- Those supporting a change to the status quo should articulate their alternative solution before any decision is taken. This is because heather moorland and the associated peatlands in Britain are internationally important (1992 UN Rio Convention), and it is widely recognised here and here that grouse shooting has helped protect it.
- The main alternative land uses to driven grouse shooting are listed below. Each one is either clearly associated with lower net sustainability, or the suggested environmental, social and economic benefits are poorly understood.
- Commercial forestry, as noted by the recent SNH-commissioned moorland review, not only fragments heather habitat but can also impede the hydrological function of nearby blanket bog; support an increased number of predators, which can impact ground-nesting birds; and escalate tick densities.
- Where more intensive sheep farming replaces grouse moor management, heather moorland can rapidly convert to species-poor grassland. The Berwyn Mountains in Wales have lost 46% of their heather moorland since 1946. Moorland in Dumfries-shire lost an average 68%, and in one area 83%, of its heather between 1988 and 2009 in those areas where there was no grouse shooting. Other impacts, such as, ground compaction, water quality and flood risk is poorly understood. Recovering heather moorland from grass is possible but better avoided as it is costly, disruptive on grazing patterns and time-consuming.
- The 2016 State of Nature Report identified one of the factors causing species declines as “Abandonment of traditional management, including grazing, burning and cutting, which is crucial for the maintenance of habitats such as heathland and grassland”. The protection of traditional practices was enshrined in Principle 22 of the 1992 Rio Declaration: “local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices.”
- Cessation of grazing, burning and predator management will affect the breeding success of vulnerable ground-nesting species including hen harrier, as seen at Langholm Moor in southwest Scotland and in the Berwyn SPA in Wales. The economic output from moorland areas (tourism, hill farming and sporting) could also be significantly reduced.
- Eventually, unmanaged moorland ceases to be moorland, and bracken, scrub and trees takeover. These changes reduce the areas available to upland ground-nesting bird species.
Re-wilding and nature reserves
- Nature reserves seeking to manage for heather moorland would typically have to seek public or charitable funding to replace the private investment that grouse shooting delivers. Low input reserve management and explicit re-wilding could lead to a loss of those moorland habitats and their associated species with high international conservation value to scrub or woodland of lower value. Not only do these have different levels of biodiversity, but there would also be consequential but uncertain changes in terms of tourism and hydrological and carbon storage amenity.
- Increasing eco-tourism is unlikely to have the capacity to replace on a widespread basis the economic activity generated by driven grouse shooting. In the Peak District, research shows that only 1 in 3 visitors spend any money during a visit and the average spend is only £9.65 per person per visit.
- The simple presence of ‘iconic’ species does not guarantee an increase in tourism revenue. The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (LMDP) created a high density of breeding hen harriers readily visible throughout the breeding season from public roads, and this was well known from media and internet coverage. However, there was no discernible increase in tourist activity or local income for the period of the project. (S. Lester & G. Dalby, personal communication, 2014).
- Some eco-tourism already occurs in grouse shooting areas where millions of people are attracted by the cultural landscape it maintains. An end to the associated management and its possible replacement by grass, scrub, forestry or wind turbines would be likely to put at risk the tourism that already exists.
Walked-up grouse shooting
- Walked-up grouse shooting requires lower densities of grouse than driven shooting. But if we seek many benefits from our upland land use and as few trade-offs as possible, it is not a real alternative. The walked-up season is short, the employment rate per shoot day low, and similar sport is available overseas. Thus the marketplace cannot value it highly enough to justify the full-time employment of trained staff who maintain heather cover and control predators of curlew, lapwing and golden plover.
- The only scientific study of wildlife populations after a driven grouse moor has ceased to operate, but walked-up shooting continued, is in Wales and it shows dramatic declines of threatened species.
Those proposing changes to ban or restrict driven grouse shooting should be challenged to produce evidence of the net gain that the alternative land uses they propose will bring to society – economic, social and environmental.