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 

  • Good paper. As you say, these concerns are not new. And as Vanellus was kind enough to point out, these are described in my book 'Inglorious - conflict in the uplands' published last summer (and obviously written a long time before).

    On Sunday I launched my third e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting, or at least get that and the whole issue debated in the Westminster parliament.  You forgot to put a link to it so here it is petition.parliament.uk/.../125003 .  This has already received 6443 signatures (0935) and is still on its second day of existence and is supported by RSPB Vice Presidents Chris Packham and Bill Oddie.

    It would be good if the RSPB published its current ideas on licensing of driven grouse shooting - the RSPB has been talking about this for a long time but we haven't seen any detail yet.

    And it would be good if the RSPB mobilised its membership on this issue - we might then see some progress.

    At the moment, the RSPB is ahead of the Wildlife Trusts and National Trust, in my view, on making the running on a better future for the uplands, but all three are lagging behind people like George Monbiot and Chris Packham, not to mention the public as a whole.  Of course, Defra, the Scottish government, the Moorland Association, Scottish Lands and Estates etc are either sitting on their hands or heading in the opposite direction.

  • Interesting paper - like a precis of 'Inglorious'. But when is RSPB policy going to be to take some action against these damaging practices other than support the intentionally ineffective Hen Harrier Action Plan?  

  • Well done RSPB for producing this report and highlighting the gross mismanagement of intensive driven grouse moors. It is just terrible that besides hen harriers, so many other species  are suffering at the hands of these unacceptable moorland practices. It is equally terrible that this Government allows these grossly damaging practices to continue but vested interests take a long time to overcome. Keep going RSPB with all the vigour you can muster. In the end you will win to the benefit of the environment and all moorland species

  • Martin, Once again an excellent article which clearly raises, once again, all of the issues but without committing the RSPB beyond calling for licencing of driven grouse shooting . If this is the RSPB's evidence based and considered view why not take it to the next level and set up an e petition asking all of our members to support you?

    I have already signed Mark  Avery's new petition in support of banning driven grouse shooting. If you were to follow this methodology at least we could see how many of our million members want to see effective change in order to help protect some of our most iconic birds of prey and, as you so clearly indicate, the curlew as well.