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.

Future of the Exmoor Pony Grazing Scheme

Ponies being released at Hastings Country Park.

Popular Exmoor ponies to be removed from Hastings Country Park by                    Andy Helmsley, ‘The Hastings Observer,’  Monday 05 August 2019.

The well-loved sight of Exmoor ponies at Hastings Country Park is coming to an end with the ponies being removed.  The Sussex Pony Grazing Conservation Trust who manages the ponies has told the council their organisation now has an uncertain future and they will no longer be able to manage the ponies.  As a result they are moving them to a different location.  The ponies have been grazing the slopes and glens of Hastings Country Park for the last six years.  Their conservation grazing habits have transformed Warren Glen from a bracken dominated habitat to one where native coastal grassland and heather now dominates.

Cllr Colin Fitzgerald said: “We are really sorry the Trust is taking to ponies away. They have been a great attraction for the public and they have done a fantastic job of recovering threatened and rare coastal habitats.  As a conservation tool, they have been invaluable in helping the council retain their green flag awards and receive a special award for conservation grazing from the Keep Britain Tidy Group.  However, we wish them well in their new home.  We will be contacting other organisations to see if we can bring another set of ponies to the reserve “

Exmoor ponies are particularly suited to the rugged terrain of Hastings Country Park and they have become a familiar and well-loved site at the Country Park.  Together with the Belted Galloway cattle they form the conservation grazing backbone for managing the rugged and inaccessible areas of Hastings Country Park.”

The background to this story is that once I had retired in 2017, the Trust’s small, voluntary, long-serving but wherried committee had served for far longer than they had expected to and were in a sense, burnt-out.  On the ground, there simply wasn’t the continuing level of commitment or mental drive that I had as founder, this not being helped by a general failing to continue to engender in the Lookers (volunteers) a feeling of involvement and not using their co-operation with sharing some of the practical elements of the fencing and gathering-in work that was required.  Additional practical concerns were, a small vociferous section of the dog-walking fraternity on Eastbourne’s coastal downland objecting to the essential temporary electric fencing.  Another factor has been the increasing storminess of our weather due to climate change, increasing the struggle to maintain this fencing in a stock-proof condition during stormy weather thus ensuring that the ponies didn’t break-out and put themselves and possibly motorists, at risk.

The current position of play at present is that the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust will announce its formal winding-up by the coming autumn and nearly all the remaining 65 ponies being split three ways – 22 having already been purchased by farmer Duncan Ellis for use on the chalk downland of the Folkington Estate which they tenant and along the Firle Escarpment SSSI Continue reading

Pollution Warning over Car Tyre and Brake Dust

Traffic jamImage copyright  GETTY IMAGES

Dust from car brakes and tyres will still pollute city air even when the vehicle fleet has gone all-electric, a report has warned.  Fragments of microplastics from tyres, road surfaces and brakes will also flow into rivers, and ultimately into the sea, government advisers say.  Ministers say they want to pass standards to improve tyres and brakes.

But critics say they need to go further by developing policies to lure people out of private cars.  The government’s Air Quality Expert Group said particles from brake wear, tyre wear and road surface wear directly contribute to well over half of particle pollution from road transport.

They warn: “No legislation is currently in place specifically to limit or reduce [these] particles.  So while legislation has driven down emissions of particles from exhausts, the non-exhaust proportion of road traffic emissions has increased.”

They say the percentage of pollutants will get proportionally higher as vehicle exhausts are cleaned up more.

Exhaust gasesImage copyright  GETTY IMAGES

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said : “The documents published today make clear that it is not just fumes from car exhaust pipes that have a detrimental impact on human health but also the tiny particles that are released from their brakes and tyres.  Emissions from car exhausts have been decreasing through development of cleaner technologies – and there is now a need for the car industry to find innovative ways to address the challenges of air pollution from other sources”.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “The industry is committed to improving air quality and has already all but eliminated particulate matter from tailpipe emissions.  Brake, tyre and road wear is a recognised challenge as emissions from these sources are not easy to measure.”

Transport options

The document chimes with a recent report warning that electric cars won’t offer a complete solution to mobility.  It said even self-driving electric cars would produce pollution and congest the roads.  The key was to reduce the use of cars by getting people on to less-polluting forms of transport, said Prof Jillian Anable, one of the authors of the report.

She said: “For many years ministers have adopted the principle of trying to meet demand by increasing road space. They need to reduce demand instead.”

The UK transport department said it was spending £6bn on buses, walking and cycling – and £50bn on roads.

Supporters of electric cars say the report may be flawed because when you lift your throttle foot in an electric vehicle, the car slows itself and there is less need to brake.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Are We Prepared to Make Changes?

Abridged article based on article by Gaby Hinsliff, columnist,  The Guardian, April 19 2019.

At this critical time…    Stores know (that many of) their young customers are eco-conscious, impressively fluent in the evils of plastic and diesel, where as past generations were oblivious. But they’re also human, still occasionally craving the disposable fashion they’ve always had. They want what most people secretly want, which is to enjoy the pleasures of a pre-climate-conscious age – foreign travel, strawberries out of season – but in ways sustainable enough to let us feel good about it…

To watch passing shoppers and tourists stop and film (climate protesters) on their camera phones is, however, to wonder how prepared we really are for the life of minimal consumption inherent in treating climate change as an emergency. The protesters have public sympathy for their broad aim in the bag. But that’s a very long way from securing public consent to the specifics…

In practice, that (would) indicate the kind of collective effort rarely seen outside wartime. It means goodbye to petrol cars, gas boilers and cookers – fine for those who can afford to replace whatever they’ve got now, impossible for the poor without significant subsidy and, hello to restrictions on flying. It implies eating significantly less meat and dairy, and no longer treating economic growth as the first priority, with all the possible consequences that entails for pay, tax revenues and public services. We might hope to create jobs in green industries but shed them in carbon-based ones but with no guarantee of the new, clean technologies basing themselves in those towns hardest hit by the loss of the old, polluting industries.

All of that might be necessary to stop global warming in the long run, but the difference is that doing it in six years, not 30, means it would have to happen at breakneck speed, with painfully little time for communities to adjust. Those who are prepared to accept sacrifices for themselves need to be honest about what they’re wishing on others, which is why alarm bells ring when Extinction Rebellion’s Gail Bradbrook says that “this is not the time to be realistic”. We’ve seen in the three years since the Brexit referendum what can happen when campaigners win an argument by refusing to be realistic about what their dream means for other people.

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.

Agroecology – the Future of Food Production?

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/20/european-farms-could-grow-green-and-still-be-able-to-feed-population

European farms could grow green and still be able to feed population.

Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian, Wed 20 Feb 2019.

Europe would still be able to feed its growing population even if it switched entirely to environmentally friendly approaches such as organic farming, according to a new report from a think-tank.

A week after research revealed a steep decline in global insect populations that has been linked to the use of pesticides, the study from European thinktank IDDRI claims such chemicals can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions radically reduced in Europe through agroecological farming, while still producing enough nutritious food for an increasing population.

Agroecology takes into account natural ecosystems and uses local knowledge to plant crops that increase the sustainability of the farming system as a whole. The IDDRI study, entitled Ten Years for Agroecology, used modelling to examine the reduction in yields that would result from a transition to such an approach.

Reductions, the authors argue, could be mitigated by eliminating food-feed competition – reorienting diets towards plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, and away from grain-fed white meat. More than half the EU’s cereals and oilseed crops are fed to animals. The study models a future in which European meat production has been cut by 40%, with the greatest reductions in grain-fed pork and poultry.

“Pesticide-hungry intensive production is not the only way to feed a growing population” said Rob Percival, the head of food policy at the Soil Association. “The Ten Years for Agroecology study shows that agroecological and organic farming can feed Europe a healthy diet, while responding to climate change, phasing out pesticides, and maintaining vital biodiversity.”

The study suggests that agroecology – using ecological principles first and chemicals last in agriculture – presents a credible way of feeding Europe by 2050. But it says action is needed now, with the next 10 years critical in engaging Europe in the transition. The agriculture bill now going through parliament in the UK makes no mention of agroecology, although an amendment drafted by a cross-party group of MPs proposed that farmers using the approach should receive some sort of payment.

Could flexitarianism save the planet?

“The idea of an entirely agroecological Europe is often considered unrealistic in terms of food security because agroecology sometimes means lower yields,” said Percival. “But this new research shows that by refocusing diets around plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, a fully agroecological Europe is possible.”

The study is being published in parallel with the UK launch of the Eat-Lancet “planetary health diet”, which proposes a shift towards a more plant-based diet. The agroecology study addresses similar concerns, but places greater emphasis on farmland biodiversity.

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/