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

  • Why should shooting continue? It is largely driven by tradition and notions of socioeconomic 'class'. I know this because I come from a shooting family. However, as our society makes social progress we need to continually reexamine our assumptions about everything we do and remove harmful behaviours. There is no material benefit whatsoever in shooting. Notions of environmental and ecological 'benefits' are exaggerated beyond reasonable assessment. None are benefits that couldn't be achieved or even improved on without shooting. People have 'lost their jobs' over the entirety of history as society and the economy has evolved. There is very little FTE equivalent employment is shooting. Most employees have other roles and incomes. Once again, the RSPB is running scared of the shooting lobby. Shooting is a minority activity with fewer than 1% nationally and only around 3% of people who live in rural areas. The harm that shooting does affects us all, especially that which relates to CO2 absorption, lead pollution and restriction of access to open spaces. Let's not kid ourselves, shooting living things for fun is morally repugnant, ecologically damaging and socially unnecessary.

  • Agree. RSPB should ask its members. As with Sizewell C it’s management is useless 

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