Licensing driven grouse shooting: the case for change

Red Grouse, (c) Ben Andrew, 2022

This blog is written by Imogen Taylor, RSPB Policy Officer, and delves into the need for licensing of driven grouse shooting as a pragmatic and sensible step forward.

As Jeff Knott reflected in his blog last month all it not well in the UK’s uplands, its mountains, moors, hills, and valleys, are under threat. These amazing landscapes, shaped by time and the communities which call them home, are truly unique places. And whether it’s our National Parks, AONBs or wider countryside, people want to see wildlife thrive and the environment be in a better state for future generations. However, years of intensive management, especially for game shooting, farming and forestry, have damaged the uplands leaving them unable to deliver all they could for nature, people or the climate.

Picture of a thriving Uplands for all

Peatbog, (c) Nicholas Rodd, 2019

Considering the scale and apparent wildness of our uplands, we should expect to see more species diversity and greater abundance but instead it’s a trajectory of decline, with Black Grouse, Hen Harrier, Ring Ouzel and Mountain Ringlet all at risk. The uplands should be diverse and colourful, full of song, and soggy underfoot.

The biggest risk to nature is overwhelmingly loss and degradation of critical habitats, and the uplands are no different. The way the land is used and managed matters.

Alongside nature, we also know that the supply of drinking water, flood protection, carbon sequestration, farming, tourism, country pursuits, renewable energy, and forestry all integrate into upland life. There is a wealth of social, economic, and environmental benefits that should be sustainably delivered.

The Impacts of driven grouse shooting

Muirburn, Birse Estate, (c) Ian Francis, 2016

Driven grouse shooting is a sport that has become almost unrecognisable from its roots and unlike most types of land management, has little regulation. Where production of grouse for shooting has reached truly industrial scales, this has clearly come at great cost to areas of land that could otherwise deliver astonishing benefits for climate and nature. Driven grouse shooting is simply not sustainable at these levels, the monocultures it creates are a continued step in the wrong direction when what we need is a healthy ecosystem underpinned by sustainable land management.

Some of the intensive, and sometimes illegal management practices include:

- The ongoing illegal persecution of birds of prey

- The impact of burning on peatland flora and fauna, water flows and carbon storage and emissions

- The use of veterinary medicines for treatment of wild birds at scale through medicated grit

- The construction of hill tracks in sensitive habitats

- The use of toxic lead ammunition for shooting

We do see hope and progress in parts of the shooting community, and a growing number are seeing licencing as the sensible, proportionate solution to fall in line with global commitments to reach Net Zero, restore nature and achieve parity with sporting regulations in other European countries. Licensing was recommended to tackle wildlife crime by a United Nations report commissioned by the Governments of the UK, and the Scottish Government is committed to delivering licencing of driven grouse shooting and has introduced the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill to that end.

Why licencing is our preferred option?

Our uplands need to be places where nature can flourish with a rich diversity of wildlife and deliver vital services for nature, climate and people. If driven grouse shooting is to have any place in that future, licensing is the only way forward.

We believe that the introduction of a licencing system is the most effective way to swiftly reduce the damaging impacts of grouse moor management whilst also delivering for those in the shooting community who support change. Game shooting, and specifically management for driven grouse shooting, is a land use which like all others would benefit from frameworks and legislation that reinforces sustainable practices, progressive standards, and responsible accountability.

There are many voices advocating for a ban, stating the environmental benefits, but assessment of the economic and social impacts of future options for grouse moor management shows there would be an immediate effect on the local rural economy and an effect on some species that benefit from grouse moor management. Licensing is a pragmatic option which should be able to command support from all reasonable voices in this debate. Through licencing, shooting could continue, more sustainable shoots would become the standard, and environmental outcomes would ultimately improve for everyone.

The RSPB is calling for all political parties to commit to the introduction of licencing for driven grouse shooting.


Further Reading

6431.8510.8270.Time For Change Report 2023.pdf

  • @Weeps4wildlife I offer this with the genuine respect,  but if you are going to debate a subject,  your points may be given the consideration that they deserve,  were they only factual. 

    Grouse are neither bred nor kept in cages,  in fact Grouse are truly wild birds bred in the wild and which are preserved as are all other vulnerable species on Grouse Moors. 

    Arguing against the ethical aspect of game bird shooting is a rhetorical and arguable point to which you are entitled,  but to cloud your argument with supposed 'facts' which are a view held by those who simply speak from the stance of being factually wrong,  sets flaws in to your case which negate your entire argument.

    I would suggest that rather than creating your own potted theories that you make a pointy of joining one of the Moorland Groups,  request a meeting with a Grouse Moor 'keeper and then ask them to explain their work and their planned end result. If you then come away with the same view that Grouse Shooting is wrong,  then you will do so from an informed platform rather than a biased and misinformed stance. 

  • Your suggestion doesn't answer any important questions or solve any problems. You start from the point of view that grouse shooting is inherently 'justified', which it isn't. It is, in and of itself, harmful.

    The practices used to provide grouse shooting are not and could not, in any way, be described as 'conservation'. They are simply a land management technique designed to produce as many grouse as possible at the expense of any living thing (plant or animal) that gets in the way of that result.

    One of the greatest propaganda tricks of the 'recreational killing industry' is to convince people that it is somehow 'the natural state of affairs'. It isn't. It is simply an industry conducted for profit, exploiting the natural environment for the amusement of a tiny minority of wealthy individuals.

    So suggesting that this be compared with an area under conservation management is disingenuous. Firstly, a much wider sample of both types of area would need to be studied but whatever the results, it's clear that even a badly managed conservation area is intrinsically less harmful than burning heather and peat, spraying toxic lead all over the ground and into our water courses, slaying every conceivable predator, leaving out medicated grit that is toxic to other species and preventing the wider public from gaining physical and mental exercise to improve their lives.

    Killing things for ‘fun’ is not conservation. Burning, trapping, shooting and poisoning things to create more living targets so that they can be killed for ‘fun’ is not conservation. That some conservation organisations are occasionally guilty of some of these things does not make them comparable to the shooting industry.

    It needs to stop and people - the RSPB especially - need to stop appeasing the shooting industry and acting as their part time apologists...


  • I agree. Licencing grouse shooting (or any other shooting) would have the same real world effect as the ban on hunting has had  - that is to say, none at all. The hunts simply switched to 'trial hunting' which is indistinguishable in any way from their old ways of hunting, only now they pretend to lay a trail (after overwhelming evidence they weren't even doing that to begin with) which is actually fox scent. They cast the hounds (which have been trained to follow fox scent and kill foxes) in areas where they know there are foxes and that the hounds couldn't possibly tell the difference between the 'trail' and a real fox. When the hounds inevitably chase and kill foxes the hunts claim it was 'accidental'. If they haven't killed all day the release a bagged fox, often not from the area and with cut feet to slow them down and make the trail easier for the hounds. The have no intention of obeying the law and a recently leaked video of a meeting between hunt industry bosses confirmed that. So why does the RSPB think that licencing would prove any more effective at stopping raptor persecution and other harmful practices? The people who shoot are very often the same people and landowners that hunt. How many court cases will there have to be before a shoot loses its licence? It's a complete joke. I know these people. I live among them. They will break the law and lie through their back teeth. That's what they do now...

  • I am so sorry but this proposal of licencing this sport is ludicrous. SPORT! In what circle can this be classed as a sport? It is killing for the sake of enjoyment. The extinction of species world wide is beyond belief, how is it we can manage to ensure there are plenty of game birds each season for these ingrate nobheads to slaughter, yet we can't save other species that co-habit this planet. I have recently watched the BBC Springwatch series to see species turning up in our seas and on our shores that do not belong here but are being driven north by climate change. Species turning to Canabalism because there is not enough food to fill the bellies of their young. No I do not want to see a licencing proposal, I want an outright BAN! Lets manage this land for sustainable farming and protection of nature, NOT FOR PERSONAL ENJOYMENT AND THE THRILL OF SHOOTING DOWN DEFENCELESS BIRDS. End the hypocricy now.

  • I'm not in favour of licensing as enforcement is problematic.  I hate Moor burning, moor-damaging landrover tracks and stoat and weasel traps on the moors but we do need to consider a replacement income for landowners if grouse shooting is banned and that doesn't seem to have been addressed.