Scottish Government’s grouse moor licensing scheme must also consider Red-legged partridges & pheasants

The Scottish Government is currently considering the details of its proposed grouse moor licensing scheme, to regulate the management practices associated with driven grouse shooting (e.g. predator removal, habitat manipulation [muirburn] and the use of veterinary medicine) and to sanction those grouse-shooting estates that can’t/won’t operate within the law.

Environment Minister Mairi McAllan has recently stated that the licensing scheme must be ‘robust’ (see here). In which case, I trust the Government will not limit its new regulations to just the shooting of red grouse on those moors, but will also take into account the recent upsurge in the release and subsequent shooting of red-legged partridges (RLPs) and to a lesser extent, pheasants, on the very same moors.

This seems to be a relatively new activity (as in years rather than decades), perhaps instigated in response to poor grouse numbers (got to have something to shoot at, right?) but it also seems like quite a good wheeze for grouse moor owners because there’s no need to invest in extensive habitat manipulation (muirburn) as the RLPs and pheasants aren’t reliant on fresh heather shoots for food. Although if you look at some of the upland RLP release sites you have to wonder what the hell they’re going to eat.

This photo was taken earlier this year on the Buccleuch Estate in the Southern Uplands – look at the absolute state of that habitat!

I guess there’d also be less need to dump tonnes of medicated grit onto the moor if you don’t have to worry about maintaining your shooting stock for the whole year. Just buy in some poults at the beginning of the summer, release them from their pens on the moors in late summer, kill as many as possible in the autumn and winter then start again with a new batch of imported poults the following summer.

The extensive removal/killing of native predators, however, would continue, which means that up to a quarter of a million native animals would still be killed on those grouse moors to enable the shooting of non-native gamebirds for ‘sport’. And of course the ruthless, relentless and illegal targeting of birds of prey wouldn’t stop either.

Mind you, it would also signal an end to the traditional and grotesquely-celebrated (in)glorious 12th, the start of the grouse-shooting season in August, as open season for RLPs doesn’t begin until 1st September, and it’s the 1st October for pheasants. But perhaps that’s a sacrifice the grouse shooters would consider making if it means they still have an opportunity to go and stand in a shooting butt high up on the side of a moor and take aim at whatever species is being flushed in their direction.

Until recently, RLPs and pheasants, both non-native species and released in their millions every year just to be shot, have mostly been associated with lowland shoots. A conservative estimate indicates that 61.2 million non-native gamebirds are released each year (49.5 million pheasants and 11.7 million RLPs, according to the GWCT (here). But even the casual observer can’t fail to have noticed the number of dead pheasants on the roads in the uplands, particularly in the Yorkshire Dales, Nidderdale and the North York Moors where I photographed this one a few years ago. It didn’t used to be a common sighting in this type of habitat:

Of the two species, it seems the RLPs are ‘better suited’ to being released directly onto the open moor, and these photographs sent to me by a blog reader (thank you!) showing the construction of RLP pens on the Farr Estate in the Monadliaths earlier this year demonstrate that that is exactly what’s been going on.

The photo below is a zoomed-in image of the RLP release pens under construction. The blog reader also noted that there was a third pen a short distance away, not in view from this position, that had “definitely been used last season but had suffered major wind damage, probably in Storm Arwen“. He also said he’d seen “a large fenced off (chicken wire and green nylon netting) block of spruce forest that had also been used as a release pen“:

This photo is of the same gas gun but looking across the moor in a different direction showing the extent of the muirburn and a large access track:

I’m aware of many more RLP release pens on various grouse moors across Scotland so this does seem to be a growing trend.

The concern is that if the Scottish Government’s licensing scheme is deemed to be ‘too restrictive’ by driven grouse moor owners, particularly those that run intensively-managed moors where thousands of grouse are presented to the guns each shoot day, and that the new legislation is worded specifically for red grouse shooting only, the shooting industry will be quick to exploit the loopholes and just swap grouse-shooting for RLP and pheasant shooting instead and would thus be able to avoid having to comply with the new regulations.

I’m aware that this point has already been made to senior civil servants at Holyrood but I think it’s also worth making it here so the public can remain vigilant to it, out on the moors and also online as we await news of the Government’s plans.

14 thoughts on “Scottish Government’s grouse moor licensing scheme must also consider Red-legged partridges & pheasants”

  1. Wasn’t it only recently realised that every law passed has to be scrutinised by lawyers for her maj, to ensure it doesn’t impinge on her ‘freedoms’? In which case, if any legislation ever were to be passed, it would have to allow the royal’s to continue exactly as before.
    I can’t really believe that any meaningful laws will ever be passed while we have that top layer.
    Of course, I may well have woken up early and grouchy.

    1. “every law passed has to be scrutinised by lawyers for her maj”

      Yes and no. Every bill has to receive Royal Assent, before it becomes law. Royal Assent by Commission Act, 1541, was repealed and replaced by the Royal Assent Act 1967.

      Royal assent is the final step required for a parliamentary bill to become law. Once a bill is presented to the Sovereign, he or she has the following formal options:

      Grant royal assent, thereby making the bill an Act of Parliament.
      Delay the bill’s assent through the use of reserve powers (*), thereby invoking a veto
      Refuse royal assent on the advice of his or her ministers (**)

      The last bill that was refused assent by the Sovereign was the Scottish Militia Bill during Queen Anne’s reign in 1708.

      (*) The Sovereign’s reserved powers are extensive, but not formally known! In 1999, Queen Elizabeth II, acting on the advice of the government, refused to signify her consent to the Military Action Against Iraq (Parliamentary Approval) Bill – brought by Labour MP Tam Dalyell in response to Operation Desert Fox in 1998 – which sought to transfer from the monarch to Parliament the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq. In October 2003 the Government made public a list of the Sovereign’s prerogatives but said at the time that a comprehensive catalogue of prerogative powers could not be supplied.
      (**) Highly unlikely for Parliament to pass a bill against Ministers’ approval – but see the reserved powers used by Mrs Windsor in 1999(!) That did not end well, did it? Arise Sir Tony Blair…

      1. Liz and Charlie also get to see legislation before it goes to Parliament as revealed in stories by the, Guardian. It seems that they have had prospective laws changed to give them exemptions and God knows what else has been changed or left out so as not to offend them

  2. I came across RLP release pens being constructed on Grimwith Moor in the Dales in spring – they’re another blight on the environment and landscape. Ordinary people would presumably need planning permission for the monstrosities but because they’re “agricultural” (ha!) they can be put up willy-nilly to satisfy people’s blood lust!

  3. What about drainage? Is there more drainage on moors releasing RLP to create drier habitats? I’d be interested to know.

    Perhaps that should be included in issues for a license.

    1. From experience I think chucking some Red Legs out is simply about getting in a few quick bucks from land that will not work for grouse without massive investment. Or maybe the above on a crappy moor that is temporarily not performing well. Long term investment in drainage for red legs? – not personally heard of it. But often shooting interests get sheep numbers reduced on their best beats to improve the grouse, and instead let tenants graze the crappy ground even more heavily – i.e “we can always chuck some red legs on that anyway”.

  4. There is ongoing development of extensive Pheasant and RLP shooting on the estates in Strathspey around Newtonmore and Kingussie. In particular Pitmain estate is developing release sites for gamebirds higher up the moors and onto the slopes of the Monadliath. The owner of both Pitmain and Banchor estates ( same owner) seems to be developing released gamebird shooting as the grouse numbers are no longer sufficent for large bags to be shot.

    However, despite the ongoing poor grouse numbers both estates continue with intensive muirburn every year. And Banchor in particular has developed more muirburn sites at higher altitudes over the last five years, more ATV tracks are scarring the hillsides and more planning permission is being sought for further hill tracks. Ironically Banchor is being funded by govt grants for a water quality improvement scheme for the river Calder in glen Banchor to try and improve the environment for spawning Salmon etc. Basically to encourage tree regeneration along the river banks whilst the keepers burn the moors and hillsides on the slopes above and stop any possible tree regeneration, a mad use of public money or what?

  5. I guess that pinewood relic will never be allowed to regenerate. What are the ecological impacts of RLP? I guess wee will never see biodiversity improvements on shooting estates.

  6. From a hillside vantage point I watched a RLP drive in a NP last year. I could see what the Guns (in a deep valley) couldn’t – simply that up on the hillside the RLPs were simply being pushed 50m from a patch of bracken with paths mown into it where there 20 odd release pens were (they had probably only been released 3 – 5 weeks earlier) over the Guns and then ‘returned’ by the next drive in a mirror of the above. If the Guns had my view could they have thought of the situation as anything other than pathetic. And this was on a very prestigous estate (details to email).

  7. I don’t know how many of these Scottish Estates are designated SPA or SAC? The Wild Justice legal action (in England) means release pens are prohibited within 500m of those designated sites and Natural England did seem keen to enforce that. From what I can see in the Peak District that has nipped in the bud the trend for RLP and Pheasant shooting on protected Grouse moors. If any blog readers are aware of release pens on England grouse moors they should inform NE. If this has worked in England can’t we have the same set up in Scotland?

  8. Quote “….take aim at whatever species is being flushed in their direction.”.

    That is frightening. It means these half-drunken (after a few tipples from their hip flasks, and more booze at lunch-time”) incompetent xxxxx have to learn to identify not one but perhaps THREE species they can blast to bits. Can we expect that a few more non-quarry species will be shot during driven RLP and pheasant shoots? And as you so rightly point out, raptors are also going to suffer.

    The photo of the RLP release pens on the grouse moors will be forever etched in my mind. Not doen with raping the landscape, xxxxx xxxxx sees it fit to rape multiple times.

    I am not a meat-eater, but isn’t it easier to just go to the local supermarket and buy a chicken? Or maybe it is healthier with a good old bit of lead in your Sunday roast??

    1. Hi Paul, regards identity of species, the sad fact is that most Guns on those sort of shoots -“The Poor Mans Grouse” as they are known – are not competent or even caring enough to distinguish wild Grey Partridge from the released Red Legs, even when a keeper or shoot asks them to leave the Greys alone. Tenuous claims that the predator killing hours invested for the commercial side i.e. Red Legs benefits the Greys for free is on most (admittedly not all) shoots totally undermined when the Greys get shot too in high numbers they cannot sustain.

    2. “I am not a meat-eater, but isn’t it easier to just go to the local supermarket and buy a chicken?”

      I do not believe that the shooting industry has ANYTHNG to do with providing food. It is ALL about the exhilaration and power of using GUNS to kill something. Which is why the Royal Family are so keen: a historical demonstration of their legacy and where their power originated.

  9. How is the release of these non-native game birds, which are released solely for the commercial purposes of shooting, supportive of the governments plans to improve the state of nature, bio diversity and native wildlife in the UK?
    I note in a RSPB report outlining the impact of non native game bird release in the UK (RSPB Research Report No. 66).
    Mention is made of the negative impact non native game birds have on such things as plant species, the destructive effect these birds can have on non vertebrate species such as amphibians and reptiles, the fact that such large numbers of game birds often out compete native species, which can result in a decline of native species, and that the concentration of bird droppings can enrich soil quality which then goes on to effect plant species composition.
    The game birds also pose a risk of being a reservoir for diseases such as avian flu – which could then be passed onto native bird species.
    I would also suggest that if more game birds (grouse, red legged partridge or pheasants are available to be shot, then there would be more shooting activity, which in turn would result in more lead shot being deposited on the ground, leading to all the bad things this highly toxic poison can have on the environment.

    I would hope that those estates which release such birds are are prohibited from accessing any public money such as environmental stewardship grants etc. To allow such estates access to public money would make a complete mockery of the notion of “public money for public good”.
    The fact that the release of these non native birds appears to have such a detrimental impact on the environment, and native wildlife, then I would hope politicians would give serious thought to imposing additional taxes and levies on moorland used for such purposes, in order to help cover the costs that such use will have on wider conservation issues.

    I am not familiar with the planning process in Scotland, but would estates which build release pens and release these game birds need planning permission?
    If a member of the public would require planning permission to build a free range chicken farm out on the moors, then I would hope estate owners would also need planning permission to build game bird release pens and release thousands of non native birds into a concentrated area?

    This then also raises the issue of access roads, and planning around building those roads. I assume once the game birds are released then there will be increased traffic on those access roads as those responsible for the birds will need to attend to them daily. Such increased human and vehicle activity must surely have a negative environmental impact on native wildlife in the area?
    These are all areas which need careful consideration during a planning application.
    If the release of these non native birds and the building of release pens and access roads doesn’t need planning consent, then it raises the question- Why not?

    This whole sorry saga seems to be one driven by money and greed of the grouse moor owners.
    Such activity can not be good for the environment, it can not be good for native wildlife, and it needs to be stopped.
    The issue also highlights just how out of control certain sections of the game shooting industry have become, the fact that self management clearly isn’t working and why the industry needs proper regulations and control mechanisms.
    I just hope the Scottish government are properly awake to just what is happening, and have the determination to act in the interests of the vast majority of the population who want far better protection for the environment.

    I would also hope organisation such as the GWCT and Moorland Association have something to say about this issue. Because it appears to me that the release of non native game birds on grouse moors is totally at odds with proper conservation in such a habitat.

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