Royal grouse shoot in the Cairngorms National Park: a military operation?

The tabloids have been making much of the fact that the Queen was photographed driving Kate Middleton to a picnic on Balmoral Estate last week, joining Prince William who had apparently been grouse shooting (Daily Mail here; Daily Mirror here; Daily Record here). Photo by Peter Jolly.


Whilst the tabloids focused on the important things like patterned scarves and casual sleeveless jackets, our attention was drawn to something else:

At the butts behind imposing Creag Bhiorach, dozens of soldiers were waiting to do the beating and drive the grouse towards the waiting guns“.

Eh? Soldiers working as beaters on a royal grouse shoot in the Cairngorms National Park? Shurely shome mishtake?

Surely a case of mistaken identity? Surely anybody camo-ed up to work as beaters weren’t professional soldiers paid for by our taxes? Surely they were simply local men and women from the rural community, reliant on the oh-so-important beater’s wage (average £55 per day) so ‘vital’ to the local economy? Isn’t that what we’re so frequently told?

But maybe it’s not a mistake. Maybe soldiers are being used to work as beaters on the royal grouse shoot. Have a look at this (here), a report detailing the royal duties of the (now former) 1st Battalion The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1962:

“(b) Beating.

There were seventeen days of grouse driving on the two moors, Micras and Gairnshiel, which lie side by side to the North of the River Dee. The Balmoral ground was not driven at all, there being too few birds to merit it. On all shooting days one officer and forty ORs turned out as beaters to the Royal shooting party. This duty required a high standard of fitness, alertness and a definite restraint on language: it was not universally a popular duty despite the extra-duty pay (!), but the standard of beating achieved was good enough to please Gillan, the head-keeper, and to provide a total bag for the guns of over 2,200 brace which was considerably higher than anticipated at the beginning of the season”.

Has this been going on since 1962? Great to see our taxes being put to such good public use, and inside a National Park, too.

33 thoughts on “Royal grouse shoot in the Cairngorms National Park: a military operation?”

    1. And all you people out there wondering why wildlife conservation protection legislation, north or south of the boarded, doesn’t work. Think again about the ROYAL Society for the Protection of Birds, and why they always fail, even though claiming they are the largest conservation organisation in Europe, to achieve anything meaningful. As one of your bloggers calls it, we live in a feudal society – high time it was all swept away into the dustbin of archaic history.

      1. All this bloody “royal patronage” of the major environmental organisations makes me sick. No group would ever contemplate rescinding it though, and neither would the majority of its members. We’re just snared in this sort of society.

  1. Is it possible these soldiers were not on duty on that particular day and earning an extra few quid in their spare time, like some civilians might want to do?

    1. That it was referred to as an unpopular duty seems to give lie to that excuse, and I do not believe soldiers are allowed to moonlight like that.

  2. Tell me again who the supposed benefit junkies are, scrounging on state handouts, always having someone else do stuff for them at the taxpayer’s expense?

    1. Too right! Owen Jones covers this sort of “benefit fraud” in his book “The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It.”

  3. It’s been said before many times, royalty are way too heavily involved in wildlife destruction of all kinds, while posing for the odd photo shoot with endangered animals to perpetuate the ‘caring’ myth. 2 things stand out to me here. Firstly if beating is an important economic bonus for local people, how come it is ok for royalty to deprive them of this whenever it suits? Surely that negates that as a valid argument to put forward in favour of grouse shooting if it can be dispensed with so easily. Hardly ‘vital’ to the local economy. Secondly 4,400 birds is a totally sickening number. Wonder how many were killed this time. This is what all the wanton destruction of natural wildlife is for and they can’t even spare a few for natural predators? What happens to all those dead birds? Are they sold to restaurants in London or Edinburgh? Distributed to chronies, hangers on, MPs? Nice little incentive to keep them onside if they are so inclined. I wonder how many are donated to the local food banks!

    1. The local moorland groups have made great play (both in the local media and on FB) of the fact that some of the grouse shot were handed into old folks homes. The groups did not say whether they had warned these recipients of the presence of lead in the meat or whether or the possibility that the medicated grit they are dosed with had left levels of chemicals in the meat either.

  4. Try doing some research about other “military owned land” for abuse of use of land or staff eg Cape Wrath peninsula. Area is devoid of wildlife and used exclusively by “military” authorised killings of deer, grouse…..

    1. That’s a little harsh on Cape Wrath dootB, ok it’s a big upland area and wildlife is widely dispersed but the land has some of the rarest plants and habitats in Scotland and is home to a very important population of cliff nesting seabirds plus Red-throated Divers breeding on the lochans, Meadow Pipits and Twite on the moorland and a good place to see Merlin, Peregrine and both eagle species. Try walking in instead of just getting the boat and minibus to the lighthouse, you’ll see loads of good stuff. You can look at the condition status of the various protected features via SNH’s website here:

      Re: deer shooting the local estates in the region have an interest in keeping numbers up for tourists to shoot but SNH want to keep the numbers down to limit grazing damage to protected habitats, my main gripe is that they don’t shoot more and leave the carcasses (or at least parts with no contamination from ammunition fragments) on the hill for the eagles in winter. There is no burning on the military owned moorland and no authorised grouse shooting on there either.

      And no I’m not military, just felt like standing up for the wildlife of the Cape. My opinion on the royals shooting large numbers of grouse on crown estates and enlisting the help of soldiers is similar to most other folks on here.

      1. Indeed. Leaving carcasses where they fall is crucial to an ecosystem’s health. A deer is 250lb to 350lb or more of biomass. Vital minerals and elements to the ecosystem. Its bones alone represent calcium taken out of the land to grow them, and when the carcass is removed rather than left to the predators and detritivores and general decomposition, that means the land is depleted of those minerals and nutrients rather than having it returned to it. It depletes the land. In the Galapagos when they culled the wild goats, they knew they needed to leave the goat carcasses in place for precisely that reason.

        However, Red Deer do need to be drastically culled (or harassed more, apparently just making them keep moving more is a big thing in landscape restoration, the amount of deer eaten by predators is almost incidental to the possible presence keeping them on the move rather than letting them settle), by as much as 75% of the national herd really. Deer without a predator are as bad as sheep for depleting a landscape.

          1. Obviously. However I don’t think the military uses lead in their guns any longer, do they? Leadshot is strictly for those who care more about their antique Purdeys than they do even of their own health.

            1. Really? Was it obviously? I’d have thought its not the military doing the culling, and what do you reckon the military use in their guns now depleted Uranium?

              Lead is widely used in deer stalking, although it is slowly changing. Either way they’ll not be using lead shot (from Purdey’s or otherwise) for culling red deer, that’s illegal.

              I don’t know of any of the government bodies other than the Forestry Commission in England that have, as policy, moved to copper ammunition for deer culling, I’d be surprised, and delighted if Defence Estates have a local deer management contract for Cape Wrath that requires the use of non lead ammunition. Their policy on deer management doesn’t shed much light on it.

      2. I’m no great fan of the military either, but down at my end of the country the military parts of Salisbury Plain are good for lots of things that have been squeezed out by intensive agriculture elsewhere.

  5. Have any of you ever done a day’s beating on a driven grouse moor? I have, several times in the past three years.
    I started beating after a friend invited me to his employer’s grouse shoot, and seeing as I wasn’t earning much brass at the time I jumped at the chance.
    It’s a good day out, hard going at times, especially if the weather isn’t nice, and one gets some cash for in effect walking across rough moorland and waving a flag whilst making whooping noises to scare the red grouse from their hiding places. The purpose of the ‘beating’ being to try and direct as many grouse as are flushed towards the shooters, mainly rich men, so they may attempt to blast the birds out of the sky with shotguns.
    After a ‘drive’ the ‘pickers-up’ with their dogs arrive on the scene and collect up as many of the shot birds as possible. I often noticed that quite a number of the shot grouse hadn’t actually been killed, just injured by the lead shot, and would have to be despatched by hand.
    One thing I particularly noticed was the lack of other wildlife on the grouse moors, apart from a few disturbed meadow pipits and a short eared owl that I saw two or three times in the same area over a few weeks period.
    I never once saw any illegal activity whilst amongst the keepers, beaters and shooters.

    Then, earlier this year, I read Mark Avery’s ‘Inglorious’ which led me to read Mark’s blog ‘Standing up for Nature’ which, in turn, led me to read this blog.
    That meant my beating days were over, I mean how could I be part of the driven grouse shooting scenario when I had learned so much about the ‘behind-the-scenes-goings-on’, especially the persecution of legally protected species of birds and animals. And now all the other ‘bad stuff’ that I’ve picked up on; intensive habitat management leading to increased flooding risk and greenhouse gas emissions, and the use of public money in the way of subsidies in order to finance the ‘sport’ of such a relatively few people.
    Now, every time I see a new post about yet another raptor death I feel anger towards the grouse shooting fraternity.
    It seems to be an ‘us and them’ situation, and ‘them’ appear to have the upper hand every time; rarely, if ever, is anyone caught and prosecuted for a raptor crime, even though it’s obvious who the perpetrators are in most cases.
    And now I read the above post about Royalty and British soldiers involved in days out on Scottish hills, killing thousands of red grouse at the expense of probably thousands of animals and birds destroyed in order to produce that unnaturally high number of game birds.
    Great fun if one chooses to avoid the reality of driven grouse shooting’s effect on our natural heritage, but far from fun when one realises the whole pathetic scenario of such a small number of people causing such a great deal of destruction to wildlife in the upland environments of England and Scotland.
    The day will come when the generation of raptor killers have disappeared for good.
    Roll on that day.

  6. Supposing, just supposing, at some point in the future, a case of illegal shooting/poisoning was incontrovertibly proven on this estate, where would the buck for vicarious liability stop? Mmmmmm.

    1. Even without being caught this estate is profiting from the crimes of others.
      Royalty profiting from crime and it isn’t reported.
      They could never get 4,400 birds to shoot without the illegal activity in the whole surrounding area even if this estates keepers are as clean as they would like us to think.

      1. OK, so the Royal Estate is what it states it is – so it follows that it has to be ‘better’ than the rest, after all it is the ‘Royal Estate’ – the shooting and ‘bags’ have to be excellent, as the likes of heads of state might conceivably be invited for a day ‘ayt’ on the moor. Therefore, it follows that if other, lesser, estates are unable to get by without eradicating predators in order to produce sufficient grouse for the guns, why should the best in the land be any different? Personally, I don’t see how it can be.

          1. You are so right! They are even protected by them! So anyone wishing to convict – lets say Prince Harry for example – and let’s say he was seen shooting a couple of Hen Harriers in East Anglia for example – would have to get past the ‘professional evidence’ that would be given by his protection officer(s) in court because I have no doubt they would be dragged in to it, were it to happen. Whether the officers even knew what a Hen Harrier looked like, let alone it’s protection status is completely irrelevant as I am certain no court would convict him as to do so would signal the end of the magisterial career of the Magistrate (or Judge) as well as the unfortunate officer of the Crown Prosecution Office who brought the case before the court. These people are bombproof – and it is so wrong!

            1. Of course I forgot to mention the ‘It wasn’t me’ defence of such a ‘pillar’ of society. This statement would not be questioned thoroughly (no matter what the authorities would wish you to believe). [Ed: The rest of this comment has been deleted as it’s verging on defamation]

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