Dear Prince George….

The so-called royal family in the UK appear to support a practice that ensures we do not see many raptors in England – the said raptors are too inconvenient for the gamekeepers responsible for supplying grouse to be shot. Just see what we are missing in this post, written as a letter to the latest royal child being indoctrinated into this backward-looking tradition.

Eyes in the back of my Head

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I understand that Mummy took you along to a grouse shoot in Scotland a few days, so that you could watch Daddy killing lots of birds which were flying up into the sky.

He was shooting them dead, along with lots of other people. These people say that shooting birds in this way is sport, so I took a look in my dictionary (it’s a bit like the first dictionary you will have at school, but without the pictures) to find the definition of “sport”.

It says Sport: A game or competitive activity, esp. an outdoor one involving physical exertion, e.g. cricket, football, racing, hunting. (Concise Oxford Dictionary).

Two words jump out when I think of the grouse shooting you went to see Daddy taking part in. One of them is competitive, the other, hunting.

If something is competitive it usually means there is a contest between two people…

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Hen Harriers

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Hen Harrier, see credits

The UK habitat will support hundreds of hen harriers. They were once a common sight. In reality there are now very few.

They have been protected by law since 1954. Numbers have not increased since then.

There are many instances of individual hen harriers simply disappearing, even when tracked electronically.

Despite this, the RSPB and many volunteers is making heroic efforts to increase numbers.

The hen harrier is emblematic of the problem in England for all raptors including eagles.

It is believed that gamekeepers on driven grouse shooting moors are responsible for killing the birds.

When evidence was gathered and individuals prosecuted the case was dismissed on a technicality.

Driven grouse shooting is a sport for the rich, or rich wannabees. It has support in high places in the UK establishment.

Essentially, driven grouse shooting is incompatible with healthy populations of raptors, or so gamekeepers appear to think.

If that is the attitude, then ultimately the only solution would appear to be another law – to ban driven grouse shooting. This would have other environmental benefits, such as reduced flooding after heavy rains in the north of England.

Note this is a problem that can be solved with the will to do so. See for example the success with red kite populations in Wales.

These are my impressions from the Hen Harrier Day at Parkgate on 12 August 2018. Hen Harrier Days are usually held on or around the so-called glorious twelfth when the carnage begins. Go to one, and support the RSPB and other organisations involved.

Feature image shows speaker Mark Avery at the event
Photo of hen harrier by Len Blumin, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Red Kites at Rhaedr

According to the RSPB, the red kite was a valued scavenger during the Middle Ages that helped keep streets clean, and was protected by royal decree. However, by the 16th century a bounty was placed on its head. Kites and other birds of prey were persecuted as vermin. By the the early 1900s red kite were extinct in England and Scotland, and just a few were left in remote parts of central Wales. Conservation efforts have been ongoing since then.

This has been particularly effective in central Wales, helped by the regular kite feeding programme at Gigrin Farm near Rhaedra Gwy (anglicised name Rhayader). The success of the programme has been amazing, and a visit to the farm at kite feeding time sees the amazing spectacle of hundreds of kites converging on the farm. The sky is literally full of these beautiful birds. Amazingly, all are descended from a single female, which shows just how close these birds came to extinction in the UK.

red kite 1

 

This shows just what might be achieved in England, where prey birds (including marsh and hen harrier, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, buzzard) are persecuted to this day, particularly in areas where driven grouse shooting is prevalent. See eg RSPB report.

Red kites are regularly seen throughout this sparsely populated area of Wales. These two were following a farmer’s tractor ploughing a field, along with tens of other kites and seagulls.

 

red kite 2

Note that Gigrin Farm has specialist hides available for the more professional photographers.

Driven grouse shooting

Further to my post on the inglorious twelfth, I note that the petition to ban driven grouse shooting is to be presented to MPs on Tuesday 18 October at 2.15pm. MPs will hear from Mark Avery, the petition creator, and representatives from the RSPB, the Moorland Association and the Countryside Alliance.

Driven grouse shooting is a particularly obnoxious case of the gratuitous shooting of wildlife for ‘sport’, where the grouse are actually ‘driven’ by beaters towards the waiting guns. Peculiar to the UK, this ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management tailored to the raising of this one particular bird, reducing the natural habitat and said to increase the risk of floods and greenhouse gas emissions. It may be no accident that many recent floods have been in lowlands near to northern grouse moors, the sport of the rich leading to the misery of ordinary people.

Predators are eliminated in large numbers in order to protect the young grouse – foxes, stoats, and illegal killing of protected birds of prey including threatened hen harriers, eagles, buzzards… Mountain hares are killed because they carry ticks that can spread diseases to grouse.

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Hen Harrier

Particularly gruesome is the use of pole traps, which will smash a bird’s legs when it lands on them. See eg raptor persection UK.

Although many of these activities are illegal, there is no effective action to curtail them. It seems the landowners and their gamekeepers can do just what they like.

You can watch the parliamentary session on Parliament TV: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Guide. This appears to be a somewhat convoluted process as ‘the transcript of what is said will help inform MPs taking part in the House of Commons debate’. The parliamentary debate will be on 31st October.

Don’t hold your breath; the vested interests will be fighting hard to preserve their nasty little ‘sport’.

Featured image of landrovers in grouse shooting party by Peter Aikman,
and of hen harrier by Andreas Trepte, both via Wikimedia Commons

Inglorious twelfth

UK readers will be aware that there has been a bit of a fuss recently related to the start of the grouse shooting season on the 12th August – glorious to some, inglorious to others – and a heavily supported petition to parliament. If you read an earlier post of mine on shooting snipe, you’ll have no doubt where I stand on the issue.

In his Guardian article, George Monbiot clearly summarises the political issues, and in particular the great lengths the vested interests are going to protect their business.

It is of interest to consider why people shoot grouse, and why they defend their pursuit so vigorously. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a useful model to do this.

1. Physiological

At the lowest level are basic needs necessary for physical survival. Here grouse would be shot for food. Today, only possibly the odd poacher would be operating at this level.

2. Security

At the next level are needs for safety and security. Financial security comes at this level, so this is a significant factor in today’s grouse business – the gamekeeper protecting his salary by sometimes nefarious means, the moor owner protecting his business eg by attacking environmental organisations.

3. Social – Belonging, Love

We can perhaps categorise three major social groups that are into grouse shooting – the traditional landed aristocracy, led by the royals; the ‘sportsmen’ who actually see this as a skilled sport; and the newly moneyed who do it because they can, and it differentiates them from ‘ordinary people’.

4. Esteem

The same groups gain recognition and appreciation of their fellow shooters, so are also at this level.

5. Self-actualizing

This is the highest of Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs. Self-actualizing people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others, and interested fulfilling their potential. I suggest that few people at this level would be interested in shooting birds, except perhaps for balance of nature reasons.

6. Self transcendence

In his later work Maslow realised there is an additional, spiritual, level where the concerns of the individual ego are transcended, leading to altruism and concern with the general good. This includes being an integrated part of the natural world, so forget shooting birds.

Taking this perspective, and seeing that humanity and societies generally are moving in a direction up the hierarchy (but not without the odd step backwards), we can take comfort in the fact that grouse shooting will eventually be banned in the UK, just as have many other abuses of the animal world over recent centuries.

If living in the UK, maybe you should sign the petition.

Featured image of a shooting party in Wrest Park 1929