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
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.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
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