What’s going on on this Peak District grouse moor?

A few months ago, one of our blog readers sent us this photograph of some grit that had been spread directly on the grouse moor at Broomhead Estate in the Peak District National Park:

The photograph was taken in March 2018, so given the time of year you might expect that this was medicated grit (as opposed to unmedicated grit), which is typically used in winter/spring during the closed grouse shooting season. Although given that it had been thrown directly on the ground next to water, this would be in breach of the GWCT’s ‘best practice’ guidelines on the use of medicated grit which suggest proximty to standing or running water should be avoided, so given this photograph you’d have to assume it was actually unmedicated grit. There’s no way of telling which type of grit it is just by looking at it.

So let’s assume the grit in that photograph taken in March was unmedicated grit.

But look what our blog reader found when he revisited the location in July 2018:

The pile of grit had ‘disappeared’ and in its place was a fresh pile of peat. How odd! If this was unmedicated grit, why would it have been removed in July? There’s no legal requirement to remove unmedicated grit at that time of year, but there is a legal requirement to remove medicated grit, 28 days before the start of the grouse shooting season, to ensure the veterinary drug (Flubendazole) does not enter the human food chain when the red grouse are shot in August. Hmm.

Our blog reader checked a few more gritting stations on this grouse moor at Broomhead Estate and took some other very interesting photos.

Here’s a photo taken in March 2018 showing a freshly-cut square of turf with fresh grit piled on top of it and some grit pieces in the exposed peaty water. Again, there’s no way of knowing, just by looking at it, whether this was medicated or unmedicated grit:

Here’s the same site revisted in July 2018. Look at that! The square of turf had been flipped back in to its hole and the grit was nowhere to be seen. If this was unmedicated grit, why would anyone bother removing it at this time of year…unless it was medicated grit?:

What do you think happened to all grit that had been photographed at this site in March 2018? Do you think the gamekeeper carefully picked up every last piece and removed it from the moor (which is what is supposed to happen if it was medicated grit)? Shall we have a look? Here’s what our blog reader photographed when revisiting this location in August 2018. Removing the turf from the hole, he found a load of grit that had been sandwiched between the peat and the turf. If this was medicated grit, this method of ‘disposal’ was against ‘best practice’ guidelines:

Here are some more photographs from other locations on this grouse moor at Broomhead Estate, appearing to show a similar practice:

Here’s a photograph taken in August 2018, with the cut turf back in place in the hole:

And here’s the same location, also photographed in August 2018, with the turf lifted to see what was underneath. Look at all that grit!:

And here’s yet another one, photographed in August – here’s the turf back in place:

But here’s what was photographed once the turf had been lifted. That’s a lot of residual grit!:

Here’s another location photographed in March 2018, with the grit thrown directly on the upturned turf:

Here’s the same location photographed in July 2018, with the turf back in place but with plenty of redisual grit left on the surface, freely available to any red grouse that happened to walk by:

We’ve got plenty more photographs showing exactly the same thing across this moor but you’ve probably got the picture by now.

So what the hell is going on here? Is this harmless unmedicated grit? If so, why bury it? Or is this actually medicated grit that has not been properly disposed of, just lazily left to seep in to the water and peat? If so, what damage might this be causing to the environment?

We looked up the Broomhead Estate in the Peak District National Park. Here’s its location:

And here are details of the agri-environmental payments this estate is receiving (over £1million to date under the Environmental Stewardship Scheme) and the protected status of parts of this estate (which includes an SPA, SSSI and a SAC):

We looked to see whether the grit locations lay inside any of these protected areas and it turns out that yes, they all lie within the SPA, SSSI and the SAC: [black dotted line is Broomhead Estate (as detailed in the the agri-environmental scheme), the green area is the combined SPA, SSSI and SAC, and the red stars are the locations where these grit piles were photographed]

So is anybody checking whether this is medicated or unmedicated grit? We doubt it. We know from previous correspondence with DEFRA’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) that it barely checks dead grouse for veterinary medicines residues and it certainly doesn’t check gritting locations to ensure compliance with the statutory withdrawal times, because it told us as much.

Is Natural England checking whether this is medicated or unmedicated grit? We know from recent research that the drug Flubendazole can cause contamination and damage to aquatic ecosystems – so is Natural England concerned about the potential ecotoxicity of medicated grit use on grouse moors in general, let alone those like Broomhead with protected status designations? We doubt it, given NE’s recent track record of turning a blind eye to everything that goes on up on the moors.

We could check for ourselves whether this is medicated or unmedicated grit, by collecting a few samples and having them tested. But if we did this, we’d be open to charges of ‘theft’ (of the grit from the moor) by the landowner if he/she felt so inclined.

What we’re left with then is yet another aspect of potentially damaging grouse moor management without any statutory monitoring whatsoever, and instead we’re supposed to rely on the industry’s own self-regulation to ensure environmental protection. And we all know how good this industry is at that.

26 Responses to “What’s going on on this Peak District grouse moor?”

  1. 1 Susan Mintram
    August 16, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    What would be the purpose of putting ordinary/untreated grit down? I would assume that the birds could find enough naturally occurring grit on the moors to aid digestion surely, or am I being stupid?

    • August 16, 2018 at 4:56 pm

      Hi Susan,

      Unmedicated grit is put down to keep the grouse coming to a familiar location to collect grit. The medicated grit can only be used legally at certain times of year (during the closed season) and so is replaced, theoretically, by unmedicated grit during the shooting season.

      • August 16, 2018 at 5:36 pm

        Also, at the ridiculously high densities of Red Grouse on grouse moors, particularly in peat areas, grit may be in short supply.

        • 4 Keith Morton
          August 16, 2018 at 6:34 pm

          I used to live and work on Broomhead. The underlying rock is, er, gritstone! My memories of the place are 35 years old now but, from recollection, there is unlikey to be a shortage of accessible natural surface grit, even for the ludicrousely elevated numbers of ‘grice’. Which might actually be a reason to bait gritting sites with unmedicated grit, to try and habituate birds to make less use of the natural supply sites. If this is so, however, our guy on the hill would also surely be noticing nice neat, responsible trays of medicated grit set out at appropriate times in those locations. Speculation, of course (and based on 35 year old information.) What, indeed, IS going on on this Peak District grouse moor?

        • 5 Susan Mintram
          August 16, 2018 at 9:08 pm

          Thank you for your informative response.

  2. 6 JohnM
    August 16, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    Such a cavalier attitude to public health surely leaves but one alternative. An end to DGS.

    [Ed: to be clear, we’re not accusing Broomhead Moor of doing anything illegal. We’re just curious about whether this is medicated or unmedicated grit, and who might be monitoring/regulating its use]

  3. 7 Gary white
    August 16, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    It’s very strange that they get all this taxpayer money and they’re so mean they can’t even be bothered to shell out for a few grit boxes. I suppose they just think: why bother? Just dump it on the moor. Nobody from NE or Defra is going to check anyway!

    All the Grouse industry’s claims to be ‘custodians’ of the land or ‘stewards’ of the habitat – for which they get handsomely paid by US the taxpayer- are utter piffle.

    [Ed: Well if it’s unmedicated grit there’s no reason it should be placed inside a grit box/tray. Those vessels are only really useful if you want a quick and easy way of removing medicated grit – although as we now know, these communal grit trays can cause other problems, not least acting as reservoirs for harbouring and transmitting disease: https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2017/12/29/significant-spread-of-disease-on-intensively-managed-driven-grouse-moors/ ]

  4. 8 Loki
    August 16, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Great reporting exposing yet more of the shenanigans of this corrupt industry.

    Couldn’t you test the grit on the moor itself – then it wouldn’t be theft?

    [Ed: Just to be clear – there is no evidence that Broomhead Estate is “corrupt”. It probably wasn’t your intention to infer as such, but someone wishing to cause mischief could argue that that is what has been implied]

  5. 10 Michael Haden
    August 16, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Of course if your dog pooed on top of the grit and as you bagged it up some of the grit came with it you could hardly be accused of stealing the grit

  6. 14 lizzybusy
    August 16, 2018 at 7:53 pm

    At the risk of sounding like a scratched record …

    Under S33(1)(a) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 it is an offence to deposit industrial or commercial waste or knowingly cause or knowingly permit such waste to be deposited in or on any land unless an environmental permit authorising the deposit is in force and the deposit is in accordance with the licence.


    S33(1)(c) also prohibits the treatment, keeping or disposal of industrial or commercial waste in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health.

    In addition, S34(1) EPA imposes the duty on individuals who produce, carry, keep or dispose of commercial or industrial waste or who have control of such waste to take reasonable measures (a) to prevent any contravention by any other person of section 33 (above) and (b) to prevent the escape of the waste from his control or that of any other person.


    Perhaps SEPA might be the regulatory body to ask whether this practice is legal?

  7. 16 lizzybusy
    August 16, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    What is the device called that gives the location?

  8. August 16, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    Given that you are reporting that this is a SAC… presumably this is for blanket bog.

    There is no conservation management need to dig up turves of blanket bog. Therefore this damaging activity would need to have been appropriately assessed by natural english nature before they could issue a consent. The consent would be required before the agri-environment scheme could be approved (cross-compliance).

    Also the top picture shows blanket bog that has been damaged by burning. The relict heather stems that are left give a clear indication that this was not an area where “conservation burning” would be needed. This is a deliberate attempt to keep the peat dry and promote vigorous heather growth over a high water table and sphagnum regrowth.

  9. 20 Dylanben
    August 16, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    [Ed: comment deleted – libellous]

  10. 21 Mike
    August 17, 2018 at 11:49 am

    Just wondering… if anyone was brave enough, it might be well be possible to taste the grit (and spit it out of course – and rinse mouth out with bottled water!). I’ll try this myself sometime, but I would have thought the medicated grit would have a rather distinctive smell/taste.

    • 22 Dougie
      August 17, 2018 at 12:22 pm

      Put medicated shit in your mouth in the interest of investigation. What a bold spirit you have, sir. Makes me proud to be British !

  11. 23 Tom Gun
    August 17, 2018 at 11:51 am

    Theft of 25 grammes of grit…..nominal value!

    In circumstances where it has been removed be a person who has a geniunely held belief that the grit is suspected of illegally contaminating an environmentally sensitive area.

    Unlikley these circumstances constitutes theft.

  12. 24 Mike Wood
    August 17, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    Just wondering… if anyone was brave enough, it might be well be possible to taste the grit (and spit it out of course – and rinse mouth out with bottled water!). I’ll try this myself sometime, but I would have thought the medicated grit would have a rather distinctive smell/taste. I am being serious, btw.

  13. 25 Diana Westerhoff
    August 18, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    …and they get all that public money…

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