A curlew calling to welcome the spring is, to many, one of the most evocative sounds in nature. It is a sound that carries with it the hopes and expectations of everyone who cares about the future of our moorland and hills.  For someone living in the flatlands of the East of England, it also evokes in me a sense of wanderlust - a desire to get out into the hills.

Yet, our internationally important curlew population is in trouble which is why we have embarked on a major species recovery programme to try to halt and reverse its  decline (see here).

Indeed, there are a whole suite of upland species which are in trouble, which is why we plan to reinvigorate our conservation effort for these species over the coming years. 

Through our experience as land managers, through the evidence our scientists and others have gathered, though our long engagement with the issues that affect landuse in the hills it has become an inescapable conclusion that the progressive deterioration of our uplands can only be tackled through a shared and ambitious vision.

The environmental impact of the landuse that supports driven shooting of red grouse is a case in point.

A group of my colleagues led by Pat Thompson, our senior uplands policy officer, has brought together the case for reform of grouse moor management practices.  Our upland bogs and heaths are special, internationally important yet currently compromised by management practices designed to maximise the numbers of red grouse for recreational shooting.

The paper Environmental impacts of high-output driven shooting of Red Grouse Lagopus logopus scotica is now published (here) in the journal Ibis and is a clear summary of all the evidence that drives our concerns. Our concerns are not new.

The combination of intensive shooting practice with weak regulation has, the authors argue, created the conditions where the wider environmental impacts of driven grouse moor management have received little public scrutiny.

This is changing.

In recent years, there has been public outrage over the illegal persecution and extirpation of breeding hen harriers in England.  Spotlight has also fallen on the culling of mountain hares, the unknown environmental consequences of treating a wild bird with medication, the impact of burning and the consequences of upland management for flood management.

The paper suggests that the grouse industry can deliver environmental benefits and can make a real and valuable contribution to species conservation – I selected the curlew to open this blog for that very reason.

It is difficult to conceive of a realistic rescue plan for curlews without the active and enthusiastic involvement of upland landowners and managers. But to achieve this, reform of the management of grouse moors and shooting style is needed - this is where our analysis of the evidence leads us.  This is why we have called for licensing of driven grouse shooting (here).  Some would prefer we went further, while others have argued for the status quo (see here).  

We are determined to engage constructively with those keen to improve the environmental conditions of our uplands.  And, this is why we have signed up to Defra's Hen Harrier Action Plan for England (see here).  As spring approaches, I shall later this week set out our hopes and expectations for the season ahead.

One thing is certain, the reaction to the paper and to this blog will vary and mirror the extremes of the debate – and it is a debate. We publish this as a contribution – not the full answer but with the clear understanding that without leadership and reform there will be ever greater scrutiny of the impact of high-output driven grouse shooting.

It would be great to hear your views.


Curlew by Graham Catley

Bowland by me 

  • Hopefully this range of e mails is the response Martin was looking for.

    I was trying hard not to respond to Red Kite but have failed miserably! I am not a great fan of war time analogies but I couldn't resist.

    I think, in this debate, we need to look at Mr Churchill's predecessor. I feel that we are at the stage where the RSPB have come back from Munich clutching a piece of paper (the Hen Harrier Action Plan) and saying although it isn't perfect it represents the opportunity for peace in our time.

    As a result of Martin's initiatives I now know that my view is supported by at least 2 vice presidents of the RSPB.

    Clearly Red Kite represents one approach which I respect. What I would like to know however is how does the RSPB gauge what action its members would like it to take going forward.The replies to Martin's blog are fairly clear in the main.

    In the future I am sure Red Kite and I are both looking forward to the calming influence of Clement Attlee.

  • Some of the comments below are saying the situation on grouse moors is getting worst not better. This maybe so but I would remind them that when Churchill was fighting the Second World War the situation under his leadership got a lot, lot worse before it started to improve very slowly. I think the circumstances are much the same here. The RSPB is up against tough and clever opposition with much vested interested. The Society must use its own experience and good judgement on the tactics to be used and way to proceed in order to secure the best for moorland wildlife and to stop the current gross abuses be perpetrated . Fight hard RSPB but use your own good judgement and don't be hassled  into a wrong approach or decision.

  • I suggest that some of the findings from the Understanding Predation project, which were published by Scotland's Moorland Forum last month, are relevant to this discussion, and it is a bit disappointing that there is no reference to the project in the 'Environmental Impacts' paper.  The Understanding Predation project may not provide solutions, but it is an honest, cross-sector debate aimed at establishing an agreed starting point and highlighting opportunities for further collaborative work, which will aim to arrest, and possibly reverse, the declines of the six focal species considered by the project.  Arguably, the project is already a response to the paper and the intention is to achieve action from it, as well as more words.

    See the blog for background and access to the Understanding Predation report. understandingpredation.blogspot.co.uk.

  • Well written and informative paper which highlights all the issues. But where does it get us? Nowhere, because it is preaching to the converted. What is needed is for the RSPB to inform their members of the sorry state of affairs and either back Mark Avery's petition or start one of your own.

    Actions speak louder than words and you have been talking for long enough. The situation has got worse not better!

  • It is not entirely up to landowners good will: the uplands are almost totally dependant on public subsidy. Mark Avery's 'Inglorious' suggests that the economic output from Grouse Shooting almost exactly equals the subsidy to the land on which it takes place. The take home income of many sheep farms is less than the subsidy they are paid. This winters floods have driven home the urgent need to see public, rather than private, benefit being delivered for this public money.