From the Lammermuirs in the Borders to the Highlands, to the moors of Caithness and Sutherland; much of Scotland is managed to varying degrees for driven grouse shooting, the demands of which are the root cause of much cruelty to Scotland’s wildlife.
Driven grouse shooting involves beaters driving red grouse towards a line of waiting guns positioned in a line, hiding in grouse ‘butts’, which are small hides that you can see dotted around the moors of Scotland. ‘Driven’ grouse shooting has become a big business over recent years, with demand from hunters from Scotland, the UK and around the world growing. According to Mark Avery’s must-read book, Inglorious, estates can sell a day’s driven grouse shooting for upwards of £30,000 to a party of six to eight “guns”. To do this, however, they have to make sure there is no shortage of birds on the day.
Grouse moors are managed with a single objective in mind: maximise red grouse numbers so that as many as possible can be shot and as much money as possible can be made. This is achieved by intensive management of the moor to create an artificial ecosystem that favours the red grouse. The by-product of this is serious environmental damage, and what amounts to landscape-scale cruelty to the many of the wild residents of these moors.
One of the central principles of intensive grouse moor management is predator ‘control’. These predators include foxes, stoats and weasels, which gamekeepers refer to as pests, but you could also call them native wildlife. They are largely controlled through trapping, which can and does cause extensive suffering.
Foxes are trapped using snares, which are meant to hold the fox unharmed until it can be ‘humanly dispatched’ by the snare operator. The reality is very different. Through our own investigations over the years and through www.SnareWatch.org we have countless examples of snares catching a wide range of species and causing severe and occasionally prolonged suffering to target and non-target species alike.
Smaller mammals such as weasels are trapped using Fenn traps, which are spring loaded traps designed to kill when triggered. Crows are also controlled, using cage traps with live decoy birds in them. Again the crows are meant to be ‘humanely dispatched’. There are, however, serious concerns about the welfare of the ‘decoy’ and trapped birds. In an extreme example, an incident recorded by a OneKind researcher in 2011 shows a gamekeeper beating a dozen trapped crows to death with a stick.
In addition to legal predator control, grouse moor management continues to be linked to illegal persecution of birds of prey. There were a total of 565 confirmed and probable reports of raptor persecution in the ten year period between 2005 and 2014, and studies have found that persecution is having a population-scale impact on species like the golden eagle and hen harrier.
Active disease control is also part and parcel of trying to keep the number of animals at an unnaturally high density. On grouse moors this means mass medication with antibiotics, which are dispensed with grit in feeders that litter the moor. Bizarrely, many estates also cull mountain hare in the belief that this will reduce the prevalence of louping ill virus, which is spread by a tick that is carried by mountain hare and other mammals. This is in spite of Scottish Natural Heritage’s scientific advisers concluding that “there is no compelling evidence base to suggest culling mountain hares might increase red grouse densities”.
Grouse moor managers often refer to these practices as conservation, citing studies that have found increased numbers of breeding waders such as curlew on grouse moors. It’s common sense that if you remove predators their prey species are likely to do better, but that doesn’t make killing predators conservation. Why not? Because conservation isn’t about picking your favourite species and killing any others that may threaten it. Nor should it be delivered through the barrel of a gun or by deploying indiscriminate and cruel traps. Instead, conservation means building and maintaining thriving ecosystems that include predator and prey species.