The Real Cost of Grouse-Shooting on Our Moorlands

Carbon carnage: the real cost of grouse-shooting

I came across the article below with gives an interesting take on the management of grouse moors in the UK.  I largely agree with it but not in its entirety – ML.

for Bright Green

We often fondly imagine shooting and hunting as encounters with the wild. But in Britain, at least, it is a curated affair. From the late 18th century until the First World War, the English imported thousands of foxes from Europe for foxhunting. Scottish landowners imported Hungarian stags in the belief that their own deer were stunted by bad bloodlines, rather than their dire lives on treeless, overgrazed moors. Unsurprisingly—red deer are a woodland species—Hungarian blood did not boost the starving beasts’ size.

Even Britain’s iconic red grouse—the supposed epitome of wild game—is intensively managed, and over huge areas. About one-fifth of Scotland’s total landmass is given over to grouse moors, and there are huge moors south of the border as well. Numbers fluctuate, but about 700,000 grouse are shot each year. They are mostly driven towards stationary, armed men—a way to shoot that Victorian grandees considered so unsporting and so nouveau riche that, when it was invented in the late 19th century, there were protests in the House of Lords.

To keep the grouse at artificially high numbers, and to even out these birds’ natural boom-and-bust population cycles, the moors have become in effect, unregulated farms. They are burnt and drained. Regenerating native trees such as willow, juniper, aspen, rowans, and pine are rooted out. Bogs and mires, wet miracles of carbon capture, are trashed by fire, ditches, vehicles, access roads, and trampling deer and sheep. In Yorkshire alone, over 4,300 kilometres of drainage channels have been dug across upland peat soil—a leading cause, incidentally, of flash flooding in the valleys below.

Thus our moor wetlands—green marvels of biodiversity—are transformed into deep crevasses of hagged peat, or, in other words, the gullies of black, drying, bare, un-vegetated peat which criss-cross these eroded, flayed lands. This dying terrain radiates extraordinary amounts of carbon dioxide. Scotland’s grouse moors—the pleasure ground for a few thousand men—emit about 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. That is nearly double the amount emitted by all the homes in Scotland.

Across Britain, almost 25 times as much carbon is locked up in peat as in trees and forests. And the real figure of how much carbon the grouse moors emit is probably above 10 million tonnes. No one knows for certain. But the calculations exclude carbon emitted by the moor fires themselves; carbon lost as eroding soils dissolve in run-off waters; and methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, which is also emitted as the moors dry and die.

No economic calculation can justify negative externalities on this scale. Yes, Britain’s business-as-usual shooting bring in some money to the countryside. So do beaver fanciers and sea eagle watchers, and, for that matter, ramblers. And I wholeheartedly support well-regulated country sports, on the Nordic and German model—walk-up grouse over dogs, say, and wild red deer stalks, on hills where deer numbers are below the land’s carrying capacity. Today’s madly high deer numbers represents a post-War industrial-style intensification of the Highlands, hammering erstwhile high-altitude savannas into monotone deer grass and bare trampled ground. This devastates not only flora, but also fauna. Did you know, for example, that red deer eat the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds? But it guarantees novices “a stag by tea time”. How are they to know that their proud trophy is a salt-lick pampered, at times hay-fed, and semi-tame beast, saved up especially for their uncertain squeezing of the trigger?

Grouse are caught in nets or lured to grit mounds, to be medicated against parasitic worms. The pharmaceuticals pass straight through the little birds; the effects of introducing powerful, long-lasting chemicals onto the moor are unknown. Nobody checks that gamekeepers remove these toxins, as required, 28 days before the birds are shot. “Tick mops,” or sheep drenched in insecticides, are also driven onto the moors. Casualties include other insects and, we now know, birds.

Fauna suffers along with flora. Britain’s mountain hare, our only native lepine and a key prey for eagles, is driven into guns by the thousand (26,000 per year, as a rough count). Why? Gamekeepers and estate owners anecdotally blame them for carrying the  ticks—though in fact, hare numbers do not correlate with grouse tick infection. On the grouse moors, birds of prey, as well as mammals such as stoats, weasels and foxes, are shot, snared, and poisoned. The snares also inadvertently kill otters, capercaillie, badgers, roe deer, wildcats, curlew, lapwing, snipe and golden plover.

Without persecution, about 500 pairs of hen harriers would live on the moors. Essentially none now nest there. And heaven help those birds who fly over them. Thanks to new technology—small satellite tags attached to rare birds—we know how many golden eagles go down over grouse moors, as do nearly half of all tagged hen harriers. These are not elderly birds who chose to die among their beloved prey. Young, healthy birds simply disappear. Their transmitters stop working without warning, and no bodies can be found. In short: a smoking gun.

Cuckmere Estuary

There has been a lot of disquiet in recent weeks about flooding in the Cuckmere valley and also the build-up of shingle within the river mouth.  See my previous post concerning the sad demise of the Cuckmere meanders area.

On Wednesday, November 5th I did go and view the river mouth and it looks quite different to how it used to be, that is, discharging directly straight out into Cuckmere Haven.  Now, it turns abruptly east and flows along for about a third of the length of the east beach as seen below.  It actually appears far more natural!

This has arisen due to a decision by the Environment Agency not to carry out further work on river maintenance south of the A259 unless there was a real threat to homes and businesses, so no maintenance of floodbanks, groynes or shingle dredging. It was understood that the EA did intend to maintain some existing structures after the above decision but what happened to ‘contingent evaluation’ – the value of a rural, landscape experience to visitors, high in my opinion for the meanders at the Seven Sisters Country Park.

This decision takes account of their limited budget due to government budget cuts and the inevitability of losing the fight against sea level change from global climatic processes. There is not the money to protect a relatively small amout of grazing land when many communities across the country are under real threat.  The river estuary if left to the forces of nature will change as pictured below, this being taken two years ago.

Within the last two days, an excavator has appeared on site presumably to clear out the original man-made channel and reduce the overall height of the river back up through the valley, this presumably being paid for by the local water catchment board?

Flooding to the north of the A259 (picture above) though not unconnected with the above is largely due to when the east riverbank was rebuilt during the 1960’s and the then East Sussex River Board coming under pressure from the local farmers to install the new sluices at a very low level.  (I was informed of this fact recently by a retired former senior ESRB drainage engineer). It means that the river-side flaps of the 4? sluices are unable to open because they’ve become buried by silt due to their low positioning.

Cuckmere Meanders Flooding.

Below is the letter I sent off to the media and local MP’s this morning after making a visit yesterday.  A sad state of affairs…

ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE at CUCKMERE, EAST SUSSEX.

© Jon Rigby/Eastbourne Herald.

People from across the country and abroad, travel to Exceat near Seaford to view the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and the majestic, winding meanders of the Cuckmere River set within a green baize, one of the best examples of a meandering river on the planet…

Well regarding the second point, not at the moment!  Nine days ago the BBC’s South East Today ran an article concerning the flooding within the Cuckmere valley and the fact that the world famous meanders were no where to be seen, they literally submerged beneath ‘flood water from the recent heavy rains.’

On Wednesday, October 30th I visited the area, the meanders are barely discernible, they still being largely masked by flood water.  I will digress here for a moment if I may.  I worked on the Country Park through which the meanders wind, for twenty years including two short period of managing it.  We would in those days monitor and finely adjust the height of the water level in the meanders.  Over the following ten years I also had an input into managing the Country Park.    The meanders have not been as high or surrounding meadows so completely flooded like they are at present, in living memory.  So I do understand in minute detail how the drainage system there works.

Back to my visit…  Upon inspection during the afternoon, there was a spring tide within the tidal river so its level was understandably high.  On the landward side of the floodbank however, water was alarmingly racing through the metre diameter sluice from the tidal river and welling-up in the meanders as a large pool of angry, swirling water.  Yes, the sluice instead of draining the meanders, was actually allowing seawater into the meanders!  Somebody has at some point, tampered with the sluice by ‘obstructing’ one of the large cast-iron sluice flaps and very likely though not visible, also having ‘adjusted’ the sill of the sluice that controls the height of the meanders.  A canoeist, vandals?  Debris in unlikely.  Where the water level had dropped away from its maximum height two weeks ago, the grass was brown and possibly has been killed.  Tourists are going to be somewhat disappointed when coming to view the meanders, they winding through a large tract of brown dead grass!

Later in the afternoon I managed to speak with a local Environment Agency official who said that though they are not responsible in managing the meanders, they were aware of the problem and were monitoring the situation and when it becomes possible to gain access when the river levels drop, they will rectify the situation.  They no longer carry out work on the river towards the sea because they only have sufficient funds to carry out essential works where flooding of the built environment may occur.

The meanders and the surrounding land are part of an extensive Site of Special  Scientific Interest (SSSI) designated by another government agency, Natural England.  Damaging such areas is a criminal offence; however English Nature does not now have the staff or expertise nowadays to monitor and safeguard SSSI areas or enforce their protection, they now possessing too few staff.  Flooding of the area containing the meanders with largely seawater has probably caused untold damage to the surrounding specie-rich grasslands, polluted and destroyed the rich biodiversity of neighbouring ponds and ditches – these also now unfit for watering of livestock.  The meanders are now more salty than they would normally be, so affecting the life within them.  The grazier of the Country Park will have temporarily lost a significant amount of his grazing pasture.

Funding cuts by successive Conservative governments have emasculated the above two important statutory agencies, one supposedly protecting us from pollution and rising sea levels, the other supposedly acting as guardian against damaging land management, short-sighted development of our diverse countryside and is now banned from criticising government policy.  So the moral of this sad microcosm of a tale with the approach of a General Election is, if you value our public services, value your countryside and its wildlife, then whatever you do, oppose the Conservative Party!  Regarding Brexit, if enacted, we are likely to be saddled with lower environmental regulations than in Europe.

Monty Larkin      (www.montylarkin.co.uk)

cc to the following:

BBC South East                  south.today@bbc.co.uk

Eastbourne Herald           laura.sonier@jpimedia.co.uk

The Argus                        editor@theargus.co.uk

The Guardian                  alan.evans@theguardian.com   and                                             natalie.hanman@theguardian.com

Sussex Express           sussex.express@jpress.co.uk

Eastbourne and Lewes respective MP’s.                                stephen.lloyd.mp@parliament.uk    maria.caulfield.mp@parliament.uk

 

American Government Mis-Treatment of US Icon

This week, contractors for the US government’s Bureau of Lands Management (BLM) ran wild mustangs from distances as far as 3-5 miles in temperatures that crept into the 90’s Fahrenheit. Helicopters targeted smaller groups and relentlessly chased them. A small foal stopped running, it suffering from exhaustion and had to be roped and walked in. 94 horses were finally captured with 2 animals dying.

TRIPLE B ROUNDUP DAY 2 REPORT: 75 wild horses were rounded up and removed yesterday and there was 1 death – a foal was euthanized because of “extremely weak tendons”.

We also received clarifications on the 3 deaths from Wednesday. The BLM originally attributed the deaths to “Pre-existing condition, starvation, emaciation and weakness.” By the next day, the BLM changed its explanation of the deaths. Now the pre-existing conditions that prompted the BLM to “euthanize” the horses are attributed to a lost eye, broken leg, laceration.  Read our report here: https://wildhor.se/TripleB2019

The following Facebook link gives a more graphic, disturbing insight into the treatment of these poor free-ranging ponies and burros (donkeys):  632
This process is all part of a massive government policy to prevent supposedly ‘over-grazing’ of open ranges, or to be more truthful, to allow cattle ranches to have the grazing on very cheap terms!  The Washington Post recently reported that former BLM employees reported that agency managers have been instructing employees to stop enforcing ranchers livestock grazing restrictions.

These actions are an utterly disgusting and inhumane treatment that is happening across wide areas of the US range-land and which is destroying one of the great cultural icons of a great country, for thousands of these wild beasts are now being held in holding yards at a substantial cost with a substantial going for slaughter and unseen, unknown to most of the public.

 

 

Beautiful June 1st!

Saturday June 1st and what a stunning start to the month – perhaps it will turn out to be a proverbial ‘flaming June?’  During the morning we walked up over Seaford Head.  The first image shows the difference where Sussex Wildlife Trust have winter-cut the invasive tor grass and where not; note the cut, flower-rich lower RH side of image against the rank LH side of the image.

On the bare chalk area on the Hawks Brow area, noticed at least 6 vertical seems of flint within the chalk, flint normally having been deposited horizontally within the bedding of the chalk.  Note one of these peculiar features running from right of centre at bottom of image towards right of person, the adjacent chalk being more eroded towards the cliff edge and so highlighting it better.
Attended the Southease Open Gardens event.  Some idyllic houses and beautiful gardens, all set-off in a quintessentially English fete-like atmosphere, accompanied by the brilliant The Maestro Big Band from Newhaven playing 40’s swing music.

Salt Marshes – Our Unsung Landscapes

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/feb/19/plantwatch-salt-marshes-are-the-unsung-heroes-saving-our-coastlines

Salt marshes are the unsung heroes saving our coastlines

Paul Simons, The Guardian, Tue 19 Feb 2019.

Salt marsh in Norfolk.

Salt marshes are not glamorous – muddy flats on coasts and estuaries, washed with seawater on the tides, where only specially adapted plants can survive in such a tough salty environment.  Although frequently ignored, salt marshes are unsung heroes. They help protect coastlines from storms, storm surges and erosion by creating a buffer between dry land and the sea, building up the height of the coast by trapping silt during floods and adding new soil from their decaying vegetation.

Less well known is that salt marshes lock away vast amounts of carbon by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through their plant leaves and storing it in the roots. And, when the plants die, the carbon becomes part of the soil. Salt marshes also provide a refuge for birds, fish and invertebrates; they provide clean water by filtering runoff, and they are low maintenance because they naturally self-repair.

But, in many places, salt marshes have been destroyed by drainage for land reclamation, coastal developments, sea walls, pollution and erosion. Globally, about 50% of salt marshes have been degraded and the rest remain under threat.

Schemes to restore salt marshes have proved successful, though, such as the Wallasea Island project in Essex, the largest scheme of its kind in Europe. Land that had been reclaimed for agriculture long ago has been turned back into wetland.

Steam Powered!

Just spent a wet and breezy few minutes down at St.Leonards Warrior Square station to watch the steam loco ‘Union Of South Africa’ be hauled through on its excursion out from London Victoria to Hastings.  Ten minutes later it returned except that this time, it was pulling and was under load, as it built-up speed after departing from Hastings.  The sound as it came up through the long tunnel from Hastings was truly exhilarating!

The second image shows the big diesel now at the rear, this time being hauled – it only on tick-over.  There was a whole class of primary school children brought down to the station, plus those in the know and fortunate passers-by.