‘Nonsense to suggest that grouse shooting is good for wildlife’

Last week The National published an astonishing letter from John Andrews, of Caithness, who falsely claimed, among other things, that hen harriers ‘never breed successfully’ unless on a grouse moor!

The letter is well worth a read (here), as are the comments below it. For posterity we’ve reproduced it here because these things have a habit of disappearing, a bit like satellite-tagged raptors flying over grouse moors:


6 April 2018

SEEMS ‘tis the season for attacking the grouse shooting industry (Carolyn Leckie’s column of March 19 and Letters, March 31).

Fieldsports, mainly fishing and game shooting, employ many thousands, bringing many thousands of visitors who contribute many millions of pounds to rural areas of need. This greatly helps to keep alive many rural communities. Gamekeepers, ghillies, estate managers etc have wives and kids. Kids need schools, schools need teachers. All need healthcare, healthcare needs doctors and nurses, and so on. A small army of students and locals needing part-time work are gainfully employed each season as beaters.

Sadly, much of the hostility towards grouse shooting seems to stem from a distorted form of inverted snobbery. Not all slayers of grouse are tweedy, titled aristocrats – many are ordinary professional, business and tradespeople, many making vital contributions to Scottish society. They are not all forking out thousands to take a gun to the moor – a day “walking-up” grouse may cost less than a round of golf. Every grouse shot ends up as somebody’s dinner.

Contrary to popular belief, gamekeepers in these enlightened days do not seek to destroy everything with a hooked beak. Many of them are college-trained in a professional manner and seek to control only legitimate targets such as foxes and some corvids, which directly benefits hill-farming as well as game interests. It appears that there have been unexplained losses of eagles and other raptors in recent times – eagles kill eagles, so do starvation and powerlines and admittedly the odd rogue shepherd. Foxes kill ground-nesting hen harriers, buzzards kill osprey poults and red squirrels. If a gamekeeper is convicted of wildlife crime they automatically loses their firearms certificate and shotgun licence, thus becoming unemployable.

The management of hill land as grouse moors benefits many desirable species. All upland ground-nesting birds – curlew, lapwing, golden plover and many others – benefit, including hen harriers which never breed successfully where there is no food (grouse) or an abundance of predators (fox, corvids). The nutritious young heather created by strategic “muirburn” and control of heather beetle feeds mountain hare, deer and sheep as well as grouse.

[Satellite-tagged hen harrier Annie, found shot on a Scottish grouse moor, photo by RSPB]

If you want to see a prolific variety of wildlife, take a walk across a managed grouse moor – you can, you have a right thanks to our Scottish Government, and the nice landowner has even provided you with a nice hill track to make it easy. This type of land management creates the “bonnie purple hills” so well-loved by tourists and poets.

It is difficult for those who have not really examined the big picture to view grouse as a crop, but producing grouse is little different from producing hill sheep or cattle – the end result is the same for the beast except that many of the grouse stock are permitted to survive. Notable that a brace of grouse is worth considerably more to the rural economy than a brace of lambs. A bonus is that all these forms of husbandry are not mutually exclusive and all may be carried out side by side on the same ground.

Multiple and varied ownership and use of all land should be the way ahead in a progressive Scotland, with everyone now having a right of access. A sensible cooperation between varied interests could be very productive. For instance, the problem of raptor predation on game species could be eased with feeding stations for birds of prey during peak nesting/rearing times. Rats, rabbits, deceased day-old chicks are good grub for young harriers and eaglets. Viewing hides at these feed stations could provide additional tourist attractions. No reason why the RSPB could not steer some of its wealth in this direction combining interests and sharing funding with land owners and everybody wins.

Much as it is a romantically attractive idea to “divvy-up” Scotland’s huge upland areas into little parcels and share these out among the population, creating a living from a small acreage of hill ground is problematic. The bulk of Highland hill and moorland is of little agricultural value, suitable only for blanket forestry, limited sheep or hill cattle grazing or for grouse production.

Progress is being made. Some community buy-outs are thriving, injecting a new vigour into some parts of the Highlands. An independent Scotland will flourish best with a good mix of types of land ownership and a tolerant understanding and cooperation between those who wish to utilise it.

John Andrews, Caithness

In response to this drivel, a letter written by Graeme Myles, of Alyth, was published yesterday. Again, well worth a read as well as the comments below it (here).


11 April 2018

I WRITE in response to your long letter of April 6 from John Andrews extolling the virtues of grouse shooting. I honestly thought that this tosh had been consigned to history. Where to start? I shall try to address his points one by one.

1) Game shooting is an economic mainstay of rural life. Estate owners are not benevolent benefactors propping up the countryside for the benefit of the rural economy – far from it. Estates receive huge subsidies from the public purse simply for owning land, and these are more than enough to offset the wages of a few gamekeepers. If I can quote Andy Wightman: “there is something seriously wrong with a rural development programme that relies on a few wealthy individuals owning huge swathes of land who support a few low-paid jobs.”

The estates themselves can be a very lucrative investment. A recent advertisement in a well-known country magazine read: “As an investment, owning Scottish sporting estates has generally proved very rewarding, with significant long-term capital gain being achieved.” A recent Scottish Ratings and Tribunal Chairman’s report, when referring to shooting estates, read: “The local staff are poorly paid, their wages bearing no relation to the capital investment. Estates use short-term labour, leaving the taxpayer to often pay their staff from the dole for the rest of the year.”

2) Shooting grouse is not just for toffs. Quite apart from the fact that most right-thinking people would not be interested in blasting a few small birds to bits for fun, his figures don’t add up. Shooting for a party of eight guns on a prime grouse moor was advertised at £35,000 plus VAT. Think about that on your next outing, which will it be? The food bank, or pop up the hill and kill something?

3) Eagles die of various causes. Two RSPB studies are very interesting here. Firstly: “Occupations of those convicted of offences linked to raptor persecution in Scotland 1994-2014: gamekeepers 86 per cent, farmers six per cent, pigeon fanciers six per cent, pest control two per cent.”

Secondly: “Land use types in relation to confirmed poison abuse incidents 2005-2014: grouse moors 57 per cent, lowland pheasant shoots 24 per cent, farmland 14 per cent, urban two per cent, quarry three per cent.”

4) Gamekeepers found guilty of wildlife crime might lose their jobs – and so they should.

5) Waders thrive on grouse moors – not this old chestnut again! I think this nonsense stems from a report from the RSPB of all people from the early 90s, where they looked at wader numbers on two moors – one keepered intensively, one not – and the keepered one had more. Not really a surprise, as every living thing which could possibly be a threat to grouse had been shot, snared, poisoned, and trapped. I don’t know about you, but this is certainly not the countryside I want to see.

If we look at wader species, lapwing feed on worms and prefer the grassy moorland edges, curlew prefer a mixture of tufty grass, sedge and heather, and golden plover and dunlin prefer the high tops. George Monbiot states that research in the Cairngorms found wooded habitats were 11 times richer than grassland and 13 times richer than moorland in naturally important species. Of the 223 species on the Cairngorm massif only one, a fungus which lives on billberry leaves, requires heather moor for its survival. Intensively managed grouse moors are a desert given over to one species: the red grouse.

6) Hen harriers only breed on grouse moors. Where do I start with this one? The hen harrier was all but wiped out as a breeding species in mainland Britain. They survived only on the Western and Northern Isles, where there are no intensive grouse moors. In his monograph The Hen Harrier, Donald Watson comments on hen harrier breeding in forestry plantations. This was in the 1950s. On the continent hen harriers breed in hugely diverse habitats (some very close to human occupation) and would do so in this country too if they were allowed to.

7) Muirburn is good. Only in Britain could burning be looked at as a conservation tool. Muirburn is highly damaging to the ecosystem. It destroys untold numbers of reptiles and insects, including many nationally protected species. It destroys nationally important peat bog habitats and wetlands. It releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. It increases the risk of flooding. It acidifies the water table and pollutes the water supply with particulates.

I hope this can be published to counter some of the nonsensical statements made.

Graeme Myles, Alyth

[The two pie charts are from RSPB Scotland’s report: The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland 1994-2014: A Review]


29 Responses to “‘Nonsense to suggest that grouse shooting is good for wildlife’”

  1. 1 Chris Dobson
    April 12, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    Is that letter really the best they can do? I’m very much at the ‘punter’ end of people on here (I’m painfully aware of my relative ignorance) & I could easily demolish most of his arguments. I won’t, as you have a better written version already. Keep up the good work!

  2. 2 Roberta Mouse
    April 12, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    ”It is difficult for those who have not really examined the big picture to view grouse as a crop”…bloody hell, damned straight it is, because these are living creatures, as are all those annoying others who may dare to steal a grouse or two for dinner, from that ever so ‘nice’ walking track providing landowner and so must be proactively removed. Talk about living in a bubble. !

  3. 3 Robert Grant
    April 12, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    Wow, what is this guy on – can I have some of his clearly rose-tinted, overly simplistic clap trap ridden enthusiasm.. This surely beats Botham in the delusional stakes? Wildlife prolific moorland? show us the way please? Hilltracks – sensitive, sympathetic and multi-user friendly? Go take a look in Strathdon, Ladder Hills, Glen Dye (especially Glen Dye!), Correen Hills and Cabrach near where I live to begin with and then go a bit further and keep going… Nonsensical drivel. Thank god for the shooting industry or we really would be in a mess.

  4. 4 Ray Morris
    April 12, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    Road accidents also provide employment for thousands of people – NHS staff, police, fire officers, insurance clerks, car repairers, undertakers etc. No one has suggested preserving, let alone increasing, the number of accidents to preserve jobs.

  5. 5 Stuart MacKay
    April 12, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    A quick search reveals a certain John Andrews of Caithness (not sure if this is the same one) who is closely connected with the blood sports of shooting and fishing – that should not really be a surprise. Perhaps this quote from Upton Sinclair is appropriate:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

  6. 6 Alan Johnson
    April 12, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    I’ve looked up John Andrews of Caithness and it appears he may be a gun dog breeder………..well, TBF, he never said he didn’t “have skin in the game”, but………..you know, just an ordinary professional bloke.

  7. 7 Al Woodcock
    April 12, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    It’s just the sort of crap the likes of Amanda Anderson thrives on.

  8. 8 Ian Cole
    April 12, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    Hen Harriers are successful in Orkney. No gamekeepers and no grouse moors – hardly a coincidence.

    • 9 Paul V Irving
      April 12, 2018 at 7:55 pm

      Hen harriers are very unsuccessful in the English uplands too many grouse moors too many keepers prepared to break the law.

  9. April 12, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    the shooting industry creates virtual deserts that support grouse and deer and nothing else is allowed to co-exist with these trophy species. Until we end the rich man’s theme parks that feeds a cliquish bloodlust we will allow historic theft, intimidation, land fraud and the right of might to inhibit future land use and biodiversity. The land must be free of the personal whims of the wealthy. All common lands must return to common ownership and historic estates must be nationalised and the prospect of future land sales ended through legislation. All land to the people!

  10. 11 Iain Gibson
    April 13, 2018 at 6:13 am

    It’s easy to tear apart the nonsense and lies in John Andrews’ letter, but it is very difficult to get the truth across to the general public, and apparently most politicians, many of whom are enchanted by the constant propaganda suggesting that millions of pounds are “injected” into the rural economy by grouse shooting. In a way it reminds me of so-called conservationists who believe the simplistic science that suggests grey squirrels are “driving out” red squirrels. Tell the people lies frequently enough and they gradually develop a belief that they must be true. Clever and unfortunately often successful psychological foolery.

    As a lifelong ornithologist, conservationist and professional ecologist, it despairs me that an organisation like the RSPB is so conservative when it comes to tackling the debate head on, especially with their own members and their sometimes rather poor efforts in conservation education for young people. I always qualify this criticism by pointing out the excellent work carried out in other aspects of their work, particularly in the fight against raptor persecution by their Investigation Officers. It’s a great pity that for reasons they are ill-prepared to explain ethically, the RSPB cannot bring themselves to accept that shooting wild birds for ‘sport’ (i.e. selfish and barbaric entertainment) is an inappropriate and unacceptable activity in the modern age. Apparently this is due to a certain clause within their Royal Charter, but sadly it leads to their staff being trained that it is not corporate to say anything against any so-called field (blood) sport. In my view time is over due to either abandon or reform the Charter.

    Those of us who follow the RPUK blog are extremely impressed by the scientific objectivity and strong ethical dimension therein, but as I’ve harped on about for some time now, the problem so far is that the message only seems to be reaching a small minority of the UK population. What can we do to widen the dissemination of this important message? I don’t claim to have an easy answer, and find it disappointingly worrying when I ask around fellow birdwatchers whether they follow RPUK. Only a small minority seem to do so, and even more concerning, not all Raptor Study Group members are even aware of its existence.

    • 12 AlanTwo
      April 13, 2018 at 9:57 am

      I couldn’t agree more Ian (although I’m not totally sure about squirrels)!
      One example of how dismally we have failed to get basic facts about shooting across to the general public is how few people realise that the vast majority of the pheasants they see are bred in captivity solely for the purpose of being shot. I’ve even had people tell me things along the lines of: ‘I’m glad people are out there shooting pheasants – there’s far too many of the damn things all over the countryside.’

  11. 14 Stewart McCallum
    April 13, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    Points 1 & 2 in this response letter is completely factually incorrect. So is most of point 7. The other points from the original letter are S H one T.
    So here we have two letters, both not worthy of the paper their written on.
    This whole episode of game industry releasing something in support of them countered by anti grouse/shooting bodies/supporters or vice versa is reaching the same propaganda BS as the Russian government.
    Both are so desperate to gain support from the public to further their stance that the truth just becomes irrelevant.
    I’m getting so sick of reading the crap being spouted from BOTH sides.
    There needs to be a solution found but this will only be achieved by balanced, knowledgeable individuals.

    • 15 Iain Gibson
      April 13, 2018 at 11:21 pm

      Stewart, can you please explain why points 1, 2 and 7 in Graeme Myles’ letter are factually incorrect?

      • 16 Stewart McCallum
        April 14, 2018 at 12:21 pm

        Iain, I’m sorry but I personally don’t have the time to explain at length why these points are incorrect, only for it to fall on deaf ears of the many anyway.
        Safe to say, as part of my job, I am fully aware of the grants estates receive and the costs involved in running an estate, so believe me when I say the first point is completely incorrect.
        The second point – there is grouse shooting ranging from walked up days from a few hundred pounds per gun, right upto £75,000 or more for a ten gun day. I suppose you could compare this to the car market – you buy what’s in your price range. And the comment ‘blasting small birds to bits for fun’? This person has obviously not saw a shot grouse. More often than not, it takes physical examination to see where a grouse has actually been hit by a pellet – so blasting to bits is an exaggeration to say the least.
        The third point – the Muirburn Code ring any bells? This is a cross compliance document meaning that the subsidies talked about in point one will be deducted and in worst case, lost if the code is not followed. Pretty clear for SNH and SEPA to see if the code is not being followed. Once you’ve burnt an area, there’s no hiding it, therefore it has to be followed to the letter of the law.

        • 17 J .Coogan
          April 14, 2018 at 3:43 pm

          My time is very precious so I don’t have time to explain at lenghh that you are talking crap.
          The first point is correct. A suspicious person might think you don’t have the first idea about this first point, and are using your busy lifestyle as excuse because you don’t have a clue how to refute it.
          The person has “saw” many things being shot , in fact he used to a keen shot himself , a bird shot at less than perhaps fifteen feet would be blasted, anyway perhaps he used the word for effect.
          Your third point ,well how naive can one person be?

          • 18 Stewart McCallum
            April 14, 2018 at 6:26 pm

            Aye ok. So tell me the subsidy a grouse is likely to receive per ha?
            Tell me the gross margin per brace on a grouse moor?
            Tell me fixed costs per ha of managing a grouse moor?
            Shooting grouse at 15ft? I’m embarrassed for you even suggesting such thing.
            See, another idiot talking nonsense. There in lies the problem of this whole situation.

            • 19 J .Coogan
              April 14, 2018 at 7:35 pm

              Those questions have nothing at all with the point made.As I suspected you know more about running a Skoda than running a Grouse moor , me thinks you are a simple flunky, you are out of your depth . Lets leave it to the well informed readers of RPUK as to who the idiot is.

            • 21 Bill Gilmour
              April 14, 2018 at 8:04 pm

              The reply to the first question is only too obvious.

              But tell me why, you and I as tax payers, should subsidise a “sport”, which you say, ten people will pay seventy five grand, for one days pleasure? Why should we subsidise that pass time?

              (Seventy five grand is about a year’s wages for five nurse.)

              • 22 J .Coogan
                April 14, 2018 at 8:47 pm

                Last one , again total irrelevant nonsense, and by the way £75.00 divided by 5 is £15.000 . I know you lot are trying to Kill off the NHS but £15.00 pa is a bit low even for the nasty party.
                Anyway I’ll let you get back to Britain’s Got Talent. Don’t bother trying to answer I have wasted enough of my life with you already.

              • 26 Stewart McCallum
                April 14, 2018 at 10:18 pm

                But the subsidy isn’t subsidising a sport. What on earth gives you that idea?

                • 27 nimby
                  April 14, 2018 at 11:27 pm

                  Same might be said of the claim that “Every grouse shot ends up as somebody’s dinner.” Please provide evidence for such statements …. then again I suppose those left in stink pits or discarded are eaten by invertebrates if they’re not used to attract raptors or other wildlife that is ….

                • 28 Bill Gilmour
                  April 15, 2018 at 11:45 am

                  Mr McCallum says, “But the subsidy isn’t subsidising a sport. What on earth gives you that idea?”

                  No, I do not think we subsidise a sport. Shooting birds and animals with firearms, that cost anything from £5,000 to £250,000 a pair, by people who can pay (according to you) £7,500 a day, to discharge these things, at defenceless birds and animals is not sport. It is a gross interference with the ecology, without any upside.

                  Tax payers were sold, the Common Agricultural policy, as a way of securing the food supplies, for the nation. It has done that but unfortunately it has done much else besides. Payments are now made to land owners to promote tourism. DEFRA publish these CAP payments. When we look at estate after estate’s websites, they tell you about the “game” birds and the stags. For bookings, they refer you to George Goldsmith and or CKD Galbraith Sporting, who boost the delights of shooting.

                  So, Mr McCallum your right, we taxpayer do not subsidise sport. What we do is, we subsidise people, who earn over 100 times, as much as a nurse, to take pleasure from inflicting pain and destroying the environment.

                  And, sorry about the detail but like sex, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

  12. April 15, 2018 at 10:43 am

    this is Countryside Alliance speak. hunting is good for our wildlife. shooting is too and laying down snares is just fantastic for wildlife as is killling a pigeon, stuffing it full of poison and then seeing which member of our wildlife eats it and slowly dies in agony. yes, and stink pits( tourists love to go and get a whiff and take selfies.

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