- Heather-dominated moorland habitat supports many biological communities that are either only found in the UK, or are better developed here than elsewhere. Thirteen of these communities are listed under EC Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Flora and Fauna. This environment also supports a unique collection of bird species (an “assemblage”), which contains 18 species of European or international importance. The 1992 Rio Convention on Biodiversity ratified the global importance of UK heather moorland.
- Moorland is one of the UK’s most distinctive landscapes and Britain and Ireland have been called “the world’s greatest moorland countries”. The UK is responsible for 75% of the world’s heather moorland. Until the early 2000s heather cover was falling sharply in the UK and in some areas the habitat is being lost to forestry. The extent of our moorland and heath habitat now is only 20% of what it was in 1900.
- Evidence suggests that the reason the UK has largely retained its heather moorland is due to the presence of management for driven grouse shooting. Grouse moor management has arguably also improved the resilience of these dwarf-shrub heathers in the face of disease and pest species, e.g. heather beetle outbreaks.
- Many birds do better on moors managed for red grouse than on less managed moorland. These include globally threatened species such as curlew and merlin but also red grouse, black grouse, golden plover, lapwing, snipe, greenshank, buzzard, short eared owl and black headed gull.
- Several studies have shown that curlew, our bird species of highest conservation concern, does better on grouse moors in terms of either abundance or breeding success, probably because of a combination of factors that benefit them including predator control and heather burning.
- A recent study of merlin divided England into 1km squares, and looked for evidence of breeding merlin. These squares were then correlated with a map of known grouse moors to see where merlin are breeding. 80% of squares containing merlin were found to be on grouse moors, with only 20% on non-grouse moors, so it is clear that grouse moor management helps provide a suitable nesting environment for these birds.
- Without moorland management, these species would exist at much lower densities, in much less well connected populations leaving them at even greater risk of local extinction.
- Our moors are the product of thousands of years of management by man. Forests were cleared, and vegetation maintained by grazing and burning to produce the heather dominated heath landscapes that now exist. If all management ceased (including farming and forestry), heather would be lost from all but the highest and wettest areas replaced with scrub and tree regeneration. Some species would benefit and some would decline, notably those that benefit from open landscapes.
Do critics of grouse moor management agree driven grouse moors have been successful in protecting these conservation priority habitats and species for the nation?