Matt Ridley: In Defence of Grouse Shooting

Matt Ridley: In Defence of Grouse Shooting

Today is the ‘Glorious Twelfth’, the start of the grouse shooting season in Britain, with the sport under greater scrutiny than ever before.

A petition by hard line animal rights activists to ban the traditional sport has received over 10,000 signatures, while retailer Marks and Spencer caused anger after refusing to sell grouse this year.

Gamekeepers who manage the heather moors where the game birds live have been accused of “persecuting” rare birds of prey that kill and eat grouse, but representatives of rural communities have hit back, saying that the moors are a delicate ecosystem that only exist thanks to management.

Science writer Matt Ridley wrote a comment piece in yesterday’s Times defending gamekeepers, saying that the work they do helps protect a unique landscape, and that without them the grouse would even be in danger of extinction:

“Tomorrow sees the start of the red grouse shooting season, a sport under attack as never before, with a petition to ban it, and campaigns to get supermarkets to stop selling grouse meat.

“As somebody who lives in the rural north and knows the issue at first hand, I am in no doubt that the opponents of grouse shooting have it backwards. On both economic and ecological grounds, the shooting of grouse is the best conservation practice for the heathery hills of Britain. If it were to cease, most conservationists agree that not only would curlews, lapwings and golden plover become much scarcer, even locally extinct, but much heather moorland would be lost to forest, bracken, overgrazing or wind farms.

“Be in no doubt: management for grouse is conservation. The owners spend money to maintain the heather moors that constitute an ecosystem found almost nowhere other than Britain. They prevent overgrazing, re-establish heather, remove plantations of non-native sitka spruce, eradicate bracken, manage drainage, periodically burn long heather, kill foxes and crows, refuse to build subsidised wind farms, and thus maintain the great open spaces of the Pennines and parts of Scotland where people are free to walk. In the past decade alone, moorland owners have regenerated 57,000 acres of heather.

“More than £50 million is spent on conservation by grouse moor owners every year. That’s roughly twice as much as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds devotes to its entire conservation efforts. There is no way the taxpayer would or should stump up that kind of cash to look after heather moors. But somebody has to: there is no such thing as a natural ecosystem in this country and conservation requires human intervention.”

Read more at the Times (subscription required)