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

  • "Putting on record" the ecological impact of various management regimes, using standarised assessment tools and protocols, is what already happens in the many studies that make up the scientific literature. A 2016 review by Thompson et al provides a fair summary (easily accessed by a google search). They conclude that there are a few criteria by which moorland management for driven grouse shooting has a potential benefits, but that in prctice, these are usually outweighed by the negative impacts.

  • This is not a sustainable or ethical "sport", intensively reared livestock can contribute to avian diseases spreading into the wild population and visa versa. The grouse are confined to tiny cramped cages until release into an environment they are not acclimated to, makes for easy flushing out and shooting. Raptor persecution has continued to be a major issue in and around these shooting estates. Flooding has been proven to be more prevalent in areas surrounding managed land used for driven grouse shooting. The birds are often left in huge rotting piles of discarded corpses after shooting events, given the amount of feed required to raise a grouse to maturity, this is not sustainable, even if the meat was utilised, it is still unsustainable. I am disappointed that the RSPB is not supporting an outright ban, if we are supporting licensed shooting of any breed of bird then the whole Charity seems a little farcical.

  • There's little doubt that licensing would be a step forward, but a tiny one. At this time of a crisis in climate and nature, the RSPB needs to be bolder. The shooting industry has repeatedly shown itself to be unwilling or incapable - or both - of self regulation

    ,Example are myriad - the failure of the industry to eliminate the use of toxic lead shot; the continued persecution of raptors (especially Hen Harriers) on shooting estates, the continued burning of damp peat moor that is vital both for biodiversity and carbon capture and storage. "Walk up" shooting whould maintain the employment shooters claim is provided and a ban might also get communities to rethink the best use of land - including the jobs that could be generated by local management schemes that do not involve environmentally disastrous practices like peat burning, mass release of captive-bred gamebirds and raptor persecution.

    The RSPB should recognise that it is there to serve the best interests of nature and birds. And that its own membership is not interested in the Victorian/Edwardian dystopia of the driven shooting estate.

  • The RSPB should be asking for a complete abolition of Grouse Shooting. Shooting birds is a throwback to Dickensian / Victorian Britain. 
    We should re- wild these desolate moorlands not repeatedly burn them and kill every other living animal that lives with grouse! 

  • The RSPB should be asking for a total ban of grouse shooting. 

    Any shooting of birds is a throwback to the Victorian - Charles Dickens era. We need to re- wild these desolate moorlands.