Not just any red grouse…

MSAn article in the Daily Mail today reveals that Marks & Spencer has become the first high street retailer to sell whole red grouse (see here).

Initially, only two London stores will sell it, as a bit of a trial run –  Kensington High Street and Marble Arch – with the possibility of extending to other stores if sales are favourable.

Interestingly, the grouse are being sourced from grouse moors in Yorkshire and Northumberland. Why is this interesting? Well, M&S claims to have a strong policy on food sourcing, including a ‘named farmer’ scheme and a farm assurance scheme ‘which guarantees high quality food production’ (see here) and high specifications for animal welfare (see here). Now, North Yorkshire (full of grouse moors) just happens to be one of the worst raptor persecution hotspots in the whole of the UK (see here).

So, how will Marks and Spencer assure their customers that their red grouse have been responsibly sourced from grouse moors that are not poisoning, shooting and trapping protected species such as hen harriers, red kites, buzzards, peregrines, goshawks etc?

The Executive Director of food at M&S is Steve Rowe. Let’s ask him from where, exactly, are the red grouse sourced (name of grouse moor) and how, exactly, can he assure customers that the moors are not involved in wildlife crime? Here is his email address:

44 thoughts on “Not just any red grouse…”

  1. Shot for £150-£200. Sold in M&S for £10. What more proof is needed that the sales are part of the shooting industry’s ‘Game is Food’ campaign? The grouse are cynically sold on as a by- product at less than £10 to justify game bird shooting.

  2. Email sent to M&S:
    I have seen an article in the Daily Mail today:

    The article states that you are sourcing these Red Grouse from Northumberland and North Yorkshire, two of the worst areas for raptor persecution. Please can you let me know where, exactly, in these areas that you are sourcing these Red Grouse?
    Best wishes, Sophie

  3. I have sent Mr Rowe the following email and await his response.

    Dear Mr Rowe,

    I am astonished that M&S, a company that claims to employ a responsible sourcing policy for its food, is stocking red grouse in two of its stores. Perhaps you are unaware of the criminality associated with the red grouse shooting industry in the area (North Yorkshire) you are sourcing the birds from ( and

    Perhaps also you are unaware of the fact that this industry is directly responsible for the imminent extinction of England’s last hen harriers, as reported in the press recently ( and indeed as identified by a recent government study (

    Lastly, perhaps you are ignorant of the multiple reasons why even legally conducted red grouse shooting is damaging to the environment:

    1) Large numbers of native birds (e.g. corvids) and mammals (e.g. stoats) are trapped on grouse moors to sustain populations of red grouse large enough to support shooting in large numbers. Meanwhile other rare native species are caught as accidental by-catch including red squirrels, ring ouzels, dippers, sandpipers and others (see pictures at
    2) To support the large, unnatural and often unhealthy ( populations of red grouse that M&S has bought into, British upland moorland is routinely burnt to stimulate new heather growth for the grouse to eat. However this burning regime dries out the moorland peat, allowing in oxygen and stimulating the breakdown of peat, thereby releasing millions of tonnes of carbon that were previously safely locked away. Subsequent erosion also increases flood risks downstream of the moors which lose their spongy absorbing capacity (
    3) Grouse shooters continue to use lead shot despite the Food Standards Agency finding that this toxic metal makes regular consumption of game shot with lead pellets HARMFUL TO HEALTH and IQ ( Furthermore lead has recently been identified as a likely driver of violent behaviour (

    I hope you will agree that the red grouse industry is one that no responsible food retailer can be associated with and look forward to you removing red grouse from your shelves.

    Regards, Dr Hugh Webster

  4. Oh dear, Mr Rowe on holiday until the 27th August. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out he’s been shooting grouse!

  5. Excellent idea for a campaign…..publicise this as widely as possible everyone…now wait for the pathetic predictable response from shooting , how these [predator challenged] moors are great for biodiversity…and the grouse are healthy wild game [except for the wee hard lumpy bits – just spit them out!].

  6. I,ve worked on the advert for them with the help of Leadhills gamebook
    112 Stoats
    78 Weasels
    73 Hoodies
    36 Hawks
    79 Foxes
    8 Cats
    4 Mink

    only persecuting some of the countries finest wildlife helps M&S make a quick profit, this isnt just Red Grouse, this is, well you get the point

  7. Can only agree and admire Hugh Websters email, looking forward to the reply. Some estates can make approx. £150 for a brace of grouse so Marks & Sparks must be selling at a loss.

    1. That would hardly be great economics for a big retailer would it I think you will find its the sport that costs approximately £150 a brace the actual game is sold off the moor for around £4.50 a brace.

  8. My email has been sent. However I refrained from describing M and S as “vendors of bush meat” much to my regret.

  9. Steve Rowe is indeed on leave. My email has been responded to as follows however :-

    Thank you for emailing Steve Rowe to share your concerns about the introduction of grouse into some of our stores. As a member of his personal team, I’m replying on his behalf.

    We have the highest standards of animal welfare and only source from suppliers we know and trust. Our game range is sourced from well-managed estates across the UK stretching from Nottinghamshire to the Scottish borders, with the majority of product coming from Yorkshire and Northumberland.

    Game is one of the most animal welfare friendly meats you can eat as it is totally free range – the birds live totally in the wild and in their natural habitats. It is also a very sustainable option and good estate management and conservation intended for game shooting actually stops deforestation, and encourages the protection of the countryside.

    There are no breeding pairs of hen harriers on the grouse moors we take from and there are severe penalties for anyone that interferes with Hen Harriers – this is actively enforced not just for Hen Harriers but all species of raptors.

    I appreciate you taking the time to get in touch with us to raise your concerns about the sale of grouse in our stores. I hope my email has helped to reassure you of how seriously we take our commitments to the environment and ethical sourcing.

    Kind regards

    Mike Rogers

    Executive Office

    Your M&S Customer Service

  10. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for posting this reponse from M&S. It seems to be a generic one they’re sending out – we’ve seen several like this.

    Hopefully you’ll be writing back to Mike Rogers (as we will be) to explain the flaws in his assertions about how willdife-friendly grouse moors are (not) and to tell him that, in line with M&S food sourcing policy, you expect to to be given the name of the estates from where M&S is sourcing red grouse.

  11. With reference to the above reply (I haven’t had one) :
    1 Free range- not been wormed then?
    2 Can’t get my head round “……..actually stops deforestation.” Am I missing something here? (seriously)

  12. Replies are obviously being sent out from M and S by different people. I have recieved an identical message from them as Rob has above except for the following paragraph which in not included in my e-mail from them quote….’There are no breeding pairs of hen harriers on the grouse moors we take from and there are severe penalties for anyone that interferes with Hen Harriers – this is actively enforced not just for Hen Harriers but all species of raptors’….unquote. Also my e-mail is signed by a Stephen Duxbury and not Mike Rogers as Robs is.

  13. And a further response showing the ignorance M&S have on the issues raised and against the specific questions I have asked regarding specific estates and methods of ensuring moorland managed fully within the laws showing tolerance of Hen harrier (yeah right)

    Thank you for your email. I hope you don’t mind me responding on Mike’s behalf.

    I’d like to reiterate that we are working with only the most sustainable and well-managed estates, and do not work with any suppliers that interfere with Hen Harriers. We take issues regarding animal welfare very seriously, as evidenced in our Plan A programme. You can read more about our Plan A at

    I’m afraid I am unable to give you specific details of our suppliers, as this is commercially sensitive information.

    We are unable to comment further on this matter at this time, but I hope you will not interpret this for a lack of interest from M&S. We are closely monitoring this matter and will continue to review the situation. This will enable us to guarantee our suppliers are meeting our exacting ethical standards.

    Thank you again for your email.

    Kind regards
    Stephen Duxbury
    Executive Office

  14. Ahhhh….So Rob now has a response from M and S and this time signed by Stephen Duxbury. Trouble is that neither Mr Rogers or Mr Duxbury – both of the Executive Office – have addressed the issues which need addressing. We must hope that the inbox at M and S gets gridlocked with messages about this very important matter.

  15. What could be more free range than wild grouse a tasty alternative to chicken! Well done M&S raising the profile of British game take no notice of the anti brigade who love to stir it up with their nonsense.

    1. And who’ll be paying the repair bill for your broken false teeth after you’ve chewed on a few tasty LEAD pellets embedded in the flesh of these hand shot birds? As for free range, hardly, they are forced to live in a monocultural environment hand made especially for them by grouse moor estate workers, the biodiversity of these sterile environments has been all but wiped out in the selfish pursuit of a single species, Red Grouse.

      If M&S have as they say high specifications for animal welfare, then they should look again at sourcing Red Grouse from either English or Scottish grouse moors where the welfare of birds of prey is at the bottom the priority list. In fact the dire fate of the majority of Raptors on these estates is already well known if M&S care to ask the right people.

    2. Grouse are a completely unnatural product. They are intensely medicated on the moor even by catching them at night using transfixing light, then forcing drugs down their necks foie grasse style. They are usually reinfected with the Strongyle worm within 48 hours of medication. Grouse reach unnatural unsustainable numbers by habitat alteration, medication and ruthless predator control. Free range? Well OK but not quite as free range as the shooting industry would like the public to believe.

      Animal Aid will be releasing a major revealing report about the excesses of grouse shooting in September 2013.

    3. If Grouse Moors were not such hot beds of illegal raptor persecution then most reasonable people wouldn’t have a problem with M&S selling this product

  16. I guess Mr O’Neill that removal of a protected predator species for the single benefit of profiting from Red Grouse shooting is in your eyes just nonsense? By the way, annual subscriptionsto the flat-earth society may be over-due.

    1. Yes Mr O’Neil. ltotally free range, marinated with
      some nice lead shot and lovely worming drugs. Mmmmmm worming drugs………

  17. Some people on here need a major reality check. You are trying to deny grouse are free range due to the habitat management, they are produced by keepers managing them and medicated grit is used. Lets compare this to FREE RANGE eggs. Do you not think the hens live in a PURPOSELY DESIGNED SHED, are given MEDICATION through food and water and looked after by FARM STAFF. As for grouse moors being a monoculture well I’m sure lots of other things thrive in hen houses. It doesn’t stop the product being free range in the end of the day.

    1. Well done Grouseman….it looks like you can read the facts through your rose tinted specs. Now all you need to do is read what you wrote again and properly consider the impact. Progress?

      1. All I’m disputing is the image people are portraying on here that the grouse M+S are selling are a bad product being marketed under false pretences the fact is they are still free range wild game presented at a high standard to meet any food regulations.

    2. It seems Mr Grouseman, you have shot yourself in the foot once again by your own illogically chosen words of wisdom.

  18. Well Mr Grossman, you can rest assured that my free-range egg production comes with absolutely no medication or illegal control of predators – in fact no control of any predators. Moorland estates are being so arrogant in their blind denial of truth that they just paint themselves into ever decreasing corners. Shame.

  19. Grouseman, you forgot to mention, when talking about the managed grouse moors, of the tons of toxic led which is in the ground on these estates and will be for many decades to come. I still find it difficult to understand why Government continues to permit the deliberate contamination of the Scottish countryside every year in the name of recreation and for what? Just so somebody can take pleasure in blasting these led pellets into the bodies of an innocent live bird. Simply sickening.

  20. Lead is a toxic metal and WWT is aware of a large body of evidence of continuing serious health impacts on wildlife, potential health and behavioral impacts in humans and environmental contamination by lead gunshot. We are raising awareness of the availability of this information to facilitate evidence-based policy positioning and decision making.

    What are the risks from lead shot?

    Lead is toxic to all animals including humans. Even low levels of exposure affect animals and no threshold has been identified below which the effects of lead cannot be seen.

    The vast majority of shot fired from shotguns falls into the environment, and thus, in the case of lead, causes long term cumulative contamination. Wildfowl, and other birds, ingest lead shot that has been deposited in their feeding areas (such as wetlands and terrestrial habitats including agricultural land), probably mistakenly for grit or food.

    Lead poisoning from shot ingestion has been known to kill wildfowl for more than a century (e.g. Beintema 2001; Franson and Pain 2011; Pokras and Kneeland 2009). In Europe, it has been estimated that approximately a million wildfowl (from 17 species), i.e. 8.7% of the population, could die every winter from this cause (Mateo 2009).

    While some of the information on which this estimate was based is old and shot ingestion rates may now be higher or lower in some species, mortality is nonetheless very high. Not only does lead poisoning cause considerable avoidable wildfowl suffering and mortality, concern has also been expressed over the potential for lead poisoning to be contributing to the declines of certain species of common wildfowl, e.g. pochard and pintail – both of which are amber-listed ‘Birds of Conservation Concern’ (BoCC) in the UK (Eaton et al. 2009).
    Lead is known to be a serious threat to certain globally threatened European wildfowl, e.g. white-headed duck (Mateo 2009). In addition, lead poisoning causes sub-lethal effects in many more birds and represents a significant welfare problem.

    In recent times a body of evidence has accumulated detailing lead poisoning in terrestrial birds. These include upland game birds, which ingest spent lead shot while feeding in shot-over habitats, and raptors, that prey upon or scavenge game species and so ingest lead and fragments of lead from ammunition that has been shot in (Pain et al. 2009). Eight[1] of the non-wildfowl species documented to ingest lead or suffer lead poisoning from ammunition sources in the wild breed regularly in the UK, and are red-listed or amber-listed in BoCC (Eaton et al. 2009). Clearly, it is important to avoid or reduce mortality from all causes in these species.
    Negative human health impacts of lead are well established, and have resulted in policies to reduce exposure such as its removal from paint and petrol.

    The potential risks associated with consuming game shot with lead ammunition have received more attention recently following an international conference held by the Peregrine Fund in the USA in 2008 (Watson et al. 2009).

    As a small proportion of the lead from gunshot fragments into pieces invisible to the human eye when impacting game, consumers may inadvertently eat small lead shards/particles as well as lead solubilised within the meat during cooking. Research in the UK showed that a high proportion of game sold for human consumption had lead concentrations exceeding the European Union Maximum Levels (EUMLs – under Regulation 1881/2006 (EC 1881/2006)) of 100 ppb wet weight set for meat from bovine animals, sheep, pigs and poultry, some by several orders of magnitude (Pain et al. 2010).

    The European Food Safety Authority’s expert Panel on contaminants (CONTAM) published a scientific opinion on lead in food (EFSA CONTAM 2010). This report details the potential health risks that may be associated with a diet rich in game. Recent research from the UK evaluates the potential health risks associated with different levels of consumption of gamebirds shot with lead gunshot (Green and Pain 2012) and finds that the consumption of less than one meal (of gamebirds) a week in children may be associated with a decreased IQ.
    What has been the policy response to lead-poisoning mortality of wildfowl and has this been effective?
    As a Contracting Party to the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), the UK has a legal obligation to phase out the use of lead shot over wetlands (AEWA 1999, 2002, 2008) (the initial deadline for this was 2000).
    Consequently, restrictions on the use of lead were introduced in England in 1999 (HMSO 1999, 2002a, 2003), Wales in 2002 (HMSO 2002b), Scotland in 2004 (HMSO 2004) and Northern Ireland in 2009 (HMSO 2009). In England and Wales, the Regulations make it illegal to use lead shot for shooting wildfowl (and coot and moorhen) and over certain listed wetlands (SSSIs) and the foreshore.

    However, a recent Defra-funded study in England (Cromie et al. 2010), illustrated very poor compliance with the regulations, with 70% of sampled duck found to be illegally shot with lead, despite more than a decade of awareness raising. As part of this compliance monitoring study, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) conducted a questionnaire survey of its members in which 45% of respondents admitted to not always complying with the law (Cromie et al. 2010). Understanding of the spirit of the law was good but motivation to comply was low, partly due to lack of enforcement of the Regulations.

    Enforcement is difficult where only partial restrictions exist (i.e. restrictions only for certain species, habitats and/or sites). In addition, current UK legislation permits the use of lead ammunition to shoot most species in some areas commonly used as feeding sites by wildfowl (e.g. non wetland agricultural areas).

    Recent research conducted by WWT shows the proportion of birds recorded as dying of lead poisoning in Britain has not declined since the introduction of restrictive Regulations on lead gunshot and that levels of lead poisoning in wildfowl in Britain remain high; 42% of the whooper swans, 21% of pochard and 25% of pintail sampled in 2010/11 had elevated blood lead concentrations (Newth et al. 2012). A recent EU Member State survey (reported on in 2011) also suggested that enforcement is rendered difficult when bans concern only wetlands.

    Were means found to ensure compliance with existing regulations in the UK, many wildfowl would continue to be exposed to lead shot. This is because many species, including our migratory swans, spend much time feeding in agricultural areas that may have been shot-over legally using lead gunshot.

    Almost 30 years ago in the UK, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (Southwood, 1983) comprehensively reviewed lead in the environment and concluded that ‘urgent efforts should be made to develop alternatives to lead shot and lead fishing weights’ and that ‘As soon as these alternatives are available, the Government should legislate to ban any further use of lead shot and fishing weights in circumstances where they are irretrievably dispersed in the environment’.

    Non-toxic alternatives to lead shot have existed for many years and several European countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and parts of Belgium have introduced total bans on the use of lead gunshot. This appears to be a more practical solution than partial bans introduced in many countries based on the shooting of selected species (i.e. wildfowl) or in selected habitats (i.e. wetlands).

    We are also aware that German and Spanish Health Agencies have recently recommended that pregnant women, those wishing to become pregnant and young children should avoid eating the meat of game shot with lead ammunition and that its consumption should be limited in other groups (BfR 2011; AESAN 2012). In the UK the Food Standards Agency also produced health advice ( advising a reduction in intakeof lead-shot game by frequent consumers, especially in vulnerable groups such as toddlers and children, pregnant women and women trying for a baby, as exposure to lead can harm the developing brain and nervous system.

    What are the barriers to replacing lead with non-toxic shot?

    Some European countries use only non-toxic shot for all shooting (game sports shooting and target shooting); in Denmark this has been the case since 1996. However, in the UK debates over the use of non-toxic shot have been ongoing for many decades, and the issue remains controversial.

    From both government-funded research (Cromie et al. 2010) and review of the shooting press and social media it is clear that there is a misconception that lead poisoning of wildlife is not a problem. This is often due to shooters not personally observing lead poisoned birds. It is understandable that some people might underestimate the importance of lead poisoning as birds die regularly and in small numbers and are rapidly removed by predators and scavengers.

    In comparison, diseases like avian botulism occur infrequently but often involve large ‘die-offs’ of birds in one place at one time, thus are conspicuous even though they may kill far fewer birds overall. However, it is important to note that the vast majority of wildlife that dies disappears unnoticed, so the lack of obvious lead poisoned birds is not surprising.

    Moreover, there are many myths perpetuated about the non-toxic alternatives to lead shot, despite the fact that only non-toxic shot has been used in a range of European countries for many years. For example steel shot, the most commonly used non-toxic alternative is roughly comparable in price to lead (and sometimes cheaper) and used widely and effectively across much of the world. While other alternatives to lead are more costly, they are less frequently used and were a guaranteed market to exist, economies of scale may reduce costs. There appear to be no technical or price barriers to using non-toxic alternative shot that cannot be rapidly overcome

    The effects of lead poisoning:


    Learning disabilities resulting in a decreased intelligence (decreased IQ)
    Attention deficit disorder
    Behaviour issues
    Nervous system damage
    Speech and language impairment
    Decreased muscle growth
    Decreased bone growth
    Kidney damage
    High levels of lead are life threatening and can cause seizures, unconsciousness, and death.


    Increased chance of illness during pregnancy
    Harm to a fetus, including brain damage or death
    Fertility problems in both men and women
    High blood pressure
    Digestive issues
    Nerve disorders
    Memory and concentration problems
    Muscle and joint pain

    1. A fine answer!

      Typographical errors are easily made, and most, if not all contributors to this site will have made them (you have made many yourself, Grouseman), but I do not think it clever to highlight minor mistakes. It is easy to try and be smart about such errors, but sometimes puerile behaviour can rebound and you end up looking the fool. This was a prime example of that, Grouseman, so perhaps you should hold back when thoughts of one-upmanship enter your head again.

  21. As we said Grouseman, simply sickening……and the response by Grouseman regarding our blog post on deliberate lead contamination on grouse moors?…. “I assume you mean lead?”. Enough said.

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