Ten days ago the RSPB wrote to the major political parties to urge them to introduce a licensing system to govern driven grouse shooting after the General Election in May 2015 - the next available legislative slot.  We need action because of the poor state of our uplands and the ongoing persecution of birds of prey especially the hen harrier.  

While some in the shooting community have sought to ridicule our call and others wished we went further, on balance, I have been delighted by the support we have received.  It is clear that there are many who remain outraged by continued illegal killing and want to see improved management of our uplands: licensing is the next logical step. 

Our call chimes with the Law Commission that has, as part of its review of wildlife management legislation, considered a form of regulation of hunting by means of licenses.   Indeed, momentum appears to be building in other parts of the UK.  The outrage following the Black Isle poisonings led to a debate in the Scottish Parliament resulting in Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Environment and Climate Change, making a commitment to review the various game licensing systems in Europe - a move which has received cross party support and accompanies a suite of actions aimed at tackling wildlife crime (see here for a transcript of the debate).

The good news for Mr Wheelhouse, is that there much work has already been done to develop our understanding of the impacts of sport shooting management and regulation.  A recent review of game bird hunting styles in Europe and North America investigated the biodiversity impacts associated with hunting and game management and identified several existing regulatory models, which can be broken down into three hunting styles: landowner regulated, State regulated and State owned (Mustin et al. 2012).

The UK can learn from existing models and it should help us develop a fair and effective licensing system.  In fact, I am surprised that the shooting community is not advocating this themselves.  It seems that another industry with a dodgy brand - the fracking industry - recognises the need for a world-class regulatory regime.  It is obviously seeking public acceptability and knows that it needs to do more to satisfy public concerns.  I think that the driven grouse shooting community should be thinking along similar lines. 

So what might a licensing system look like?  

Any licensing system should help address the current gulf between government ambition, policy and what is happening on the moors such as Walshaw.  We think that it should be based on the following principles...

  • All driven grouse shooting should operate under a licensing system.
  • Hunting should be subject to a transparent planning and reporting process, which should include commitments to meet agreed quotas of grouse shot and to meet statutory obligations for protected species, habitats and areas.
  • Licensing should include an expectation of reasonable access for monitoring purposes.
  • Licensing should require implementation of the management necessary to deliver the site conservation objectives of any protected area a grouse moor is responsible for managing.
  • Any breach of license conditions or existing environmental legislation should lead to the license being revoked
  • A licensing system should be cost neutral to the State.

As I have written previously, good driven grouse estates should have nothing to fear from this system.  I look forward to debating these principles with politicians as they finalise their manifestos over the coming months.  

In the meantime, our 24 hour surveillance of two of the three hen harrier nests in England continues and our monitoring of the newly tagged Bowland chicks begins.   

  • It is very encouraging Martin that there seems to be such good overall support for a licensing system. The RSPB is quite right in taking an holistic view (overall) view on all of this and the six points you list above as being the principles of any licensing system are absolutely right.

    Where perhaps some thought and discussion needs to be given is how to work with grouse moor owners to aleviate significant impacts that, so called "predators", which are also protected species, may have on grouse numbers. I would have thought this can be done by establishing such procedures as diversionary feeding or similar. These procedures should obviously not be part of any licensing system but do need to be on hand and fully established when such a licensing system is introduced, otherwise I think at least some grouse moor owners will consider their grouse numbers will be seriously threatened. Without such proceedures I think the opposition will be much tougher and I am sure it is likely to be pretty tough anyway.

    Well done RSPB keep up this excellent work.  

  • And if this happens and Grouse moor owners don't take this up, i can see the UK loosing the majority of it's uplands and moorlands and all the other valuable wildlife that there is in these places.

    Regards Ian.