An alternative view of moorland management for Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica
In the April 2016 issue of Ibis, six authors from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) published a Viewpoint (Thompson et al. 2016) describing the environmental impacts of management to provide ‘high-output’ driven shooting of Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica in the UK uplands. They review the management options needed to produce a shootable surplus of Red Grouse (predator control, vegetation management and disease control) and emphasize those practices that they consider damaging to other conservation interests, biodiversity and other ecosystem service provisions. In their article, Thompson et al. (2016) express their desire to see grouse moor management more closely regulated and present evidence to support the case for better regulation of driven grouse shooting. However, we believe that the case for such action is far from watertight and seek to present a more nuanced view of grouse moor management, highlighting what is known, what is not known and where evidence is contradictory. We draw on published references that include ones not cited by the RSPB authors but that contribute to the debate. We do not dispute that data have been published that indicate damage from grouse moor management (except where Thompson et al. 2016 have been challenged by the original authors of such work over the RSPB’s interpretation of their findings; Davies et al. 2016a). However, there is additional evidence that we now review to contribute to a better collective understanding.
Our view, that game management should be undertaken sustainably and in ways that improve biodiversity and ecosystem services, is consistent with those expressed by Thompson et al. (2016). We nevertheless have different visions of how this may be achieved.
A similar suite of RSPB authors have previously suggested that grouse shooting could continue if the less intensive ‘walked-up shooting model’ is followed (Thompson et al. 2009). In this model, management of Heather Calluna vulgaris, predators and Red Grouse is much reduced, but as a consequence the bags (numbers of Red Grouse shot) are three to nine times lower, leading to a greater loss of income than the corresponding saving of costs (Sotherton et al. 2009). To achieve conservation benefits from Red Grouse management, there needs to be sufficient income from shooting revenue to employ staff to manage the Heather, control the predators and manage the grouse; the walked-up shooting model does not provide this level of revenue, even with agri-environment scheme support.
For the rest of this article, we follow the headings used by Thompson et al. (2016).