So here we are again, the Inglorious Twelfth, heralding the start of the grouse-shooting season and the papers are full of the usual guff about how great this ‘sport’ is for the economy, conservation, world peace etc etc, although very little information about the industry’s undeniable link with the illegal persecution of raptors.
One particular story that’s getting a lot of media coverage is the publication of a scientific paper that suggests a hen harrier ‘quota’ system could solve the long-running conflict between grouse-moor management and raptor conservation e.g. see here.
It’s not a new story – this quota system idea, which basically means that once the hen harrier population has reached a certain size, birds will be ‘removed’ from grouse moors so as not to interfere with the profits of driven grouse shooting, has been around since 1998 and has been wheeled out in various guises ever since, notably by Professor Steve Redpath of Aberdeen University who has directed much of the research. Indeed, the quota system was central to the six-year ‘Hen Harrier Dialogue’ talks between the grouse-shooting industry and conservationists, which eventually collapsed because the ‘dialogue’ was seen by the conservationists as a delaying tactic – while everyone was busy ‘talking’ the hen harrier was virtually eradicated as a breeding species in England (see here for why the RSPB walked out, here for why the Northern England Raptor Forum walked out, and here for why the Hawk & Owl Trust walked out).
In the latest paper (see link at foot of this blog entry) a new data model is put forward which demonstrates that ‘across the grouse moors of England there is room for 70 pairs of hen harriers at relatively low cost for grouse shooting’.
At a superficial level, 70 pairs of hen harriers sounds quite good, especially when you consider that this year there are only three reported breeding pairs in the whole of England. However, 70 pairs represents only 20% of the estimated 340 pairs that could inhabit the English uplands. Should we cut our losses and accept that having 20% of the population is better than having the less than 1% of the population that we currently have? We don’t think so.
Why should we accept anything less than 100% of the estimated 340 breeding pairs that could exist? Why should a species of high conservation concern pay the price just so a minority of people can maintain artificially-high populations of red grouse in order to spend a few days each year blasting them from the sky?
There are many other issues, too. Let’s just suppose the quota system was agreed by all the stakeholders and it went ahead. For the first few years, hen harrier chicks would be removed from the grouse moors, reared in captivity and then released ‘elsewhere’. What would happen once the hen harriers have recolonised their former range and filled all the spaces? Where would the hen harrier chicks then be released? The removal of those birds could only ever be a short-term solution until all the vacant territories have been filled. In the long-term, it would undoubtedly lead to calls for a cull.
Then there’s the issue of trust. And it’s a big issue, perhaps the biggest of all. Would we trust the grouse moor owners not to persecute the hen harriers that are ‘allowed’ to breed on grouse moors? Not a chance in hell! This industry has denied involvement in raptor persecution for decades, despite all the evidence against them. They have proved themselves to be untrustworthy and incapable of self-regulation. Why would we trust them to do the right thing now? Come on.
Another concern is the precedent that would be set by this quota system. First hen harriers, but then what? Peregrines? Golden eagles? Short-eared owls? Goshawks? Red kites? Sparrowhawks? Buzzards? Ravens? All of these species are already illegally killed on grouse moors. You can bet your house that if the hen harrier quota system goes ahead, these species will be next on the list. It’s simply a way for the grouse-shooting industry to legalise a crime that they’re already committing.
So what’s the alternative? That’s easy – a ban on driven grouse shooting. An industry that cannot function without relying on illegal persecution has had its day. Sign the petition here.
Download the latest scientific paper on a hen harrier quota system here: Elston et al 2014 HH quota model_JAE