Mark Os­borne

The joint owner of Wil­liam Pow­ell on the grouse sea­son so far, and how shoot­ing can best deal with the pe­ri­od­i­cal shoot­ing threats it faces.

Shooting Gazette - - In the hot seat - In­ter­view by: robert Cuth­bert

Have you been out re­lent­lessly since the Twelfth?

“I was out on the Twelfth and have been out a fair bit since as we keep go­ing as long as we need. As well as let­ting days, we also man­age quite a lot of moors so that in­volves a lot of ex­tra days out, mak­ing sure things are run­ning smoothly.”

I’ve heard of a few days be­ing can­celled; what is your snap­shot of the grouse sea­son so far?

“Over­all, Eng­land is gen­er­ally good but there are patches of weak­ness. Scot­land is the place where there is mas­sive vari­a­tion, but there are a good lot of grouse in parts, just sadly not in many parts! The nor­mal Scot­tish pow­er­house, the Lam­mer­muirs, is pretty quiet but bits of Perthshire, In­ver­nessshire and Aberdeen­shire are sur­pris­ingly good.”

Are some moors suf­fer­ing be­cause they aren't us­ing mod­ern tech­niques?

“No. This is a throw­back year when the sim­plis­tic truisms that peo­ple have be­lieved for the last eight or nine years have been proved wrong. The Lam­mer­muir moors for in­stance are run very well, man­aged to a very high stan­dard and yet have few grouse this year.”

Are they us­ing mod­ern tech­niques?

“Ab­so­lutely. Own­ers, agents and keep­ers all thought we had cracked grouse moor man­age­ment a few years ago with mod­ern med­i­cated grit and we would never have boom and bust again… just like Gor­don Brown did with the econ­omy. This year and last year have proved that not to al­ways be the case and we can still have poor or even dis­as­trous years if the right (or wrong) cir­cum­stances oc­cur.”

There is no sil­ver bul­let, surely? It also re­quires the stag­ger­ingly hard work of the keep­ers?

“It is sel­dom that grouse fail due to a sin­gle fac­tor. We all tend to think it is one thing that causes there to be few grouse; poor spring weather or high worm counts, but this year con­firms this is not so. Com­pound­ing fac­tors seem to ac­count for there be­ing no shootable sur­plus. This could be bad spring weather and may be the poor con­di­tion of the hens in the spring, which could be due to poor weather af­fect­ing the heather the pre­vi­ous sum­mer, or per­haps late hatches of in­sects at cru­cial times, or a build­ing worm bur­den and poor spring weather. Take the moors above Al­ston in Cum­bria, which in­cludes the high­est driven grouse moor in Eng­land. A pretty bleak place and yet this year they have a re­ally good lot of grouse. If it was purely weather-re­lated this spring, why did th­ese and in­deed other high moors “escape” and have done well whilst other, much more shel­tered moors have fared badly?

“We are in­volved in a moor along the A9 in In­ver­ness-shire and here the grouse have done very well on the high Cor­rie ground. This is a very odd year – a real throw­back to the boom and bust years of old.”

You seem to have an in­sa­tiable thirst for un­der­stand­ing grouse?

“It is a plat­i­tude but the more I think I un­der­stand ex­actly how it all works, the less I ac­tu­ally do and the more sur­prises I get. How­ever, I am amazed how some peo­ple seem ab­so­lutely con­fi­dent they know the an­swer, be­cause I don’t!”

What do you make of Chris Pack­ham's lat­est as­sault on grouse shoot­ing?

“He has a point of view. It is not one that I be­lieve is cor­rect. We will all see things we want to see from our own per­spec­tive. He be­lieves, pro­vided there is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of bird species in any given area, then that's ac­cept­able. I think that is ex­tra­or­di­nary be­cause if you only have two birds, a male and a fe­male of a species, it is al­most cer­tainly not a sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion. There­fore, it is far­ci­cal to sug­gest this is what we ought to be sat­is­fied with.

“Con­ser­va­tion­ists like Chris Pack­ham of­ten do not see the big­ger pic­ture and nei­ther does the RSPB. I think that's very strange. Surely what we want is a sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion? That means you have to have all birds in mul­ti­pli­ca­tion; there can­not just be a pair of stone curlew or what­ever they may be. You only have to lose one and you have no sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion.

“Chris Pack­ham is charis­matic, he is knowl­edge­able, he is per­son­able, he comes across well, his com­mand of the facts is good and grouse shoot­ing is pretty unattrac­tive to non shoot­ers, isn’t it? It in­volves killing things… for sport. It in­cludes killing preda­tors so we can have a big­ger shootable sur­plus. Even worse it in­volves rich peo­ple killing things. It is in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to make it sound and look at­trac­tive. As a re­sult it is easy to crit­i­cise and whip up pub­lic opin­ion against. It is very un­for­tu­nate that some­one with his plat­form is able to use it to den­i­grate moor­land man­age­ment.”

So, if you were made ‘Min­is­ter for Grouse’ to­mor­row, what would you change?

“Con­ser­va­tion­ists do not see the big­ger pic­ture and nei­ther does the RSPB.”

“First I would try to get our side to be­come much more joined up, more sup­port­ive and co­he­sive, and more fo­cused on un­der­stand­ing that we face mas­sive threats that will not go away, merely by ig­nor­ing them and hop­ing they will. We will have to de­feat our op­po­nents like Chris Pack­ham et al and we won’t de­feat them by be­ing self­ish, stupid, greedy, iso­la­tion­ist, ar­ro­gant and all the other things that we in the field­sports world have on oc­ca­sions a ten­dency to be. We have seen it with hunt­ing. We know that if we had tack­led the an­ti­hunt­ing lobby ear­lier and bet­ter, we would not have had the Hunt­ing Act. We need to make sure we do not go that way with shoot­ing. We have tremen­dously rich peo­ple in the grouse moor com­mu­nity, but we are nowhere near as joined up or as fo­cused as we should be and we need all our supporters to re­ally get be­hind “us” in ev­ery way pos­si­ble, oth­er­wise we will lose it and reared pheas­ant and par­tridge shoot­ing will fol­low.”

Do you think it is the fault of any one or­gan­i­sa­tion or just a mas­sive lack of fore­sight be­tween groups?

“I do not think it is the fault of one or­gan­i­sa­tion.

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