It’s always good to hear different voices joining the campaign against driven grouse shooting.
And what a brilliant voice this is – Pat Kane, who found fame with this and now does this – has written an entertaining comment piece published in The National yesterday, after Thursday’s announcement that the Scottish Government has finally decided to introduce a licensing scheme.
I’VE taken shots at coconuts while visiting the shows with the weans. But I have never raised a powerful-enough gun to my shoulder, aimed at a moving, living target, and taken it out of the sky mid-flight.
Evolutionary science tells me one thing; my automatic inner reactions tell me another.
The first says that sapient humans have been hunter-gatherers much longer than they have been agricultural or urban. Thus, much of our perceptual and motor equipment was forged to suit the demands of the hunt (computer games that let you take the shooting position, and their massive popularity, easily support this).
The second just recoils at the sporting destruction of a living organism, particularly under the ridiculous and farcical conditions of a “driven” grouse shoot.
We’ve seen enough nature documentaries that show the necessary link between prey and predator in an ecosystem: the raptor bright-eyed with gobbets of bird or rabbit in their mouths. It’s a challenge to watch it all. But it is, at least, the web of life.
The grouse-shoot, however? A landscape burned, polluted and made into a monoculture, encouraging fast but low-flying grouse to nibble at forced green shoots, so that upper-class hunting parties (coddled by supine assistants) can spray lead at a flurry of easy targets?
It’s hardly the high-stakes survival drama of the Paleolithic. The Pathetic, more like.
So for my sensibility, the more licensing and regulation of grouse shooting – as promised by the Scottish Government earlier this week – the better.
The nub of Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon’s statement addresses “the ongoing and abhorrent issue of wildlife crime – and in particular, raptor persecution”. The trigger was the 2017 finding that “a third of satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland disappeared in suspicious circumstances, on or around grouse moors”.
The ironies abound. Natural predators do their thing when faced with an abundance of grouse prey. The unnatural creators of that abundance defend their property by attacking and destroying raptors — now rendered as poachers.
They also defend their grouse stocks against Scottish mountain hares – specifically the ticks in their fur, which transmit a disease that worsens the quality of grouse populations.
This has justified mass winter cullings of mountain hares (also, incidentally, creating another commercial shooting opportunity). Mountain hares are now a protected species — so the minister is tightening the screws on this practice too.
All of this, and more, is promised to make up the specifications for a license to shoot grouse (though many environmental campaigners are already alarmed at the heavy presence of the hunting lobby in the consultation groups).
It’s hoped that the threat of investigation, sanction and withdrawal of the license will compel best practice. But another reading could be that they hope to bureaucratise and regulate the behaviour out of existence. Slow strangulation by red tape.
Here is the careful incrementalism of Scottish devolved government, in all its glory. You wonder, is outrage at the historical establishment of these shooting grounds a century-and-a-half ago – clearance and dispossession of communities allowing for upper-class sporting pursuits – something that deeply pulses away in a Scottish nationalist administration?
One would bloody well hope so. I watched an excellent news feature from BBC Alba’s Eorpa a few days ago [RPUK added link here]. The opening scenes captured port-soaked and tweed-clad shooters in all their coddled savagery. Yet the rest of the item tried to show a judicious balance of voices.
I was particularly struck by the granite-jawed and Gaelic-speaking estate manager from Lewis. Angus MacLeod of Barvas Estate objected to the “driven” grouse moor model – where beating the carefully-prepared heather ensures that each shooting expedition bags 20 to 50 birds.
MacLeod’s model was “walk-up” grouse shooting. In the driven model, “they’re only looking at the birds they’re aiming for. Up here, you watch for everything – eagles, hen harriers, merlin and deer too … You have to walk six or seven miles here, for a good day, just to get five or six grouse.” His quiet conclusion: “But that’s enough.”
It’s precious to hear any genuine declaration of “enough” these days. My own instincts, and progressive background, lean more towards the contribution from the Scottish Greens’ rep in the Eorpa show, Alison Johnstone MSP.
“It’s a relic of a bygone era, a Victorian pastime. Are we really suggesting that if we looked at a blank canvas just now, surveying this land mass, we’d be saying, ‘oh do you know what, let’s just fill this area with red grouse, and sell packages for people to have a day’s fun shooting at them’?
“We certainly would not — we’d be thinking how could we productively use it for the best outcome for the people of Scotland.”
THERE are some mightily impressive campaigners out there, proposing exactly these kinds of outcomes. The coalition revive.scot (one input to which is Common Weal, whose board I’m on) lays out a powerful, multi-factorial case against grouse shooting.
So is this the best economic and environmental use of somewhere between 12%-18% of Scotland’s land mass? Manifestly not. Revive’s figures are thumping. They do a “hectares required per job” number. For grouse shooting, it’s 330. Biomass renewables is 143, onshore wind 100. Forestry is 42, horticulture 3.
Then they do a “value per hectare used”. Grouse shooting stands at £30 (at the best estimate). The value for the preceding sectors quoted is, in order: £2596, £934, £900, £12,412.
There’s another thumping stat. “Repopulation and housing”, modestly named, could create 141,000 construction jobs and 39,000 real estate jobs, at a value per hectare of £11,950 (Revive imagines a “New Villages” programme to match the “New Towns” movement of the 60s and 70s).
Please, examine their numbers – but they won’t be out by that much. If we somehow shimmy our way into indy, I would expect that the urgent need to maximise our internal assets will reverse the gunfire on this “Victorian pastime”.
In matters of land, animals and their meaning in Scotland, I usually turn to one of the most reliable tuning forks I know – the human ecologist Alastair McIntosh. He sent me a few paragraphs yesterday:
“We’ve got to ask not just what satisfaction hunting might give, but also what service it provides towards maintaining a biodiverse natural and human ecosystem.
“I am a great supporter of deer stalking. Stalkers, like ghillies, love the land and what they take as prey. They know the stag has yet to be born that carries a condom. We should support such culling by proudly eating venison. But to farm pheasants just for bankers to bag, or to ‘manage’ grouse moors for the competitive fervour of the driven shoot, that’s a different matter.
“I remember discussing the sadomasochistic aspect of killing for the sake of it over an alcoholic lunch with a convenor of the then Scottish Land Owners’ Federation. Astonishingly, he conceded: ‘Oh yes, they got buggered and beaten when they were at school and now they want to do it back’ – and with a shotgun.
“Well, that may be psychotherapy: the primal bang. It may be peer-bonding, a business perk – and even back in the gun room at the lodge, a courtship ritual for the rich. But it’s no way that the Scotland of today should treat our wildlife.”
A complex view. And speaking as a townie who will never take a gun into his arms, even if the rationale is as eco-spiritual as Alastair’s, I won’t tower over every aspect of this debate with a complacent certitude.
But really, can it be right? That we subject so much of Scotland’s natural potential to so few?