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.