Heather moorland and the species found within it are managed by myriad interested parties both inside and outside shooting. Helena Venables examines how finding a way for all of them to work together harmoniously requires senstive negotiation, trust and s
Moorland managed for grouse shooting is affected by myriad emotive interests and finding a common ground to satisfy these interests in no easy task. Helena Venables talks to the GWCT, the Moorland Association, the RSPB and many others to find out what can be done to cement good relations.
Seventy-five per cent of the world’s remaining heather moorland is found in Great Britain. Rarer than rainforest, heather moorland raises passions like no other landscape thanks to diverse views about how best to manage it and the activities it supports such as grouse shooting, water provision and conservation.
On top of all this is the fact 60 per cent of England’s upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIS) are moors managed for grouse shooting and over 40 per cent are also designated under European habitats and bird directives for their rare and remarkable vegetation and ground-nesting bird populations. No surprise then that moorland management is complex and involves numerous interested parties all with myriad interests.
BUILDING LASTING AND TRUST PARTNERSHIPS
In March 2015 BASC published a white paper, Grouse shooting and management in the United Kingdom: its value and role in the provision of ecosystem services, which highlights the need for “all stakeholders to come together, engage in constructive dialogue, agree common ground and develop workable, pragmatic and evidence-based solutions to management challenges”.
So where are we now in terms of collaborative management and how important is it? Amanda Anderson is director of the Moorland Association, which represents moorland owners and managers who care for over 1,000,000 acres of heather moorland in England and Wales. Amanda, who gave evidence in the Parliamentary debate on driven grouse shooting last autumn, believes collaboration between interested parties is the only way to secure a sustainable future for moorland: “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to achieve lasting change, go together,” she explains. “Around 90 per cent of our members’ land is designated in some way, including national and international protection, bringing with it a raft of regulation and conservation objectives. We are integral to the vast peatland restoration targets. Each issue and species involves a sub-set of passionate and diverse people, from academic researchers to campaigners, so it’s vital to find common ground and work towards agreed outcomes. We have a social, economic and environmental duty to work collaboratively to ensure a balanced use is made of land.”
Liam Stokes, head of shooting at the Countryside Alliance, who also gave evidence at the Parliamentary debate, agrees: “No single group
“If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to achieve lasting change, go together.”
can deal with the challenges facing upland management. One thing we’ve learned over this past year is just how many people have an interest in well-managed grouse moors. Collaborative approaches are the only way forward.”
Effective collaboration can only be achieved through trust but this is still lacking in some areas. For example, there is still a disconnect between certain wildlife charities and organisations representing shooting, although this appears to be is slowly improving.
Liam Stokes takes the view that the working countryside and wildlife charities are all conservationists. “We have different methods and different values but in so many ways our goals are the same. The problems start when trust breaks down. The collaborations we need are only going to move forward when the two sides of this debate learn to trust each other.”
The RSPB, often the focus of the ire of the shooting community, also believes in joint working as Jeff Knott, head of nature policy, explains: “Collaboration [in grouse moor management] is always preferable and in an ideal world, all parties would work together to further mutual aims. However, trust is vital for effective collaboration and that is often sorely lacking around this issue.”
Stephen Mawle, owner of Coverhead Estate in North Yorkshire, which offers driven grouse shooting, regularly deals with Natural England and states the relationship is collaborative thanks to starting off from a position of mutual understanding for a common objective: “But it is a two-way street,” says Stephen. “Natural England has evolved from a position of being prescriptive to looking at us, a grouse moor, as a partner to achieve objectives. That is a big sea change and has paid dividends.”
Compromise and working in a way that is beneficial to the wider public interest is also vital, as Stephen points out: “If grouse moor managers act in a way that is conciliatory and beneficial to the wider community that means the overall concept of moorland management becomes more acceptable. It’s important we don’t just look after our own interests. Yes, we need to burn heather to provide for the grouse but if we carry out inappropriate repetitive burning so heather becomes dominant to the detriment of grasses and mosses that is not acceptable. We have to compromise on
what we do for grouse and take responsibility for the other things we are custodians of, such as water quality, blanket bog restoration etc.”
No Room for Silence
For Amanda Anderson, disconnects and disagreements between parties must be tackled through communication. “The moment a conversation becomes adversarial is the exact time to keep talking not pull up the drawbridge. Investing time in explaining and showing off moorland management from the grass roots and its intricate ecological balancing act needs to be part of all of our roles,” she says.
Amanda illustrates this by explaining how the Moorland Association wants to increase collaboration with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO): “The BTO is a great organisation with a wealth of bird data but many upland areas go under-surveyed or are missed out. We need to work more with the BTO to fill the gaps, demonstrate the birdlife thriving on the moors and ensure it is recognised and safeguarded. Where birds are bucking national trends of decline we should pinpoint why this has happened and ensure methods can be adopted to help populations recover elsewhere. The curlew is a case in point. Each pair needs to produce one chick every two years to sustain a stable population but this is not happening in many places away from grouse moors and adults are slowly dying off with no progeny to replace them. Keepered grouse moors give curlew a three times better chance of getting
their young on to the wing, thanks to predator control. The plight of the curlew is a compelling cause to bring together conservationists, researchers and land managers as demonstrated at the first ever Curlew Festival at Bolton Castle in June. Seeing gamekeepers and the RSPB amongst others all on the same page with a common cause is something for us to cherish and build on.”
Despite this successful collaboration there is more do. The RSPB’S Jeff Knott believes improved ways of working together need to include “real action by shooting organisations to champion more sustainable forms of management and to stamp out wildlife crime. The RSPB is not anti-shooting and is genuinely keen to identify like-minded people to work with within the shooting community. However, this approach only works if members of the shooting community are prepared to accept there are problems that need to be addressed”.
Jeff adds: “We’re particularly keen to work with progressive upland estate owners looking at more sustainable forms of grouse moor management. This comes down to the need for smaller bags on many moors. The high end of intensification has practices that try and maximise the bag size such as repeated heather burning, medication of grouse, drainage, burning on deep peat and the culling of mountain hares; all of which would need to be reduced or halted in order to progress towards some semblance of sustainability. Grouse can still be shot but there needs to be acknowledgment that managing a moor purely to maximise bag size is not a sustainable land management practice.”
Stephen Mawle of Coverhead Estate agrees: “Maximising bag size is not the be all and end all of upland management but optimising bag size is, as the optimisation underpins the financials. As an industry it would not do us any harm if we produced 20 per cent fewer grouse over a 10-year average as part of a wider eco-system catchment approach. At Coverhead for example this summer we have, amongst other species, as a direct result of our management for grouse shooting and our in-hand sensitive farming, over 150 pairs of curlew, lapwing, merlins, red shank, oyster catchers, kestrels, golden plover, little owls, three pairs of barns owls, black grouse, ring ouzels, lots of red and amber listed species. This delights me but it comes down to predator control and spending a lot of time, effort and money.”
one of THE most Divisive ISSUES of All
The elephant on the moor is of course raptor persecution: to tackle the problem the Hen Harrier Joint Action Plan (HHJAP), was launched by DEFRA in January 2016 to sustainably rebuild hen harrier populations to exist alongside driven grouse shooting. The RSPB left the HHJAP the following July, citing lack of progress, and is now calling for driven grouse moors to be licensed.
Stephen is keen for the plan to succeed and believes solving problems such as the absence of hen harriers on grouse moors is down to involving those who are affected. “When conflicts like this arise you get no traction or success if the people whose livelihoods are directly affected are not included in finding the solution.”
Liam Bell, chairman of the NGO, which is active in the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime, states: “Raptor persecution is not only wrong, but also helps our enemies present to the public and politicians a distorted view of the keepering
“The RSPB is not anti-shooting and is genuinely keen to identify like-minded people to work with within the shooting community.”
profession as a whole, undermining our environmental credentials in the process. I feel, however, there are those out there who have perhaps created a fog of confusion surrounding the extent to which raptor persecution actually takes place, which is regrettable as it has made the NGO’S work to stamp out persecution that bit harder.”
“There is no defence for breaking the law,” adds Amanda Anderson. “Licensing for genuine problems is well established for protecting livestock, but more experience and confidence is needed to sensibly implement the system for conservation of all the wild birds that we encounter on the moors. No one wants to see the loss of any species and a balance must be struck. A more collaborative approach, coupled with the utilisation of all the tools available, will take us forward significantly.”
Liam Stokes calls for shooting organisations to “spearhead antipersecution efforts, perhaps working with the RSPB and police to ensure surveillance regulations are appropriately followed where there is genuine evidence of raptor persecution. This would help prevent evidence gathered by surveillance from being thrown out, as has happened recently to the embarrassment of the RSPB who gathered it. If surveillance was properly targeted it would provide a deterrent to those last remaining estates on which persecution still occurs”.
cross-compliance on moorland?
Working with organisations such as the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts could certainly help reduce raptor persecution; admissible evidence and successful prosecutions can only act as a deterrent to rogue estates or gamekeepers. But let’s fast forward: is it ever likely wildlife charities will emulate management techniques used on grouse moors on their own reserves?
Amanda Anderson says this is already staring to happen: “Since the GWCT’S Upland Predation Project at Otterburn showed the benefits to ground nesting birds of predator control, the RSPB already uses some fox and crow control on Geltsdale in Cumbria and Big Moor in the Peak District to give these vulnerable birds a chance to fledge their chicks. Some are trying non-lethal techniques to achieve the same result like putting electric fences around known nests.
“Also, techniques to manage and improve blanket bog vegetation and strategic wildfire management are evolving and being shared. What has been perceived as a deep divide is in fact a disagreement on a small part of any one issue. These challenges are not binary, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but a continuum of understanding of each other perspectives. Again, agreeing an outcome and coming up with as many ways to implement that outcome while learning from each other is so much more progressive. ‘How would you do it?’ can be a very empowering and creative question.”
Let us hope those who are responsible for collaborating to manage the UK’S heather moorlands keep asking it.
If you have any thoughts on the issues raised in this article then let us know. Email: email@example.com
The sustainability of big bags has been called into question by the RSPB.
Species including the little owl are beginning to thrive on estates like coverhead in North Yorkshire.
The culling of mountain hares continues to cause great debate between shooting and wildlife groups.