Moor­land pol­i­tics

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

Shooting Gazette - - Wel­come -

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.


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: will.het­her­ing­

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.

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