Conservation at Work

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Highs and lows for start of grouse season

8th August 2016

NEWS of major environmental gains where peatland equalling the size of two cities has been restored greets the start of grouse shooting on August 12.

Although early hopes of a relatively good season have been dashed for many by adverse late weather during the crucial nesting period, there is cause to celebrate.

So said chairman of The Moorland Association, Robert Benson, who heralded results coming in showing a massive 18,000 hectares of fragile peatland has been repaired and revegetated, with much more to come.

He explained: “This is all on land managed by our members and equates to the combined areas of Liverpool and Nottingham. It shows that even in poor shooting seasons the huge commitment to moorland conservation continues.

“On the one hand, we are looking at pockets of poor grouse numbers on some moors this year and shoot days being cancelled but, on the other, very positive outcomes for work that will ultimately impact on vast numbers of people.

“In the wake of some of the worst flooding in recent memory, peatland restoration will help slow the flow of water. We are working with some of the country’s leading conservation organisations on these critical areas.

“The process improves the diversity of habitat and therefore food supplies for our precious moorland wildlife, including notable endangered bird species and plants. It creates homes for millions of insects, as well boosting water quality and trapping carbon.”

Natural England’s operations director, Amanda Craig, said: “Data is still being collated, but we are currently looking at a figure of around 18,000 hectares of restored moorland habitats across northern England, all on land managed for grouse shooting.

“This gratifying result is especially thanks to peatland restoration partnerships and we are very grateful to The Moorland Association for all its help.

“We recognise there is still a long way to go to restore all these habitats, and so the work continues to ensure we have as much properly functioning moorland habitat in the uplands as possible.”

Speaking about prospects for the 2016 season, Robert Benson explained: “Chick survival seems better than the calamitous conditions experienced last year, but this is not the case for all. Yet again, we are reminded that grouse are wild birds.

“Initially, we were predicting a relatively good season, despite the mild and very wet winter followed by a damp spring. However, due to snow in late April and early May, grouse counts indicate poor chick survival on some moors and we are now much less optimistic.

“Shooting usually stops well before the official end of season in December, but every day is a bonus to the local economy.”

Managing moorland for grouse shooting in England and Wales brings many economic, environmental and social benefits, not least a £52.5 million annual spend on conservation. Grouse shooting creates 42,500 work days a year and over 1,500 jobs.

Mr Benson added: “During a good season associated spin-offs are worth in excess of £15 million to local businesses. Grouse shooting therefore generates £67 million for local rural economies, as well as conservation.

“We are proud of significant wildlife gains. Careful moorland management has made a real difference to some of the country’s most endangered species. While lapwing, curlew, golden plover, ring ouzel, merlin and black grouse are in serious decline elsewhere, they can still be found in good numbers on our moors.”

Scientific research has shown where predator control is in place, birds such as the now ‘red listed’ curlew, and lapwing, are 3.5 times more likely to fledge their chicks.  Where driven grouse shooting has been lost in Wales, populations of many of these species have dropped by 60 to 90 percent.

Preservation schemes away from keepered grouse moors have failed the curlew and since December it has been given the highest conservation priority. These beautiful birds have bucked the serious declines where gamekeepers and predator control are in place.

The Moorland Association (MA) has pledged its continued commitment to the government’s Hen Harrier Action Plan after RSPB’s recent pull-out. Mr Benson said his organisation was determined to see more of Britain’s most talked about bird of prey on grouse moors.

He added: “We are delighted by Defra’s announcement that it will still be working with us and other key partners. The new upland brood management and lowland reintroduction elements in the plan are currently being scoped and work is going well.”

He also reiterated the association’s total condemnation of any act of wildlife crime and its support of prosecutions.

MA members are responsible for 860,000 acres of iconic and internationally recognised heather moorland, loved by millions of walkers and wildlife enthusiasts. Mr Benson said those wanting to see grouse shooting banned should be ‘careful what they wished for’.

“There is no plausible alternative land use to driven grouse shooting that will deliver these benefits,” he explained.

“Short-term licensing of driven grouse shooting, advocated by RSPB, could also foreshorten the generation to generation planning and investment that is inherent in managing moorland, leading to less successful conservation management.”

Shooting days can be held from August 12 until December 10, excluding Sundays. Only the surplus population is shot, ensuring healthy wild breeding stock, supported by the moor, is left.


Click here for more on peatland restoration.

Click here for more on the value of grouse moor management.

Below are links to a number of short films from BASC on the importance of grouse shooting:

  • Click here for a film on how the grouse shooting helps the local economy and provides jobs for local people.
  • Click here for a  film on how grouse shooting keeps moors alive with a rich habitat for many rare species.
  • Click here for a film on how grouse shooting helps local business.
  • Click here for a film on how grouse keep customers coming back.
  • Click here for a film on how grouse shooting keeps communities together.
  • Click here for a film on grouse shooting and wildlife.


Did You Know?

75% of Europe’s remaining upland heather moorland is found in the UK – but this area declined alarmingly over the latter part of the last century. The Moorland Association was set up in 1986 to coordinate the efforts of moorland owners and managers to halt this loss, particularly in England and Wales.

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