‘If grouse shooting was a new idea, would you support it?’ Opinion piece from REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform

An opinion piece published in The Scotsman today, written by Max Wiszniewski, Campaign Manager for REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform:

If grouse shooting never existed and large landowners wanted to start it up today, would you be in or would you be out?

Today marks the beginning of Scotland’s grouse shooting season – traditionally known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ of August – which is now seen as a highly controversial date in the calendar. From now until December 10, many thousands of grouse are legally allowed to be shot by, what will ultimately be, just a few people for sport.

So, what is grouse shooting, why has the killing of this iconic Scottish bird become a past-time amongst some of our societal elites and why is it rightly seen as so completely controversial today?

Grouse shooting can take place in more than one form including walked-up shooting but it is driven grouse shooting which is the dominant form and which causes the greatest and most significant societal discord.

Driven grouse shooting is the practice of using a line of ‘beaters’ to drive red grouse over the heads of shooters waiting behind shooting ‘butts’ – who attempt to kill as many of these native birds as possible.

The need for ‘high bag numbers’ on shoot days is what drives a circle of destruction that surrounds the industry, and the intensity of those land management practices has significantly increased since Victorian times when the blood-sport was invented.

Early moorland management involved heather burning to provide an enhanced habitat for breeding and predators were totally eliminated, including many of Scotland’s birds of prey.

This led to a rapid increase in the red grouse population with record numbers of over 2,000 birds killed in a single day. These early days of grouse moor management were accompanied by dramatic fluctuations in grouse numbers due to outbreaks of disease.

In 2022, these management practices largely continue with some important differences in the literal and political landscape. While grouse can be shot for some people’s amusement, birds of prey are now legally protected and recent decades have seen the introduction of high-strength medicated grit stations to combat population fluctuations and the spread of disease that is inevitably present in high densities of grouse.

Grouse ingest mineral grit to assist the digestion of heather, so grouse moor managers provide them with an alternative source of grit, coated with the pharmaceutical worming drug Flubendazole. Some estates, unhappy with the results of using double-strength medicated grit, are now using super-strength medication of up to 20 times the concentration of the original anthelmintic drug, according to a well-known grouse moor manager.

The distribution of a toxic pharmaceutical drug that seeps across the landscape and into the food chain represents a level of intensification that transforms moorland from a semi natural-environment into a quasi-domesticated farmed environment – keeping grouse numbers unnaturally high, for sport shooting. This is far from the wholesome and natural countryside experience that grouse moor managers would have you believe it is.

Coinciding with increasingly intensive management practices, while legally protected, it’s the continuing persecution of birds of prey (including golden eagles and hen harriers) that has increased the infamy of the relentless grouse shooting industry.

A 2017 Scottish Government report showed that out of 131 satellite-tagged eagles, about a third had disappeared, presumably died, under suspicious circumstances prompting legislative action that is due in this parliamentary term. Since then, raptor persecution has continued, even amidst a pandemic lockdown.

[This young golden eagle was found deliberately poisoned on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorms National Park. The carcass next to it is a mountain hare, used as a poisoned bait. Photo by RSPB]

Grouse moors are due to be licenced by the Scottish Government, which means that if a wildlife crime is committed on a grouse moor then it could lose it’s licence to operate. However, the problems of driven grouse shooting go much further than widespread evidence of illegal activities. The circle of destruction that surrounds grouse shooting even goes beyond the mass chemical medication on our moors.

The muirburn season sees huge swathes of Scotland’s uplands burned, to make the local landscape more suitable for grouse – so more of them can be shot for sport.

This risks the vital peatland that occupies much of our upland moors which emit carbon in a degraded state as opposed to sequestering it. Meanwhile the muirburn monocultures deprive our uplands of a larger mosaic of alternative biodiversity – which would still include heather – keeping the land in a dry and fragile state.

Unregulated bulldozed hill tracks scar the landscape to make life easier for shooters and grouse moor managers. Tons of lead shot is sprayed across the countryside.

Untold thousands of animals like foxes, stoats, weasels and crows still suffer needlessly on grouse moors via snares and traps – just so more grouse can be shot for sport. Does this sound like the modern progressive Scotland we all aspire to?

When the Scottish Government licenses shooting estates, they need to tackle it all. They need to end the entire circle of destruction and get to the heart of the problem – driven grouse shooting. Is the desire of just a few people to shoot more birds justification enough for such damage to our wildlife and the environment? Especially considering the economic returns, to the public at least, are so tiny for all the land it uses up.

If you’re on the fence and you are still to decide whether to support Revive’s reform agenda, then ask yourself the following.

If grouse shooting never existed and large landowners wanted to start it up today – they would make the case for burning the landscape, degrading our peatlands, mass-medicating a supposedly wild bird with high-strength toxic chemicals, killing tens of thousands of other wild animals while spraying grouse with poisonous lead shot for three months, every year – just so more grouse can be shot for sport.

Would you be in, or would you be out?


If you want to find out more about the REVIVE coalition’s campaign for grouse moor reform in Scotland, please visit their website here.

16 thoughts on “‘If grouse shooting was a new idea, would you support it?’ Opinion piece from REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform”

    1. Definitely OUT. It’s a pastime which is well past it’s sell-by date given the carbon capture requirements and the Muirburn. As if there isn’t enough of the land burning at the moment!

  1. Brilliant piece, and all so true. thank you Max. Please check out the Scottish Wildlife and Countryside Act …. reckless use of Snares where protected species occur.

  2. No. It’s barbaric. Stop killing wildlife many of us want to be able to see animals in the wild and enjoy their presence, not their demise. There is clay pigeon shooting and I’m sure other forms of hunting are possible with today’s technology. Virtual hunting for instance.

  3. Not a chance! Driven grouse showing trashes the countryside just to satisfy a bunch of wealthy sad inadequates. If you get your kicks killing things tgen I’d suggest a career as a pest controller, at least you’d be providing a service to society at large.

  4. I posed the same question to the RSPB four years ago in a long submission regarding their position on all forms of driven game shooting with reference to the part of their constitution that says they will ‘take no part in the question of’ killing birds for game etc. The paragraph remains in their constitution and it seems to me well past time that it is removed as they are – in my opinion – hiding behind it so as to avoid getting into an ethical debate about killing things for ‘fun’ (which is what all driven game shooting is).

    The same applies to fox hunting. Would anyone these days seriously consider gathering 100+ riders, assorted quad bikes & terrier men and all the cost of keeping hounds, bearing the public outcry etc. just to kill foxes? Would anyone in their right mind be anything other than appalled by the idea of killing anything for ‘fun’ if it weren’t fossilised in their minds as ‘tradition’? I doubt it…

    1. Well said Peter. I too had a similar battle with the RSP(of some)B which led me to leave. RSPB members should leave in droves until the RSPB sorts this royal charter nonsense out. As the ‘go to’ organisation for anything birds, they are doing a massive disservice for those that want to see DGS banned by supporting a DGS licensing system in Scotland. SHAME on them.

    2. “The paragraph remains in their constitution and it seems to me well past time that it is removed as they are – in my opinion – hiding behind it so as to avoid getting into an ethical debate about killing things for ‘fun’ (which is what all driven game shooting is).”

      So why are the RSPB proposing a licensing scheme with caveats, without which they say they will call for a ban? And they are doing this without changing their constitution.

  5. Why do REVIVE not utter the words ‘ban driven grouse shooting’? Utterances such as ‘Reform agenda’ is mealy-mouthed bollocks and it needs to stop.

      1. I want a ban on DGS which IS the only meaningful ‘grouse moor reform’. I think I’ve been very clear on that point. Do you want a DGS ban or are you happy for people to kill grouse for fun on a ‘reformed grouse moor’?

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