Grouse moor management “treats nature with contempt”

Last week saw the widespread media broadcast of a film produced by Lush, OneKind and The League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) depicting the brutal, military-style mass killing of mountain hares on a number of Scottish grouse moors, filmed in February this year. For those who missed it, here it is again:

Inevitably, public outrage ensued and resulted in First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stating in the Scottish Parliament that these culls are “not acceptable” (see here).

The fall-out continued yesterday with an article by Jim Crumley in The Courier, who wrote about how grouse moor management “treats nature with contempt“.

It’s a brilliant piece, taking apart word by word what he calls an “ill-advised response” to the film from the Scottish Moorland Group’s Director, Tim (Kim) Baynes.

It’s well worth a read, from a journalist who frequently hits the nail on the head when describing the grouse-shooting industry – he’s previously referred to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association as “the UKip of the natural world” (here) and has described sporting estates as “a rural perversion” (here).

In case the article disappears, we’ve produced it below. It’s also worth reading one of the Reader’s Letters, by David Mitchell, (here).


By Jim Crumley (published in The Courier, 3 April 2018)

The reputation of Scotland’s landowners took another hefty blow in the solar plexus in the seven days since I made the case for legislation to protect the red fox from the worst excesses of what passes for land management, after a protest outside the Scottish Parliament about abuse of foxhunting legislation.

This time, it was film of a “cull” of mountain hares so militaristic in its strategy and so devastating in the scale of its slaughter that it would not have looked out of place in a newsreel clip from Syria.

The First Minister, who was suitably horrified like the rest of us – most of the rest of us, of which more anon – said the Scottish Government would explore “all available options to prevent mass culls of mountain hares and one of those options is legislation and a licensing scheme”.

Good. Please do it very, very quickly.

Because as the delay in implementing legal protection for the Tayside beavers demonstrates on a regular basis, the legal vacuum is being filled by men with guns and traps to kill as many as possible in the shortest possible time, and heavy machinery to wreck their dams and lodges.

Just when you thought things could hardly get any worse for the landowning fraternity, widespread screening of the film on television news and online was followed by an ill-advised response to the film by the director of the Scottish Moorland Group.

And just in case you thought the Scottish Moorland Group was a balanced, multi-interest coalition including community associations and nature conservation professionals, membership comprises the chairmen of seven regional groups of moorland owners and managers, and representatives from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. This is a hardcore self-interest group.

So what its director said was this:

This footage has been filmed by animal rights activists who actively campaign against this type of land management and have no interest in managing the balance of species and habitat on Scotland’s heather moor.

Mountain hare management is not only legal but necessary…”

Let’s go through that bit by bit. Firstly, it really doesn’t matter if the footage has been filmed by animal rights activists, the SWI or the Tufty Club.

The fact is that it exists and it is a film of slaughter that demonstrably treats nature with contempt.

Secondly, when it comes to criticising the activists’ level of interest in managing the balance of species and habitat on Scotland’s heather moors, the director is taking the art of pots calling kettles black to previously unplumbed depths.

There is nothing – nothing at all – in the entire repertoire of the landscapes of Scotland that is more hideously imbalanced in its relationship between species and habitat than a grouse moor.

Grouse moors are denuded of natural vegetation other than heather, which is routinely burned and manipulated so that – in theory at least – the moors produce the required harvest of grouse.

[An east Highlands grouse moor, photo by Chris Townsend]

And let’s not be deluded by the industry into thinking that the grouse is treated as anything other than a crop, a crop to be harvested at great expense by rich people with guns. And instead of spraying the crop, the grouse is fed medicated grit.

That is what Scottish moorland management amounts to. Anything that gets in the way of that ambition – anything at all from hares and foxes to eagles and harriers – is the enemy, and is treated as such.

The hare’s problem is not that it savages grouse or eats their eggs (it’s a vegetarian), but rather that it carries a tick, and some people think that increases the presence of the tick in grouse.

There is no evidence to suggest an abundance of hares is bad for grouse numbers, but there is such enthusiasm on estates for shooting hares by the truckload that they do it anyway.

The American wildlife writer and artist David M. Carroll, wrote in his book, Swampwalker’s Journal:

“The term ‘wildlife management’, often used in environmental polemics of the day in reference to human manipulations, is an oxymoron. We should have learned long ago to simply leave the proper space, to respectfully withdraw, and let wildlife manage wildlife.”

In Scotland, the Victorians ushered in new perversions and depravities in the matter of “wildlife management”, but evidence of the chill hand they brought to bear on nature still pervades the air in the 21st Century, still poisons the land with its prejudices, and still calls it wildlife management.

And to return to the SMG director’s response to the hare cull – no, mountain hare management may be legal for the moment, but it is most certainly not necessary.

For thousands of years before the Victorians lost the plot, there were widespread and healthy populations of both mountain hares and red grouse. There just weren’t any grouse moors.


32 Responses to “Grouse moor management “treats nature with contempt””

  1. 1 Bill Gilmour
    April 4, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    The point of killing hares is not to save heather for goose, it is to reduce eagle’s food supply and so starve them to death.

    • April 4, 2018 at 4:30 pm

      This is worth a laugh from the GWCT website….lets all take part in a survey of mountain hares !

      Scottish Mountain Hare Survey 2017/18
      Why have a mountain hare survey?
      Mountain hare in summer coatMountain hare (Lepus timidus) are considered a species of community interest and are an important part of Scotland’s moorland heritage. The UK government has a legal obligation to ensure the sustainable management of the species. However, in order to make informed decisions on the future management of mountain hares, it is important to obtain current and accurate information on their distribution, how they are managed and why.

      The last comprehensive study on mountain hare distribution was carried out by the Trust ten years ago (find out more about the previous survey here). It is the most important conservation report on the species in recent years, highlighting the key role moorland management for grouse plays in supporting the species.

      This is your chance to contribute to updating this report. The GWCT is working in collaboration with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) to update this study. The results of the survey will provide the most up-to-date science to inform on this issue.

      SNH Press Release: New research determines the best ways to count Scottish mountain hares >

      How do you identify the mountain hare?
      Hare identificationThe mountain hare is sometimes known as the ‘blue hare’ because of its blue-grey summer coat, in contrast to the rich-brown fur of the brown hare. The mountain hare’s winter coat is white, while the brown hare’s coat remains brown. Only the brown hare has a black upper surface to the tail.

      The mountain hare is smaller than the brown hare, having a body length of around 50-60 cm, with a more rounded shape. Mountain hares also have shorter ears and legs than the brown hare, although both types of hare have much longer ears and hind legs than rabbits, which are sometimes confused with hares. Rabbits are smaller, and do not have black tips to the ears.

      • April 4, 2018 at 7:41 pm

        ‘The UK government has a legal obligation to ensure the sustainable management of the species’
        Is the ‘management’ part of that true?

        • April 5, 2018 at 7:36 pm

          As far as I can understand…
          “Habitats Directive Annex V species (mountain hare) : Member States must ensure that their exploitation and taking in the wild is compatible with maintaining them in a favourable conservation status.”
          …suggests to me that IF they are to be ‘exploited’ then the UK/Scotland governments must ensure and maintain favourable conservation status.
          There is no legal obligation to manage the species.

          Perhaps its time for a Conservation Framework as prepared for golden eagle, hen harrier etc.?

    • April 4, 2018 at 5:50 pm

      I’ve always considered that a very likely motivation for this mass culling of Mountain Hares is actually to rid the grouse moors of Golden Eagles, and the tick thing is a red herring. However, it is not something the grouse shooting lobby would ever admit, because it’s socially unacceptable. Nevertheless this is the whole problem, in that the shooting industry gives false justifications for it’s actions to divert attention from how it actually thinks. The last thing the grouse moor managers and owners want, is for anyone i.e. the public, conservationists, politicians not of their ilk, to know what their real motivations are. They are very devious.

      Let me give a simple example. The impression is misleadingly given that managed shooting estates kill predators and illegally kill raptors because they eat grouse etc. When in reality it’s more complex than this. Driven shooting requires the creation of unnaturally high population densities of gamebirds, to allow them to be shot in large numbers. Driven shoots consider the success of the shoot to be the size of the bag i.e. the amount of birds shot. This is not my creation as history proves that from the 19th Century shooting estates competed to see which one produced the “biggest bags” of the gamebirds shot. There are records for it, and years ago they even used to be in the Guinness Book of Records.

      To create unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse they have to create a maximum amount of Heather shoots, grouse food. Hence the burning etc. But the overall problem with creating these unnaturally high densities of gamebirds is that this also attracts predators, and the effect of this is to cause the gamebirds to disperse, which is the last thing the shoot managers want. This is the important thing to understand, It is this dispersal of the gamebirds which the shoot managers desperately want to avoid, not just predators eating some of them. Whilst direct predation can to some extent reduce Red Grouse population density, it is again the dispersal of birds which they are most worried about.

      The reason this is so important to understand is that there is no level of predators, and raptors, which the shoots consider acceptable. It doesn’t matter if they only eat a small proportion of Red Grouse, or rarely eat grouse. This is particularly true of Golden Eagles, large birds which hunt low over the moor. I would have thought Golden Eagles take relatively few grouse themselves, but they are major predators of Mountain Hares, and the mere presence of the Eagles hunting Mountain Hares, will cause the grouse to disperse. The shooting estates are not allowed to kill the Eagles even if they actually. However, the surest way to get rid of the Golden Eagles, which they consider a problem, is to completely rid the grouse moors of their primary prey item. Golden Eagles will not spend much time on grouse moors if there are no Mountain Hares for them to eat.

      It’s important to understand how the shoot managers think, because this tells us that they would never consider any level of raptors as acceptable. All this stuff about diversionary feeding, brood management, will never satisfy the shoot managers as the ideal they aim for is no raptors at all. Of course they don’t want anyone to be aware of this, especially conservation bodies etc, because it tells you that they will always engage in wildlife crime, no matter what. In other words the only way to stop this problem is to ban driven grouse shooting. Meaning they would have no motivation for producing such unnaturally high densities of grouse. Walked up shooting simply does not need such artificially high population densities of grouse.

      • 6 Bill Gilmour
        April 4, 2018 at 6:27 pm


        I agree with your every word. Dispersal is anathema to concentration in front of shooting butts. So, any predator anathema.

        • 7 Merlin
          April 4, 2018 at 10:50 pm

          Excellent points steb1 and another brilliant blog, please don’t forget though, we are getting to silly season, no game shooting till August and half a dozen Gamies on every estate with little or nothing to do but shoot, trap or poison anything that might upset a grouse

      • 8 Les Wallace
        April 5, 2018 at 5:22 pm

        Well said!

  2. 9 Les Wallace
    April 4, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    Superb article and the letter from David Mitchell is a cracker too, would be good to see the point about golden eagles being deprived of a food source getting more coverage. There’s been the inevitable attempted trashing of this on the SGA facebook page, but as usual nobody there can tell us exactly why Jim Crumley is ‘talking rubbish.’ The media must almost universally be seeing driven grouse shooting as something with negative connotations, the rustic, olde worlde ‘charm’ of the glorious 12th is now a rotting, stinks to high heaven corpse. I wonder if Tim, Andrew and Amanda are rewriting their CVs right now? I certainly can’t think they’re happy bunnies right now.

    • April 4, 2018 at 5:37 pm

      The eagles prey item point is a good one ; there has to be a direct correlation and I am sure from memory there is but also I am curious re Merlin and average tree density on Merlin territories globally; there has to be some requirement on heather moors to have trees surely ? In wales its called frydd and is a very important habitat and a key element of Merlin hunting again as I remember

    • 11 Secret Squirrel
      April 4, 2018 at 10:51 pm

      The problem with gamekeepers is they follow the folklore and fairey stories handed down from older generations.

  3. April 4, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    Anyone else find themselves hitting their heads against the wall (metaphorically speaking of course) when they see comments from DGS supporters such as “Well the RSPB cull animals too” in response to negative press about their industry like this?

    So tell me, when the RSPB carry out culls, do they do it on the scale we see on grouse moors, a scale for which the word genocide would surely be more appropriate considering how their clear aim is to wipe out anything that is a threat, or potential threat to the grouse.

    Or do they as I suspect:
    Only resort to culling if no other action would be effective.
    Only take a proportion of the total population (i.e. 10% rather than the 90+% taken as part of grouse moor management) of an animal to reduce the pressures upon whatever it is that animal is putting pressure upon.

    • April 4, 2018 at 6:36 pm

      Conservation minded organisations such as the RSPB will only engage, and then reluctantly, where a predator is threatening the conservation of specified, threatened species. This is in complete contrast to grouse moors where predators are eradicated in order to preserve populations of grouse well beyond natural levels. Indeed grouse populations are consistently proven to be sustained at unnatural and even unhealthy levels, as evidenced by the need to medicate their intake of grit. There very own actions give a lie to the idea that they operate in the interests of conservation.

  4. 14 J .Coogan
    April 4, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    Brilliant Dave, more of same please ,been a bit quiet lately?

  5. 16 heclasu
    April 4, 2018 at 7:37 pm

    The Uists in the Western Isles must have one of the highest densities of tick-borne disease in humans in the UK, with well over 100 people affected presently, out of a population of some 6-7000. Is the Mountain Hare a carrier here? No, because there aren’t any. Anyone out here will tell you that it is the high numbers of Red Deer that are the main problem here, especially when they move off the hill and close to townships. Predictably, the land owners do not agree as punters pay to shoot them. Something to bear in mind should you wish to holiday here!

  6. 17 Bowland Bruce
    April 4, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    I love this article. This gives some hope to those of us stick in the Victorian era in northern England. And not forgetting the recent words of the First Minister on the hare slaughter…

  7. 18 Greengrass
    April 4, 2018 at 10:24 pm

    The idea suggested by some above, that grouse moors kill mountain hares because by doing so they reduce the potential prey for golden eagles and therefore make moors less attractive to eagles doesn’t add up. Whether a grouse moor holds a lot of hares, a few hares or no hares at all, , the fact that is is a grouse moor will mean it as an abnormally high number of grouse and is therefore an attractive area for eagles. Grouse moor managers don’t need to deal with eagle “problems” in directly (ie by reducing hare numbers) they deal with the eagle problem” directly! Simple as that.

    • April 4, 2018 at 11:04 pm

      There’s no doubt that grouse shooting estates illegally kill Golden Eagles. But Golden Eagles range wide and far looking for food, and it takes quite a few years before they become mature breeding birds. Meaning that even if shooting estates kill Eagles, more are likely to visit if there is a good population of Mountain Hares.. Mountain Hares are far more visible than Red Grouse, and are a far more substantial meal. Eagles can pursue Mountain Hares, but grouse can just fly off. From what I’ve read Eagles are more suited to catching mammals on the ground than they are pursuing and catching other birds. I think there is little doubt that a moor with a large population of Mountain Hares is far more attractive to Golden Eagles, than moorland without Mountain Hares.

      • April 5, 2018 at 11:44 am

        Mountain Hares aren’t so visible in the summer although they may still be more visible than Red Grouse, i don’t know. Golden Eagle are highly capable of taking flying birds. I suspect that when hunting as a pair they would be very effective at flushing and killing Red Grouse but this is obviously not possible when they have eggs and young chicks.
        In the appendix of Mike Tomkies Golden Eagle Years he lists all of the prey observed being taken to nests in the western highlands over a 5 year period. I wanted to point out how many birds were taken but what struck me was how many were crows and how they would be in very low numbers on grouse moors which of course upsets any natural balance. By my calculations:
        Rabbit (23), Red Grouse (13), small mammals (13), Crow/Hooded Crow (12), deer or sheep carrion (11), Ptarmigan (7), Curlew (6), Mallard (3), Fox (3), Raven (2), Cormorant (2), Black-headed Gull (1), Herring Gull (1), Kestrel (1), Golden Plover (1), unid. wader (1), Wood Pigeon (1), Merganser (1), Lamb (1-2) Mountain Hare (0).

        • 21 Bill Gilmour
          April 5, 2018 at 1:28 pm

          Mike Tomkiss’ list of prey is very interesting, not least because it is a double-edged sword. One blade shows an unusually wide range of species, which suggests eagles take more species than many authorities indicate. On the other blade, the complete lack of hares, which many authorities list with rabbits and grouse as the mainstay of their diet, suggests that something has distorted the data. For some unknown reason, no hares are noted.

          An SNH Report notes, “With hares being such an important prey species, any serious reductions will obviously have an impact on golden eagles and/or deflect more eagle predation on to alternative prey, notably grouse”.

          Hares, rabbits and grouse are so important to eagles, it is probably counter-productive to shoot hares, because that will divert eagles to grouse!

          But that takes us back to the point made by steb1 April 4, 2018 at 5:50 pm above. That no birds of prey are acceptable on intense grouse moors.

          Commissioned Report No.193. A conservation framework for golden eagles: implications for their conservation and management in Scotland. Page 43.

          • 22 J .Coogan
            April 5, 2018 at 5:24 pm

            Tomkies (correct spelling) work was done on W Moidart not many blue hares there !! so your argument is mince.

          • April 5, 2018 at 7:51 pm

            Mike Tomkies study area was western Scotland between Oban and Inverness. I presume there just aren’t that many Mountain Hares in that area. The Mountain Hares on Mull are introduced.
            Of course it doesn’t matter what the real facts are, it is what the killers think. If they think a species threatens the numbers of grouse being shot then that is enough and that included species they think might disturb the drive.
            Incidentally just the other day I witnessed an adult Golden Eagle playing in the air with a vole and then it flew off with it, possibly as a mating gift.

        • April 6, 2018 at 12:46 am

          The absence of Mountain Hares being brought to the nest in Mike Tomkies observations, strongly suggests there were few in the immediate locality of the nests. Also we’re talking about breeding GE’s,in this example, where most prey would be taken in a limited range of the nest. Whereas many GEs hunting on grouse moors would likely be non-breeding birds which often range over large areas. Whatever the specifics, a complete loss of Mountain Hares from a given area must seriously reduce the attractiveness of it as a hunting area for GEs because of the big loss of potential prey.

          Overall, we’re talking about the mindset of grouse moor managers. My points were about how grouse moor managers see predators. They are not necessarily targeting predators on the basis of how many grouse they eat. But predators are seen as a threat to the unnaturally high density of Red Grouse they seek because any sort of predator can cause these unnaturally high densities of grouse to disperse. Raptors are likely thought of as an especial problem because they are very visible, and grouse are likely effected by their presence, even if they are taking many grouse or actively hunting them much.

          Many initiatives in my opinion wrongly focus on the direct grouse predation of raptors, and not necessarily on how shoot managers actually see the problem, and that is raptors are a very visible predator, which could undo their work in creating unnaturally high densities of grouse – not just be direct predation, but by causing them to disperse. Take the diversionary feeding tested on the Langholm Moor project. This would only be effective if shoot managers saw direct predation of Red Grouse as the primary problem. Whereas if shoot managers actually see the main problem of raptors, as something which could cause their unnaturally high population densities of grouse to disperse, they’ll not want these predators present even if they never ate any Red grouse at all.

          Shoot managers are never going to admit that they see all predators as a problem, because then it would be too obvious that they would want to eliminate all raptors. When shooters first tried to rebrand themselves as conservationists from the 1970s onwards, many raptors were at historically low points in their populations. Shooting interests gave the false impression that they no longer saw raptors as a problem, when their populations were at an all time low. Yet it is clear that as raptor populations have recovered this was false and disingenuous, because there is no doubt that they do see raptors as a serious obstacle to their aim of the maximum grouse population density possible. It is almost certain, that if it was achievable, grouse moor owners would like Red Grouse population densities to be much higher than they are. So there is no level of compromise they are willing to accept.

          When you understand this the futility of trying to work with grouse moor owners becomes apparent. The RSPB has had to withdraw from more and more of these initiatives, after it has become clear that these initiatives were not effective, and the RSPB was simply being used as a PR fig-leaf, to give credence to the false claims of the grouse moor owners, that they are interested in conservation. These massacres of Mountain Hares prove that grouse moor owners are not the slightest bit interested in the conservation of declining species.

  8. April 5, 2018 at 9:02 am

    whatever their reason for the mass slaughtering of the hares, its the same people who are hell bent on protecting the grouse shoots and not only do they not care about our birds of prey or our wildlife but also the health of the peoples living around where the grouse moors are burnt. it is a known fact that noxious stuff spews out and causes serious health problems. It shows me just how powerful the big landowners and their right wing political mates are. The show is run for them and their fun. Fox and Stag hunting included in this and the present gov are currently on their way to bringing in a new law regarding aggravated trespass . They are saying its to control where travellers park up but its also clearly to control Hunt Sabs and Monitors from stopping the illegal killing of foxes by being chased by packs of hounds as Hunts don’t ‘trail hunt’. Police state. ABSOLUTELY

  9. 26 Mark Lund
    April 5, 2018 at 9:55 am

    The joke of this is, that, as Chris P stated in the film, the shooters are saying the culling of hares increases the numbers of Red Grouse. Even if this were the case, so what! If that is the excuse, where is the justification? Are the grouse on the Red species danger list that other species need culling to protect the dwindling numbers? Dont think so. If they had dwindling numbers I guess there might be another good reason not to pay vast sums to blast them as every opportunity. Those that shoot foxes, raptors, badgers, corvids, try to reason that they are protecting the dwindling song bird numbers. Its because these people like shooting stuff. No other reason Kill it, another notch on the gun and big testosterone…well at least they managed to shoot them before the bunnies attacked first in that killing machine way they have…Oh no! that was Monty Python…not actually real.

  10. 28 Greengrass
    April 5, 2018 at 10:51 am

    Steb1, it’s quite straightforward, they don’t need any elaborate ploys, if a grouse moors doesn’t want eagles they deal with ithem directly. And they deal with ithem with impunity.

  11. 29 Bill Gilmour
    April 5, 2018 at 11:11 am


    It is more complicated than you imply.

    The military call it Combined Operations. Shooting, trapping, poisoning, starving . . . .

    And then, there are the PR operations . . . .

  12. 30 Greengrass
    April 5, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    Not at all Bill, shooting, trapping, poisoning are all ways of direct action.

    • 31 Bill Gilmour
      April 5, 2018 at 1:40 pm

      So, what? What is the difference, between one way and another of killing birds? Indeed, many, including the Courts would argue that the quickest way to kill, shooting is the least cruel and the slowest; starvation is the most cruel.

      I should have included destroying and disturbing nests, as ways of reducing bird numbers.

  13. 32 Greengrass
    April 5, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    Bill, destroying and disturbing nests is also direct action. As I explained previously, you are not going to starve eagles on a “well managed grouse moor”!
    I rest my case.

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