It’s very rare for a gamekeeper to speak out about what’s really happening on Scotland’s shooting estates, but yesterday Chris Packham released a 15-minute interview of an anonymous man who had worked on grouse moors in the UK and, in Chris’ words, wanted to “come clean”.
What he describes is predictable: an industry at war with wildlife, driven by the needs of driven grouse shooting and the money that comes with it. Hen harriers, buzzards, tawny owls, sparrowhawks, pine martens….as the interviewee says “It’s not rocket science, it’s a case of killing things. If you take everything away that eats grouse, they will come”. It’s particularly fascinating to hear about the key role that the professional sporting agents play in setting this anti-wildlife culture. The agents will advise or even manage estates themselves to turn them around and deliver the grouse. They achieve this, the interviewee says, through aggressive extermination of wildlife and “ruthless” staff management. Written warnings if certain species are seen on the estate and if they don’t deliver, “they’re a goner”.
The grouse industry insider also had a lot to say about mountain hare culling. This was particularly useful as it’s fair to say that the proponents of culling are careful not to be pinned down on the extent of culling, or why it even happens. Here’s three things we found out:
- Even people within the industry understand they’re the cause of the “problem”. The interviewee explains that: “It’s a classic mess-up because you’ve taken away the mountain hare’s predator. You’ve taken away the fox, you’ve taken away the wolf, whatever, and in some extreme cases you’ve taken away the eagle. And because you’ve got a predator free zone you’ve got an increase in numbers of mountain hares. Now they are a perceived problem because firstly you’ve got over grazing, and secondly, tick and being a vector for tick borne viruses.”
- Large-scale commercial hunts are big business. They’re worth “big money”, with foreign groups – particularly Italians – coming to Scotland to kill hares by their hundreds. He suggests that 350 hares might be killed on a single hunt.
- Some moor managers are seeking to wipe hares out. He mentions that “some places in Angus Glens basically ring fence them and wipe everything out inside it. And they are making huge holes in the hare population” He argues that this “total eradication is nuts”, pointing out that it results in predators like eagles being pushed towards preying on grouse instead.