New research reveals extent of nature-impoverished intensively-managed grouse moors in Britain’s National Parks

Press release from charity Rewilding Britain (5th August 2021)

Nature-impoverished intensively-managed grouse moors cover over three-quarters of a million acres of Britain’s national parks, Rewilding Britain reveals.

More than three-quarters of a million acres of Britain’s national parks are covered by intensively-managed grouse moors which leave nature impoverished and contribute to climate breakdown, new research by Rewilding Britain reveals.

With the annual grouse shooting season recommencing on 12 August, the charity says its findings highlight the need for government action to ensure wilder national parks that can lead the way in tackling the nature and climate crises.

A total of 852,000 acres – an area more than twice the size of Greater London – of Britain’s national parks are devoted to intensively-managed grouse shoots, known as driven grouse shooting, according to figures released today by the environmental charity.

Of the six national parks that contain grouse moors – which are found only in Scotland and northern England – almost a third of their combined land area (27%) is devoted to driven grouse shoots, which keep the land in a degraded state, contribute to climate breakdown, and prevent significant recovery of wildlife.

With over three quarters of a million acres of our national parks devoted to driven grouse moors, the parks are being held back from tackling Britain’s collapsing biodiversity and the climate emergency,” said Rewilding Britain’s policy and campaigns coordinator Guy Shrubsole.

The Prime Minister’s pledge to protect 30% of Britain’s land for nature – and count national parks towards this total – rings hollow when you realise that vast areas of our national parks are dominated by these nature-impoverished and heavily-managed areas.

We’re urging ministers to show real leadership by creating wilder national parks and setting up core rewilding areas in each of them – in which driven grouse shoots are phased out, and our precious moors brought back to health.”

Grouse moors are often intensively managed, with heather regularly burned to produce fresh shoots for young grouse. This burning often damages underlying peat soils – the UK’s single largest carbon sink – releasing carbon and worsening the climate crisis. It also prevents the growth of trees and a wide range of other vegetation by suppressing natural regeneration, and kills other wildlife including large numbers of insects, preventing the recovery of biodiversity.

[An example of a shockingly intensively managed grouse moor in northern England. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Illegal persecution of birds of prey also still occurs on some intensively-managed grouse moors, with killing of goshawks, hen harriers and eagles – and trapping of stoats, foxes and mountain hares – to maximise grouse numbers.

A staggering 44% of the Cairngorms National Park comprises driven grouse moors, as does almost a third (28%) of the North York Moors, a quarter of the Yorkshire Dales and a fifth (21%) of the Peak District. Driven grouse moors also cover 15% of Northumberland National Park and 2% of the Lake District.

Driven grouse shooting, which only occurs in the UK, involves intensive management of moorland to maximise the numbers of grouse, enabling people to shoot large numbers of red grouse flushed out by rows of walkers called beaters. The country’s other form of grouse shooting – known as ‘walked up’ shooting – is much less intensive in its management of the land, does not seek to maximise grouse numbers in the same way, and is generally seen as more environmentally sustainable.

Rewilding Britain is calling for government action to create wilder national parks – with a tenth of the parks’ land forming core rewilding areas and nature recovery across another 50%. This would allow the parks to set the pace for ensuring a healthier, more nature-rich Britain, with fresh opportunities for communities and local economies.

The UK has been ranked 189th out of 218 countries for nature, with some 56% species in decline and 15% threatened with extinction. Rewilding Britain says rewilding – large-scale restoration of nature to the point where it can take care of itself – will help reverse this collapse in biodiversity.

The charity’s research shows rewilding can also significantly boost green job creation and volunteering opportunities. Data from Rewilding Britain’s analysis of 23 large-scale rewilding sites in England – including some former driven grouse areas – shows a 47% increase in jobs overall as a result of rewilding.

Britain’s nature would be in an even worse state were it not for the national parks, which have protected their landscapes from urbanisation and done a lot for conservation. But with the nature and climate crises outpacing us, the parks’ wildlife and habitats are badly depleted. We need bold action for nature recovery to match the scale of the threats,” said Guy Shrubsole.

Rewilding 10% of the parks would see peatlands, moorlands, woods, rivers and seas restored, with no loss of productive farmland. Nature recovery areas across a further 50% of the parks would involve a mix of habitats, wildlife corridors and land uses, with Government financial support for nature-friendly agriculture.

The Government can create rewilding areas across 10% of the parks regardless of action by private landowners. Public bodies – along with water companies, which are legally obliged to help the parks meet their purpose – own 738,000 acres or 13% of the total 5.7m acres covered by Britain’s 15 national parks.

Rewilding Britain’s petition calling on the UK and devolved governments to create wilder national parks can be signed at


The Guardian has an article on this today (here) including a fatuous quote from Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association about grouse moor owners apparently being ‘wild at heart’ (eh?) and a link to Wild Justice’s legal challenge against the burning of peatlands in the English uplands (here).

Hen Harrier Day 2021 takes place this Saturday (7th August) and there’ll be plenty of discussion in the live online broadcast about the devastating environmental impacts of grouse moor management. Sign up here for notification about the event.

24 thoughts on “New research reveals extent of nature-impoverished intensively-managed grouse moors in Britain’s National Parks”

  1. Hooray, someone else has spotted what I have believed in for years, it is beyond time that we dealt with this problem.
    For too long now the grouse shooting has caused massive problems, not only with the murder of grouse, but the killing of other wildlife in order to preserve their right to murder the grouse.
    Land is repeatedly damaged by land managers who remove all wildlife in the shooting moors, and kill off the habitat needed by wildlife, and god help any bird of prey which strays within a mile of the moor, as they are systematically murdered too.
    The barbarian sport of killing stuff for fun should finally be banned, if these people still have an urge to shoot something, sign them up to the military, I’m sure the skill of murdering things would be a useful trait in the army.
    Or they could join this century and use simulators, or even clay pigeon shooting, but stop the pointless, unnecessary killing of our wildlife, and stop them adding more to the climate issues than a city by burning the countryside.
    This government, along with all the previous ones have always, and without fail, avoided dealing with this issue, it’s time they stepped up, and stood up to the bully boy tactics of the grouse shooting mob, and ban it outright.
    A bunch of tuffs roaming round killing everything that moves.

    1. I love your idea of signing the shooters up to the military. Would sort the men from the boys and cure our chronic lack of military personnel in one go!

      1. I would imagine that most grouse shooters are way beyond an age when the military might want them and the same for many keepers and I cannot imagine them wanting to be in the military. What’s all this nonsense about murdering grouse, yes they are shot and most are eaten, but murder No that’s nonsense. This report is indeed long overdue and many of us have known this for along time, yes DGS management benefits a few species some of them amber and red listed but for many others that should either be there and are absent or in much lower numbers than they might be this management in an anathema. It is surely possible to rewild in such a way that the few benefits and benefitting species are preserved whilst restoring the habitat for wider biodiversity. I don’t object to shooting just the excesses of driven shooting in all forms and the management committees certainly of the YD and NYM National Parks have DGS/moor owners well represented so change may be difficult to achieve, but we do need that change to be rid of poor climate damaging management and the associated criminality. Remember that criminality is in built DGS cannot achieve the high densities of Red Grouse except in exceptional circumstances without illegal raptor control much as they deny it.

  2. This is fantastic!! Getting shot of DGS really should be the lowest of the low hanging fruit, and very glad that Rewilding Britain is starting to show some teeth re this rather than a conciliatory, acquiescent approach as it did with the Welsh farming community which effectively killed off the flagship Summit to Sea project there. Maybe that made RB realise it needed to change its approach. So even the Lake District has some grouse moors, just the 2% of the area taken up by them would still make a big difference if turned over to real habitat creation – it’s pretty crap for wildlife and not much good at holding water back to keep Carlisle dry. With the others the potential is phenomenal. This RSPB video from the Peak District National Park certainly backs up the call for National Parks to get rid of them

    1. I’m sure I heard somewhere that someone is trying to introduce DGS in North Wales, It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

      1. With rewilding effectively off the board in Wales, it’s literally a taboo word in parts of the country, that really leaves the door open for DGS to restart there when it’s being lost to eco restoration in Scotland. Even in the north of England there’s a bit of rewilding away from grouse moors, and where grouse moors are rented rather than owned by shooters they’re losing their tenancies at least partly to conservation initiatives. Despite all their power, wealth, connections and efforts the big landowners haven’t completely stymied rewilding, that’s been achieved by Welsh hill farmers.

  3. “A staggering 44% of the Cairngorms National Park comprises driven grouse moors”

    Do you really believe that? It’s the proportion of moorland, but much of it isn’t used for driven grouse shooting at all. I’d like to see no land at all intensively managed for grouse in the CNP, but it’s good to use facts.

    1. Hi Paul W,

      I can’t speak for Rewilding Britain, whose press release this is, but they did provide additional information for editors at the foot of the press release. This is what they say about how the figure was calculated for the Cairngorms National Park:

      ‘To calculate the area of grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park, we used two sources. Firstly, the Cairngorms National Park Authority itself states in this 2014 document : “Moorland management is a significant land use in the National Park, extending to approximately 44% of land cover, shaping much of the landscape. Much of it is managed for the primary aim of producing sufficient populations of red grouse and/or red deer for sport shooting.” An accompanying static map showed the extent of heather moor. We tracked down a GIS version of this map (the Land Cover of Scotland map published by the James Hutton Institute) and were able to measure the area to verify that it is indeed 44% of the Cairngorms National Park’.

  4. Two per cent of the Lake District! So the other 98 per cent of the Lake District uplands are teeming with wildlife? Some great work being done at RSPB Haweswater but you have only got to drive up the M6 through the Howgills to see the problem with large chunks of the lakes – overgrazing, sheet and gully erosion etc. I have been more recording on and around grouse moorland in north Bowland for many years and whilst there are obviously examples of over-Intensive grouse management, all I have seen in north Bowland is a stark biodiversity comparison between upland improved pasture and nearby grouse moorland with associated mires etc. There is an extensive area frequented by the moorland form of Large Heath butterfly (part on grouse moorland part on upland farm stewardship) and several mires containing eg the nationally scarce Manchester Treble Bar moth

  5. There should be no driven grouse moors within the National Parks!!

    In my opinion, the mere presence of driven grouse moors is contradictory to many of the statements made in the literature promoting the National Parks, and the whole purpose of publicly funding a place where nature and the preservation of the natural environment with all its rich diversity of flora and fauna should flourish.

    For example on one of the National Parks web pages it states – “Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.
    Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public”.

    Perhaps someone could explain to me how staring out over a drab mono culture of heather, (apart from that short period of time when it bursts into flower), burnt into something which resembles a checker board, criss-crossed with unsightly shooting tracks, and rows of unnatural wooden grouse butts, which sit like boils on the landscape, is beautiful?
    A place which is devoid of wildlife diversity, where mammals such as deer, fox, stoat or weasel are missing; where the skies are empty of birds, especially raptors; and the sound of silence is only occasionally interrupted by the noise from the engine of a quad bike, often followed by the bang of a shotgun, -how can this be described as having “special qualities” for the enjoyment of the public?
    How does this depressive landscape conserve and enhances the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage??

    Why is it I only ever find all those wading birds, such as curlews and lapwings, which the driven grouse moor industry like to claim as a conservation success, on the moor margins and rough pastures? Places, where I suspect, it is more the work of the farmer which enables their presence, rather than anything to do with damaged ecosystem which prevails on the actual moor?

    When it comes to grouse moor owners claiming that the conservation work carried out on the moors is funded from the shooting and not the public purse. Is this really true? How many grouse moors have SSSI status and are in receipt of conservation grants and funding through stewardship schemes?

    I strongly suspect that the driven grouse shooting industry knows full well, that such industrially and intensively managed moors fall far short of what the public expect in a Natural Park.
    Could this be one of the reasons behind the recent creation of the coalition- Aim to Sustain?
    A group through which I suspect with a slight of hand, and a puff of smoke, will try and pull nature out of a hat as part of an elaborate magic show to try and convince the public and politicians that what takes place on driven grouse moors is sustainable conservation, enhancing the natural beauty of the landscape.
    Or, is this actually part of an elaborate trick to try and blur the differences between grouse moors carefully managed for sustainable walk up shooting, and moors where the intense, unnatural breeding of grouse takes place to provide the numbers of birds required for driven grouse shooting?
    Such magic might fool politicians, but many of the public who visit the National Parks will no doubt have an experience which tells them something is very wrong with how nature in the park is being managed.

    Is this really what society wants from its National Parks?
    Or should grouse shooting within National Parks be restricted to sustainable walk up shooting, where the land management and conservation is a proper scientifically driven enterprise between the land owner, the Parks Authority and other organisations which aren’t trying to exploit the land for shooting?

    I know what I want from a National Park- I am not sure many of our politicians do!!

  6. A further point for consideration.
    How can Hen Harrier brood management ever be acceptable in a National Park?
    Shouldn’t a National Park be a place where the Hen Harrier is fully protected by the law, and where it should be able to breed successfully and naturally without any interference?
    If the landowners within a National Park, upon whose land the Hen Harrier attempts to nest, breed and populate are unable to provide a safe environment for this to happen, isn’t this telling us that there is fundamental flaw in the way in which a National Park is managed and operates?

    From my understanding, I am led to believe that the owners of the moors upon which DGS takes will not tolerate Hen Harriers in the numbers which that environment should sustain due to the negative impact this will have on grouse numbers and the ability to operate DGS on that moor.
    If this conflict between DGS and Hen Harriers is the one of main obstacle to Hen Harrier conservation within the National Parks, then as far as I am concerned it adds further weight to the argument that there is no place within a National Park for DGS.
    Just imagine the outcry if one of the African national parks decided that lions should be removed from a park because of the negative effect they had on other game species.
    It would be very interesting to know what response the DGS industry would give to this conundrum?
    I suspect it is a question they would prefer not to answer?

    1. when it comes to Hen Harriers its a question that DGS proponents completely fudge with outstanding hypocrisy they trumpet BM as the saviour of the Hen Harrier, as some of them have stopped killing them or destroying breeding attempts because of BM they are claiming they are the birds saviours and BM is a conservation success rather than what it is a density limitation exercise ensuring harriers are way below carrying capacity. What happens when there more Harrier nests that fit the bill for BM than can in fact me meddled with, will these conservation charlatans go back to destroying nests? All this self congratulation by these folk for doing what has been required of them by law since 1954! Makes me at least want to puke. Then of course successful Peregrine breeding on grouse moors is even rarer than that of harriers, their “sport” is built on criminality that has no place in an NP or indeed anywhere else.

    2. Hen harrier should along with on the protected list should be safe anywhere but the authorities continually turn a blind eye to all this slaughter and support these morons that live in the past.

      1. The land management practices associated with recreational grouse shooting involve the suppression of natural predators (a proportion of which are rare and legally protected species), deliberate destruction of other moorland species (mountain hares), collateral destruction of invertebrates, reptiles, small mammals and moorland flora (through burning) and introduction of pharmaceutical products into the food chain. The sum total of this is a wrecking ball against the National Park purpose of conserving and enhancing natural beauty, wildlife (and cultural heritage). This is not supposed to happen in a National Park in which statute law prioritises conservation over “promoting understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the park by the public”. Driven grouse shooting is inconsistent with the purpose of National Park designation.

        One could be forgiven for thinking that the National Park purpose of “conservation and enhancement” is meaningless. It’s a pity that the recent “Glover Review” of English National Parks didn’t address this….

  7. There is a new political reality being birthed in the UK at present over which the SNP Government will have little say over. As I have previously stated Boris is in the process of passing legislation which will be written in such a manner that any regional laws (Scotland, wales & NI) that prevent or interfere with UK organisations going about their business in a way that is lawful under Westminster laws can be overridden.
    This seems tailor-made to be brought to bear when the licensing of DGM’s is introduced. Indeed, I would be very surprised if that has not already been discussed in Holyrood and any measures watered down so as not to come into conflict with Westminster. This is worth keeping in mind.
    We are in the middle of a confict and not approaching the end of one as some might have thought.

  8. The last correspondence I had regarding DGS from a Tory MP and MSP told me that DGS is a marvelous “conservation success story” etc.. The mendacious guff spewed out by some Tories in recent parliamentary debates about banning DGS backs this up completely. All the while England votes Tory and we have a monarchy devoted to blood ‘sports’, I fear DGS will carry on more or less unchanged for a very long time yet. The prospect for large scale rewilding of grouse moors in Scotland also looks bleak (perhaps even worse? – as DGS will be protected for decades to come by licensing) too with an SNP Government that is more talk than walk. If what George has described comes to fruition any meagre gains against DGS north of the border will be watered down to the point of being useless.

  9. OT but relevant, I feel. I’m getting ads on FB from Moorland people (Harrier numbers up) and a game meat supplier. Is this a charm offensive by them, more generally?

  10. George M. If you are referring to the UK Internal Market Bill then it is not a new political reality at all. It is the latest in a succession of UK measures since 2016 designed specifically to undermine the competence of the devolved administrations and it is the subject of legal action from the Welsh Government supported by the Scottish Government. I’d doubt your suggestion very much, to put it mildly, that the opportunist use of such a UK Bill to water down DGS licensing features much in the SG approach to this UK attack on devolution. I’d worry a little less about alleged SG attitudes to DGS and a little more about the potential now for UK unilateral action in Scotland in support of their DGS chums such as, for example, additional UK funding in line with the new development funding of their own constituencies and vested interests.
    BTW it’s the Scottish Government, not the SNP Government, and Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland are not regions. Lose sight of these very basic facts and you might find a lot worse than DGS funding coming up the road from London.

  11. The UK’s version of a “National Park” is pretty much at odds with every other country on the planet

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