is the Hen Harrier, surely one of our most beautiful and iconic birds of prey. Now, this is virtually only an upland bird, especially favouring heather moorland. Unfortunately, this puts it in close contact with grouse moor gamekeepers and owners and, as a species that occasionally eats grouse chicks, it is unpopular in the grouse shooting community. But the Hen Harrier is a legally protected species and this, you might think, would make it safe. But, oh no, too frequent are the reports of monitored birds mysteriously disappearing. The reality is that these birds are killed ruthlessly and with a complete lack of empathy. Our current government rarely does anything about this, despite legislation put in place by them and other governments, possibly because they have grouse shooters high up in their ranks. There is enough suitable habitat in England for over 300 pairs of Hen Harriers but in 2014 only 4 pairs bred and this year there have only been 3 attempts when there should have been 332. This is why it is imperative that we save this beautiful bird because the illegality surrounding it undermines our legislation, conservation and quite frankly, our morals.

Now that I have shown you the reality of our uplands, are you happy with their treatment? Do you want to stand back and let this happen? Or do you agree that we need to unite for the benefit of ourselves, our environment and our wildlife by changing something. That something is banning driven grouse shooting.”

Now, the fact that the numbers of Hen Harriers aren’t being allowed to reach even 1% of their potential population makes me livid. And we’re not even just talking about the Hen Harrier, multitudes of species are affected: Golden Eagles, Mountain Hares, Buzzards, Goshawks, Merlins, Red Kites, Stoats, Foxes… The list goes on. All of these species are being brutally ripped from our upland landscape by gamekeepers just because some of the rich people in our country want to kill some more birds with a gun. What’s more, the rich people owning the grouse moors are actually subsidised by the government to conserve a ‘healthy upland landscape’. Well, that’s certainly not happening is it? Anybody with even an elementary grip of ecology can see that an ecosystem with no predators cannot function and the claims made by the grouse shooting community that grouse shooting is a vital part of the economy are completely false. Tourism makes far more money in the areas where grouse shooting occurs. Driven grouse shooting is not beneficial to anybody other than those directly involved in it. In fact, it’s far from being even remotely beneficial to the public: increased water bills and flood risks spring to mind. Overall, driven grouse shooting is a barbaric, senseless, immoral and environmentally damaging practice that is of no use to the public. Why can’t our government see the light and ban driven grouse shooting?
Here’s a link to the petition to ban driven grouse shooting, please sign it for your benefit, society’s benefit, our wildlife’s benefit and the environment’s benefit, thank you.

Petition To Ban Driven Grouse Shooting

Header photo credits: ©Frank Osterberg