Scotland’s unnatural larder: SNH has lost the plot

Aim Click Collect June 2015If you’d been at the Royal Highland Show last week you might have seen this SNH poster. You might also have seen Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod posing in front of it.

What is it?

It’s part of an SNH campaign called Scotland’s Natural Larder, being run jointly with BASC Scotland, and coincides with the Scottish Government’s Year of Food & Drink.

According to an article in SNH’s latest magazine (The Nature of Scotland, Spring/Summer 2015, page 10):

The aim of Scotland’s Natural Larder project is to encourage people to eat natural produce that has been sustainably harvested or hunted” and “A key focus is helping people understand the close links between the health of the environment and sustainable management“.

According to SNH, ‘Game meat is healthy, natural and delicious’ (see here).

According to BASC, ‘Game meat is healthy, sustainable and delicious’ (see here).

So the key words being bandied about by the Government’s statutory nature conservation agency (as well as by BASC, which is less surprising) about shot red grouse (look at the poster) is that they are ‘healthy’, ‘natural’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘delicious’.

Forget about the word ‘delicious’ because whether grouse tastes delicious or not is entirely subjective and pretty irrelevant. But what about those other words? ‘Healthy’, ‘natural’ and ‘sustainable’? Really? Who are they trying to kid? How about ‘unhealthy’, ‘unnatural’ and ‘unsustainable’?


Red grouse are shot with lead ammunition. Lead is a poison. Lead is highly toxic to humans. The health risk of lead poisoning has been well-documented and has resulted in the removal of lead from petrol, paint, fishing weights and water pipes. In 2012, the Food Standards Agency published guidance on eating game shot with lead ammunition:

The Food Standards Agency is advising people that eating lead-shot game on a frequent basis can expose them to potentially harmful levels of lead. The FSA’s advice is that frequent consumers of lead-shot game should eat less of this type of meat” (see herehere and particularly here).

Red grouse on intensively managed driven grouse moors are also routinely exposed to chemicals in the form of medicated grit. The chemicals in this grit are used to kill the parasitic strongyle worm. This drug is highly persistent, according to SLE (see here). Moorland managers are advised to remove the medicated grit one month before the start of the grouse-shooting season. Who decided one month was a suitable period of time for withdrawal and who monitors whether the medicated grit is actually being withdrawn at that time? Is there any information about the effect on humans from eating red grouse that have residual levels of medicated grit still in their bodies?

There’s also a new disease spreading through red grouse populations – ‘respiratory cryptosporidiosis’, also known as ‘bulgy eye’. Apparently the protozoan responsible isn’t known to be infectious to humans (see here) and a prominent figure from the grouse-shooting industry claims ‘grouse are perfectly safe to eat if they are diseased [with bulgy eye]’ (see here). Hmm, sounds yummy. Wonder what his medical qualifications are?

Does any of this convince you that eating red grouse is a ‘healthy’ option?


Red grouse is frequently described as ‘natural’ by those with a vested interest in driven grouse shooting. It might be considered ‘natural’ if it has been killed by walked-up shooting but what about the grouse that have been killed by driven grouse shooting? Intensively managed driven grouse moors are anything but natural. Red grouse are found in artificially-high densities on these moors as a result of several unnatural management techniques, including the use of medicated grit (see above), the frequent burning of heather (see here for the environmental damage caused by this practice), the [legal] and unregulated annual mass slaughter of predators (foxes, stoats, weasels, corvids) and mountain hares, not to mention, of course, the widespread illegal killing of raptors.

What’s ‘natural’ about red grouse that have been shot on an intensively driven grouse moor?


Concerns over the unsustainability of driven grouse shooting are growing – so much so that Marks & Spencer removed red grouse from sale last year (see here) because they weren’t able to guarantee their grouse had come from a responsible, sustainable source. There are plenty of other concerns, too (see here for a good overview).

So how does SNH justify its claim that red grouse have been ‘sustainably’ harvested?

What on earth is SNH playing at? Why is this statutory conservation agency actively promoting an industry with such shocking ecological credentials and claiming that eating this product (red grouse) is good for us and good for the environment?  Let’s ask them. Emails to SNH Chief Executive Susan Davies:

Here’s the Environment Minister posing in front of THAT poster:

Field-to-Fork RHShow 2015_BASC

29 thoughts on “Scotland’s unnatural larder: SNH has lost the plot”

  1. I am totally disgusted with Dr Aileen McLeod standing in front of this atrocious SNP, sorry SNH, poster.

    Maybe one day the powers to be will realize what the landowners and their gamekeepers are doing to our uplands and wildlife.

  2. Email sent:

    Dear Susan Davis

    I would like to ask where you got your scientific data to back up your claim that grouse shot with lead shot on driven grouse moors represent health and sustainability.

    Thank you

  3. Hideous poster and hideous attitude from the SNH. So much for the hopes of Birds of Prey!!!!!

    Not a chance!


  4. No, there is no “information about the effect on humans from eating red grouse that have residual levels of medicated grit [flubendazole] still in their bodies?” Flubendazole is widely used against parasites, but contra-indicated in pregnant women because it can cause birth defects in rats.

    Red grouse, like upland sheep, have contained radiocaesium since the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. The last of the ensuing UK controls on upland sheep farms was removed in 2012. No such controls were ever placed upon grouse.

  5. Once upon a time I actually believed, rather naively that SNH as a government body, responsibly oversaw without bias, the state and management of the natural environment for the environments best interests. I also believed that SNH’s position was unbiased and followed the evidence of scientific study and understanding but having just seen the poster proclaiming the end product of driven grouse shooting as natural, healthy and sustainable I realise with stark clarity that SNH’s only remit appears to be to do as it is told by those with power, money and vested interest.

    How any intelligent person or body can maintain that driven grouse shooting is sustainable and good for the natural environment is beyond me and beggars belief. Anyone with a basic understanding of how ecological systems work will know that the moment it becomes necessary to introduce artificial management into a wild population of animals there is something seriously wrong with the natural balance.

    Driven grouse shooting moorland is an artificially managed environment for the intensive rearing of one bird, namely grouse, at an unnaturally high population density which promotes disease, environmental damage and the unjustifiable control of predators. Driven grouse shooting is nothing more than a moorland version of factory farming which is akin to the high density management of red deer populations and we all know the damage that has caused in recent times plus the effort and expense to try and correct the balance.

    It seems to me that while some are privileged to make money from grant schemes for, and revenue from unsustainable practices, charitable organisations and the rest of us are left to put right the damage they cause.

    How any decent person or particularly a statutory government body charged with the good health of the natural environment can justify this on moral or ethical grounds is beyond me.

    Organisations such as BASC and Scotland’s Natural Larder are biased entirely towards promoting their own activities and interests and to my mind it is wrong for SNH and other such bodies to appear to be aligned with or helping to promote those activities and interests, especially in a case such as this which is so out of line with what is best for Scotland’s Natural Environment.

    I will be mailing this comment to Susan Davies and others.

  6. Read this before you eat shot game or describe it as “healthy”

    This is just one paragraph from page 2.

    An increasing number of studies are directly measuring high lead concentrations in
    game meat – from visible lead particles and fragments to very fine dust and residues only
    visible by radiograph – in waterfowl, squirrels, deer, pigs, game birds and elk killed by
    lead shotgun pellets or lead bullets (Frank 1986; Harmata and Restani 1995; Knopper et al. 2006; Hunt et al.
    2009; Cornicelli and Grund 2009; Bedrosian and Craighead 2009; Pain et al. 2010). The meat of game birds
    killed with lead shot can have high lead levels even after lead pellets are removed and
    the birds are cooked (Pain et al. 2010). Lead bullets tend to shatter into fragments upon
    impact with bone, leaving shards and imperceptible dust-sized particles of lead. This
    lead can infect game meat up to a foot and a half away from a bullet wound when fired
    from a high-powered rifle, and even lead shot can leave particles, dust and residues in
    game meat. Copper bullets leave no lead and rarely fragment.

    Does this leave the door open to “Not guilty due to insanity from lead poisoning”
    What excuse do the politicians have?

    1. Politicians, many of them eat lead shot game because it is part of their “sport”.

      My other concern is the tonnes of lead scattered over the moors and other places where it will pollute our water courses.

      As in the old song, “On Ilkley Moor Ba Tat”, “we shall all have eaten thee!!!!”

      So the population will continue in the same mental deficiencies as the rich and stupid!!!!

      I think we should tell the travellers and scrap metal folks that there are tonnes of lead on the moors all within 30 metres of the grouse butts, just waiting to be collected on the 12 August each year.

  7. Well at least the minister is not proud of this.. its not posted on her website or her facebook page. I suppose it would still be worth posting her the odd e-mail asking about food standards etc…

    As for SNH the local office staff were bemused and ashamed.

  8. Letter sent and an acknowledgement received. As far as SNH goes a few years ago a gamekeeper who received a police warning for assaulting and harassing me was almost immediately given another job on an SNH Estate. Maybe it was because his employer was an aristocrat?

  9. This is beyond a joke and SNH has now lost all of the credibility it had left. How on earth was this poster approved and funded? We know that the bosses have already pulled out all of SNH’s teeth and claws but they’re now making a complete fool of it. No wonder most of their staff are completely demoralised.

  10. She (the cat’s mother) is worse than the previous joker – why am I not surprised? Environment minister – pshaw!

    1. You do realise that SNH existed long before the SNP came to power in Scotland, and SNH were pandering to the landowners then?

      As for statement that “you elected a shower of SNP nutters who haven’t a care about anything but themselves and power”, would you kindly provide us with some evidence supporting your claim? Furthermore, are you referring to the Scottish Parliament, where under the PR system, the people of Scotland have also elected a good spread of political representation, or the recent General Election, when, as a result of being treated like second class citizens in “the union”, the people of Scotland overwhelmingly voted in favour of the only party that were prepared to stand up for them?

      I suppose you believe it would be better under the Conservatives, Labour, LibDems or UKIP, covering up massive crimes, some of which have lasted decades – you know the ones – Hillsborough, illegal wars and war crimes, Jimmy Savile and the Westminster paedophile rings and the state-sponsored murder of UK citizens?

      If you prefer a governmental system that will carry out these crimes, then cover them up, then that says a lot about you.

  11. Hopefully Dr Macleod will now have seen close up, how in thrall to the landowning and shooting interests SNH really are….if SNP seriously want to build a new Scotland using Land Reform they need to get these landowners poodles out of the way for starters…

    1. I wouldn’t want to appear cynical, but is it possible that SNH are acting like this because they believe it’s what their paymasters, the Scottish goverment, want them to do?

  12. Will history repeat itself.

    remember this

    Probably the most derided politician to emerge out of the BSE scandal, John Gummer will always be remembered for making great public show of feeding his four-year-old daughter Cordelia a hamburger in the midst of the “mad cow” disease scare.

    Maybe if Dr Aileen McLeod samples enough shot grouse she will be part of another “mad cow” story.

  13. I am unfamiliar with Scotland’s grouse moors, but have just returned from a trip to the Yorkshire Dales and was gobsmacked at the intensity of grouse-moor management. As an ecologist, I cannot agree that that intensity of management is sustainable. Moreover, the inbye land and some of the grouse moors are over-run with rabbits, I assume because of obsessive predator control (especially foxes). Yes, it was lovely to see loads of golden plover but the area is a grouse farm with nature out of balance. The huge number of rabbits is causing major damage to inbye pastures, and we saw at least three people out with quads and sprays to knock out the creeping thistle that has resulted from sheep ranching and rabbits. This means that nearly all the high limestone pastures we saw were herb poor. For an outstanding landscape, biodiversity is continuing to suffer, thanks to inappropriate land and wildlife management – both associated with grouse farming and sheep farming. We didn’t see any raptors, except for an occasional Kestrel.

  14. This from Susan Davies SNH (about what I expected):

    Dear Mr Tyler

    Thank you for your recent email on the topic of Scotland’s Natural Larder’s (SNL) grouse banner which is one of a suite of banners we use under this initiative, others include seafood and foraging. The SNL is a partnership project between SNH and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and is about reconnecting people with local and natural produce that has been sustainably harvested or hunted, encouraging best practice and responsible use of natural food resources. The grouse banner is specifically used in support of the “Field to Fork” project which makes links between sport shooting, wildlife management and the food industry. The goal is to secure long term behavioural change by working with students to help them understand and take responsibility for exemplary practice and good quality food.

    One of SNH’s primary functions is to promote the sustainable use of nature’s assets. We work within the current legislative framework to secure multiple benefits , including those of an economic nature. Across the breadth of different land uses in Scotland there are a number of practices where changes in behaviour and raised standards would deliver greater benefits and improve environmental outcomes.

    Our approach to moorland management is no different. We believe that when lawful moorland management for grouse is undertaken responsibly, and to assured standards that the ‘harvest’ of this wild game bird may be regarded as sustainable. We are involved in a number of strands of work that seek to address the sustainability of moorland management; particularly the more intensive and single-minded approaches to managing some grouse moors as well as practices such as burning. These are highlighted in the report of our Scientific Advisory Committee’s Review of Sustainable Moorland Management, which we will be publishing shortly. They include working with the wide range of stakeholder groups represented on the Moorland Forum to agree and promote refreshed best practice standards, and with the Wildlife Estates Scotland initiative to provide independently assessed assurance of the extent to which they are being met. We need to use the full range of available tools to engage with all stakeholders, stimulate discussion, promote high standards, and seek solutions that work for all interests.

    The Scottish Raptor Persecution blog site raised a number of specific issues and for completeness I have responded to each of these below.

    Use of lead shot
    The use and impact of lead in shooting is currently being discussed by the Westminster Government (DEFRA) Lead Advisory Group (LAG). This has considered evidence on lead ingestion both in humans and wildlife. SNH await the recommendations from the LAG. In the meantime the use of lead shot to kill quarry in sport shooting and wildlife management is standard but non-lead alternatives are being trialled. As regards the use of food products killed in this way, Scotland’s Natural Larder promotes the skills needed to handle, inspect and prepare shot game to assure the quality of the final product and minimise health risks. SNL promotes best practice inspection which includes removal of visibly affected meat (i.e. bruised or containing shot / bullet tracking) which in turn will minimise risk from lead in game meat.

    The Food Standards Agency are the statutory advisors on food safety and have undertaken research into game meat which informed advice to consumers. The advice suggests a reduction in the consumption by those who eat large quantities of game. This is in line with advice proffered for red meat and oily fish. According to FSA, the risk to infrequent consumers (less than once a week) is minimal, and for frequent consumers effective game meat handling can minimise the risk.

    Use of medicated grit
    Medicated grit is used under licence on many grouse moors and is administered by a vet. A four week withdrawal period (based on its use in comparable species) is recommended prior to treated birds going into the food chain. Compliance with this withdrawal period has been facilitated by the development, promotion of best practice advice, and use of compartmentalised grit boxes to allow controlled access to medicated or non-medicated grit. SNL’s clear aim is to make sure that the people running the shoots and managing the species understand the responsibilities they have for the product entering the food chain.

    Cryptosporidiosis has long been present in poultry and wild game and has not been reported as presenting a risk to human health. Under the inspection responsibilities that we promote as part of Scotland’s Natural Larder the shot game will be inspected by trained personnel and birds that are suspected of being infected, badly shot or otherwise contaminated will not enter the food chain. The first inspection of this nature takes place at the estate larder and a secondary check would be made by the butcher or game dealer during processing.

    It is clear that the deeply held and strongly divided opinions surrounding moorlands and grouse shooting present challenges but we believe that a twin track approach of development and promotion of good practice with strong enforcement of legislation is a proven approach in raising standards in wildlife management. I hope that this background at least helps you better understand the basis for our approach even if you do not agree with it.

    Yours sincerely,


    Susan Davies | Chief Executive

    Scottish Natural Heritage | Great Glen House | Leachkin Road | Inverness | IV3 8NW
    Tel: 01463 725001 Mob: 07770814206

    1. I find it interesting that SNH (and governments) are perfectly happy to use generic responses, often missing the salient points of a complaint, yet these generic responses will no doubt count as individual responses whenever they are making up their year-end figures. If they are to act in this way, then all generic petitions should be counted as individuals.

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