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.

Birdwatching Update – for Me!

During this month of May, I have twice visited the RSPB’s reserve at Dungeness to bird watch – something I haven’t done per se for many years – my former work and time always requiring me to look at the ‘bigger scene.’ Presumably due to our changing climate, these two outings were something of an update for me personally. Firstly, I saw a pair of Great Egret fly across a marsh, these, I have never seen in this country.

Great Egret

Secondly, while sitting in the sunshine having a sandwich there this week, I twice counted 7 Hobbys in view at the same time, they sweeping the skies capturing insects on a brisk easterly wind.

Hobby with prey

Just before I was about to get out of bed this morning, another new birding experience – that of laying in bed and watching swifts hawking high above the big oak immediately at the end of the garden – lazy twitching!

 

 

 

 

Rewilding Making Strides Across Europe

Balkan chamois

Take a look at the following link concerning the Rewilding Europe organisation which was set up in 2011 to encourage rewilding in suitable areas across Europe, with much of the funding coming from the EU’s LIFE project.  Items in the attached link include: Rewilding of peatlands in Finland, making community forests in Portugal more wildlife friendly, the RSPB’s Wallasea Island project in Essex, the bio-diverse Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria (I have been there – fantastic!) and habitat restoration in the Oder Estuary in Germany.

https://rewildingeurope.com/category/news/

 

Crows and Hot Weather

I have been watching with interest across the past few weeks of this heatwave, the behaviour of the carrion crow population in a part of Seaford that I frequent.

The local crow population near the seafront area (who appear to be rather benign, urban relations of the rural hunting type that I’m more familiar with) and seem very social together.  They number up to some 15 birds and here is the point of interest, spend much of the hotter part of the day on neighbouring roofs and ridges in an attempt to stay cooler in the slight breeze that these higher vantage points presumably provide.

A Good Source of Latest Conservation News; 05/07/2018

There are lots of really good, relevant news stories and up to date research to be found on the RSPB’s Martin Harper’s Blog.  Here are some of the latest articles from this source which is to be found at:    https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/default.aspx

Recent fires on the Pennines. https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/archive/2018/06/29/wildfire-at-dove-stone.aspx

Severn estuary tidal barrage review.  https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/archive/2018/07/04/severn-tidal-power-can-we-learn-the-lessons-this-time.aspx

Nature-friendly farming.  https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/archive/2018/06/29/good-news-for-a-friday-growing-solidarity-and-ambition-for-nature-friendly-farming.aspx

Controlling predators of wild birds.  https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/archive/2018/06/28/the-conservationist-39-s-dilemma-an-update-on-the-science-policy-and-practice-of-the-impact-of-predators-on-wild-birds-5.aspx

Licencing the shooting of ravens?https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/archive/2018/06/18/a-response-to-news-that-licenses-have-been-granted-to-shoot-ravens-in-england.aspx

Swifts – house building, reporting nesting sites, wintering grounds. https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/archive/2018/06/17/swift-awareness-week.aspx

Staying In An Countryside Idyll.

Well, here we are in the far west of Wales in the Gwaun valley nestling below the Preseli Hills Mountains; the weather is wall to wall sunshine, not too hot at the moment but that might change…

On the drive down on Friday, 22nd taking the scenic route to the north of the Brecon Beacons, we saw many dying ash trees – ash dieback I wonder?  Upon arrival at our little cottage, greeted by swallows, house martins and swifts!  Indeed, upon driving around, there are quite a number of swifts over countryside and the local towns -so this is where all our swifts are?

Geologists list it as one of most important meltwater channels in Britain from the last Ice Age.  The valley is pure rural idyll, thick with beech and hazel, ash and oak.  Sightings of pied flycatcher, wood warbler, redstarts, marsh tit, nut hatch and tree creeper are recorded.  We watch from the cottage, buzzards, kite and (our) four young swallows on the overhead cable opposite.

Up on the mountains, bog aspodel, sundew, cotton grass, heathers, western gorse(?) and a small pink flower I shall have to look up upon my return oh and ponies!  Farming appears to be fairly benign , it mostly on the intermediate middle ground just above the valley.  The road verges are quite floristically rich – the foxgloves are spectacular at the moment!

October Sightings

Saturday, Oct 7th.  During a grey, damp morning, I saw two groups of brent geese numbering perhaps 150 birds passing Hastings, battling head-on into the the strong westerly wind and presumably on passage from perhaps Siberia to spend the winter at somewhere like Langstone Harbour further along the coast.

Sunday, Oct 15th.  We went walking up on to Seaford Head and in the vicinity of ‘Puck’ Church’ were rewarded for in excess of 10 minutes by a peregrine jousting with a raven above the cliffs.  A sheer speed that the peregrine came in at for some of its attacks!

Monday, Oct 16th.  Very mild today!  Late afternoon today, daylight became quite weak and semi-darkness descended to be followed at dusk by a strange light – a kind of dirty orange light in the SW sky.  All due to the passing of tropical Storm Ophelia (producing near hurricane force winds) over Ireland, it also carrying north much dust from the Sahara and smoke particles from wild fires in northern Portugal.

Saturday, Oct 21st.  A gale (Storm Briane) and a spring tide produced some huge waves along the beach at Seaford, with the strandline out in the road in places.  Newhaven breakwater also took a pounding as can be seen in the following Facebook pic by Fergus Kennedy.

Tuesday, Oct 31.  Two large (each some 1,200 gross tons) Dutch-based(?) but British flagged trawlers, have been working some 10 miles off the coast from Hastings all day.  Not what the Hastings beach-based fleet wants to see?

September Sightings

Saturday, Sept 9.  I took a railway excursion, ending up back on the coast at Folkestone. Rail travel I believe, is a fine way of seeing cross-sections of our landscape. On the outward journey north, I saw what were presumably, two hot-spots of ash die-back disease – one just north of Battle and a very noticeable area at and around Wadhurst station.  Added to this from time to time were instances of alder alongside watercourses, dead from Phytophthora.  Upon reaching Tonbridge station, I was greeted on Platform 3 by a large black and white cat sprawled across the platform grooming itself and not caring a jot about the comings and goings of people and trains.  By its persona, I can only assume it owns the station and answers to the name Sapphie!

See  http://www.kentonline.co.uk/tonbridge/news/station-cat-stars-in-railway-38942/

Folkestone harbour, has changed a lot from when I visited it once about 20 years ago.  A lot of money is being spent on transforming the redundant harbour into a public space with restaurants and bars and a pleasant walk along the long breakwater.  100 years on from WW1, I couldn’t help but think from time to time about the many troops that must have passed by the same scenes that I was seeing today.  The little shops and cafes down The Old High Street were enjoyable too.  A nice spot for a few hours ramble.  Continuing the theme of trees, I saw the two healthiest horse chestnuts for years, perhaps rather out on a limb and with the prevailing wind having a long fetch over the sea, they are protected from attack.

                                                                                                                                            I noticed that on the south-facing slopes of the North Downs overlooking the town that much of the chalk grassland was being engulfed by scrub.  What a pity…

Sunday, Sept 18.  Walked to Bishopstone Tidemills where there is much evidence of the archaeological digging being carried out unearthing the remains of the now ‘lost’ village.  I found the evidence of William Catt’s huge greenhouse intriguing with what I assume are heating pipes?

Monday, Sept 19.  Beautiful sunny day again.  Sat on the near deserted beach and watched lagoons formed by a low shingle ridge, flood on the high tide, these being patrolled by turnstones looking for food – especially washed-up mussels.  There have been numbers of large white and Vanessa butterflies along the beach of late, blown by the NE breeze or, are they possibly looking to migrate south??