‘Keeping homes dry should never have been compromised to shoot more grouse’

Conservation campaigner Les Wallace has lodged a new petition on the Scottish Parliament website which seeks to make it a condition of any forthcoming grouse shooting licence that landowners must first demonstrate they are using natural flood prevention methods (e.g. reduced heather burning, targeted tree planting) to reduce the downstream flood risk to homes and businesses.

The petition (PE01850) ‘Natural flood prevention on grouse moors‘ can be signed HERE – anybody can sign it, you don’t need to live in Scotland to have a point of view.

Unlike the Westminster petition system, petitions to the Scottish Parliament do not require a threshold of signatories before the petitions committee considers the case, although obviously the better supported the petition the more impression it will make.

[Gamekeeper setting a grouse moor alight. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Les has written the following background summary to support his case:

More than 10% of Scotland consists of grouse moors which are predominantly in upland areas where much of our rain falls. Flood prevention strategies are inadequate if they do not involve changes in the way our uplands are managed. The intended licencing scheme for grouse moors provides an excellent opportunity to begin this process. Keeping homes dry should never have been compromised to shoot more grouse. Flood reduction work will also reduce the fire risk and speed of fire on grouse moors through creating firebreaks, a much-needed relief for our emergency services.

I believe that in order for grouse moor owners to be granted a grouse moor license, they must be able to demonstrate that they are using natural flood prevention methods to slow the flow of water from their land in order to reduce the flood risk to homes, businesses and farms on lower land. The measures to be taken include reduced muirburn, blocking drainage, peat restoration, targeted contour and riparian tree planting to reduce the speed of flow into watercourses, insertion of woody material into watercourses to create ‘leaky’ dams to hold water back during high rainfall and the eventual return of the beaver whose dams are increasingly being recognised as a major contributor to flood prevention. These measures are vital to combat the massive financial and human cost of flooding.

Further reading can be found on the petition website here.

25 thoughts on “‘Keeping homes dry should never have been compromised to shoot more grouse’”

  1. My petition sitting presently with the Environment committee first submitted almost 3 years ago in March seems to have been totally forgotten, I hope that the same fate does not befall this one from Les.
    I believe that a strong set of licence conditions is absolutely essential and am most disappointed that a detailed proposal for conditions and punishments was not put forward years ago by the NGOs proposing such a licence. I do realise that it would make it difficult to say that they had achieved their aim when a pitiful licence scheme was (and may well be) the result, as with all the past legislation changes in this field.

    1. Sorry to hear that Alex I think your petition was the most professionally set out one I’ve ever seen. There might be opportunities to stir things back up again.

      1. When you say introduce “woody” material do you mean with beavers ? The evidence from Devon is quite clear that beavers assist flood prevention……..

        1. The woody material can be added without beavers and this is happening in some places often to create habitat for fish, but also to hold back water especially when it rains https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardcastle-crags/features/natural-flood-management. Of course the benefit of these leaky dams is amplified when beavers make and maintain them. Personally I’d love to see trials in the hills about the practicality of providing beavers with supplementary feed and dam building material while trees are growing back – the enormous financial and human cost of flooding must make this a serious and viable suggestion. The 2005 Carlisle flood cost more than 400 million quid, the 2007 Gloucestershire floods more than two billion. I’ve just been watching Winterwatch on BBC iplayer and according to it the Devon beaver trial has shown they can reduce flood peaks by 60% which is staggering. Like dealing with a serious fire risk, changing land use in the uplands to reduce flooding should be an emergency, pre-emptive action and a brilliant incidental benefit of that would be curtailing the damage grouse moors do to man and beast. I honestly can’t think of a more urgent and stronger case for change than this.

  2. Why are arable farmers prevented from burning stubble and straw, when grouse moors can set fire to huge areas of heather? This is not logical.

    1. They should both be banned! I can remember stubble burning setting fire to hedges adjacent uncut fields and the smoke closing roads.

  3. And beavers are the best natural flood defence, as well as creating pools of wild life. I think there is a picture of a wooded valley in North America populated by beaver surrounded by the destruction of a wildfire.

    I do struggle to understand why salmon fisheries hate them, when beaver and salmon have evolved over millennia together, perhaps it is more manly for the fisherman to be seen wading through a ranging torrent in search of the elusive salmon.

    1. I’ve seen that very photograph. I think it’s from California, a braided stream that’s been widened by beaver dams and it’s emerald green while it’s surrounded by blackened vegetation. They’re really going to town trying to persuade us that they need to keep going with muirburn on grouse moors to reduce fuel load for truly disastrous wildfires when it’s them that’s reduced the uplands to an artificially flammable landscape in the first place. There are ways to bypass that ‘danger period’, if it even exists, and get back to a healthier, far less fire prone ecosystem – even the SGA would struggle to argue that a beaver widened watercourse isn’t a barrier to fire. Sadly the usual suspects have hijacked the issue and having the beaver back has been framed as a virtual catastrophe for arable agriculture when it’s really about keeping homes, businesses and that very same arable agriculture under less threat of being flooded.

      And you’re absolutely right about the salmon fishing fraternity. Two fishery scientist friends have confirmed that the findings of the EMBER report https://water.leeds.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/36/2017/06/EMBER_2-page_exec_summary.pdf indicate that muirburn on grouse moors is detrimental to game fish particularly. I’ve lost count of the number of organisations, and number of times, I’ve approached/confronted angling organisations with this and it’s been met with complete and utter silence which is in total contrast to their incessant whining about beavers, cormorants, goosanders and seals. There have even been mutterings in some quarters that the dolphins in the Moray Firth need to be ‘controlled’ for the sake of salmon stocks. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not.

      1. I’ve got a bit further down the scroll; there is now English evidence from the Otter err river that beavers assist flood prevention..obviously better evidence than “foreign beavers”…!!

  4. It never ceases to amaze me that there are those amongst are oblivious to fact…the heather moorland is a man made concept. Had the moorland left to nature it would be quickly overtaken by bracken complete with other maladies of ticks (Lyme’s Disease)..l neither shoot, hunt or fish…the controlled burning of heather moorland ensures the destruction of heather beatle and more importantly burns off the old straggling heather bushes whose life is no more than circa 30 years whose branches no longer producing nutritional benefit for birds etc. There are the issues of louts with guns shooting everything that flies or runs and the moorkeeper gets the blame. In addition, the natural predators of stoats and weasels, foxes in there pursuit of food…and walkers treading on ground nesting birds from Merlin’s, Curlews and Hen Harrier’s etc. I have to admit l cannot come to terms with the massive destruction of Mountain Hares by organised shooting party’s. To conclude, if detractors think that the tax payer take responsibility for our heather moorland, think again…all it do engage more to pass bits of paper around, victim’s of reduction in government spending …if a stupid government rids itself of 20,000 policeman in years of 2010 to 2019…moorland management funding stands no chance especially when the money now being spent on Corvid-19 pandemic….be careful what you wish for.,

    On Mon, 25 Jan 2021, 09:48 Raptor Persecution UK, wrote:

    > RaptorPersecutionUK posted: ” Conservation campaigner Les Wallace has > lodged a new petition on the Scottish Parliament website which seeks to > make it a condition of any forthcoming grouse shooting licence that > landowners must first demonstrate they are using natural flood prevention ” >

    1. Louts with guns? You mean gamekeepers and the grouse shooters presumably? Not just with guns but with poison baits, illegal traps and snares as well – or are you pretending that they really are “guardians of the countryside”? How do you think red grouse, black grouse etc existed for thousands of years before the “benign influence” of driven grouse shooting kept heather growth “under control”, allowing them to exist on these moorlands and mountains?

    2. kinontim,
      If only nature was a simple as you suggest.

      Having read some of the scientific research on the heather beetle there is some evidence to suggest that “cool burns” which take place on moors don’t eradicate the beetle, as the larvae hibernates deep in vegetation litter and as such survives.
      There have also been studies which suggest that where other plant competitors to the heather are present such as purple moor grass then burning may be disadvantageous to the heather.
      Other studies have shown that where burning is well managed then heather regeneration is usually successful.
      It appears a very complex issue.
      Research has also suggested that for reasons yet to be fully understood, out breaks of heather beetle take place when its population rises dramatically and is unchecked by the normal factors which usually exist and maintain equilibrium. The climate and the presence of natural predators of the heather beetle all play a part in this control mechanism. It is suggested that this is a natural cycle, and a lot more research needs to be carried out before it is fully understood.
      It’s not something I profess to know much about, and I am sure other contributors to this blog will be much more learned than me on this matter.

      One thing we do know from farming is that intensive mono culture often allows disease and parasites to spread rapidly, as the normal checks and balances associated with a more natural environment are not present.
      There have been plenty of studies carried out which support this.
      Unlike agricultural crops, moorland can not be managed with chemical insecticides or herbicides.

      As you point out the vast tracts of heather moorland are man made.
      Grouse shooting has only been around for about the last 120 years, so what were the grouse moors like before then?
      The planet has been in existence for a lot longer than 150 years.
      The question then is: from an ecological and environmental point of view would it be more beneficial to allow a more natural environment to flourish?
      This might not be good for grouse shooting, but it might be more beneficial to a wider range of our natural flora and fauna.

      The current climate change debate might well see increased government funding for properly managed environments that help regulate and control climate change.
      This might mean some upland areas are planted with trees, peat bogs are restored, sheep grazing restricted and other properly researched climate control measures put in place.

      Maybe those “man made unnatural grouse moors” have had their day and its time for change?

  5. One would hope proper environmental restoration and conservation would be one of the minimum conditions to obtain a licence under the new DGS licensing proposals.

    It’s just a thought, but maybe other conservation campaigners/bodies with a detailed and sound knowledge of conservation and animal welfare principles could propose further petitions to try and influence the proposed licensing scheme?

    This way the Scottish government would be left in no uncertain terms of exactly what the public/ conservation bodies want to see with the proposed licensing scheme.
    This would hopefully help make the licensing scheme adhere to sound democratic principles, and hopefully reduce the risk that it becomes a useless piece of legislation which doesn’t address the real issues of DGS. Which is effectively what happened with the hunting legislation and fox hunting.
    Petitions along these lines would also hopefully mean that the politicians would be more accountable for the final outcome of the proposed DGS licensing scheme.

    Just an idea, but at the moment there appears to be some concern that the proposed DGS licensing scheme will simply legitimise grouse shooting in its current form. There needs to be a counter balance as to how much influence land owners and the shooting industry can impose on the scheme.

    1. John,

      Make no mistake there are plenty of meetings going on behind the scenes to influence the terms of any grouse moor licence scheme. The environmental NGOs may not be shouting about it but it is definitely happening.

      1. Ed,
        Thanks I thought that would be the case.
        My concern is that politicians are often more swayed by public opinion than reasoned argument. Whilst I am sure environmental NGO’s will be putting forward a very strong case to support their vision of DGS licensing, counter arguments will no doubt be offered by the shooting industry.
        As such, public support for petitions supporting the environmental position may resonate more strongly with politicians than the actual environmental argument itself?
        Let’s just hope this proposed licensing isn’t something that gets watered down through political process.
        I have lost so much faith in politicians to do the right thing when it comes to environmental matters, but it’s very hard for them to hide from public opinion in a democratic system of governance.
        Thank you for bringing these matters into a public forum where knowledge and ideas can be expressed and shared.

  6. What a load of tosh. Do these people even realise what happens when you pour water on an already saturated sponge. Or worse still set fire to a dry one with your disposable bbq you brought from home (which happens to be on a flood plain). The level of stupidity of some people both amuses and terrifies me.

    1. Keith,
      It is estimated that about 80% of UK peat bogs are damaged due to mismanagement. A lot of this mismanagement is associated with the historic use of moors for grouse shooting.
      This damage has effectively reduced the size “the sponge” so that it isn’t able to hold all the rainwater which it should be capable of holding, allowing the water to pour off into the rivers, which in turn flood lowland areas.
      There is also irrefutable evidence that badly carried out heather burning frequently damages the underlying peat, exposing it to the elements, so that it dries out, and becomes more flammable.
      So restoring natural flood prevention measures is something which those that really understand these matters believe should be an important feature of upland moor management. The science clearly supports this hypothesis. It something organisations like the Moorland Association recognise as important and are working to achieve; and work with Natural England, water companies and other organisations to come up with workable solutions.
      But you are right – the level of stupidity of some people really is terrifying, especially when they have control of something they really don’t understand.

    2. ‘The level of stupidity of some people both amuses and terrifies me’, yeah and that starts pretty close to home for you doesn’t it Keith? Sponges tend to be saturated AFTER rather than BEFORE immersion in water, and even if a peat bog was completely and utterly saturated after very prolonged rainfall and couldn’t slow the flow of water down any more targeted tree planting at certain points would slow its run off down and then leaky dams would slow that water down again after it went into the watercourse – plus one hell of a lot of water would have to have been absorbed originally for saturation to occur. The sponge analogy is idiotic. Of course beaver dams on the lower parts of the grouse moor where the streams are on the shallowest gradient and are wider means that’s the perfect ‘pinch point’ for them to do their magic. Two or three years of growth from planted willow, alder, birch etc then the beaver can start getting to work, and a period of bringing in supplementary food and dam building materials could help too. And widened streams with damp riparian mini woodland would be bloody good firebreaks helping to protect the hills from runaway muirburn started by clodish gamekeepers. Generally damper moors will also be a bit less fire prone wouldn’t you say?

      You also bring up another old chestnut, blame flooding on the people who suffer from it – love to see you try that at Alyth, Perth or Carlisle. At worst it’s the developer who got away with building where that’s dodgy and that’s down to poor government, not people who reasonably buy a house in good faith that it’s been built where there’s little flood risk. Like ‘sporting’ estates developers are another vested interest that’s being allowed to take the piss. No blame for farmers that sold off the land for development of course. Then people haven’t always had the luxury of living where there’s no flood risk, for various reasons towns and villages might have had to be located at places where flooding could not be entirely avoided, imagine people who live up on the hills getting blamed for being blocked in by snowdrifts. Another point is that with water flowing off the hills faster thanks to drainage, lack of trees and poached ground floodplains have become bigger haven’t they? There’s no way you can wangle it increasing flood risk because people think they’ll be able to shoot more birds for fun is unacceptable. The fact there are other idiocies in the world doesn’t make it OK to add another one, let’s make it one less.

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