false as­sump­tions in the rap­tor/ grouse con­flict

Shooting Gazette - - Letters -

Your Au­gust issue’s ar­ti­cle In Search of com­mon Ground was well meant but ig­nored the re­al­ity that some of the “stake­hold­ers” have a def­i­nite in­ter­est in con­tin­u­ing the rap­tor/grouse con­flict.

No­body tries to ban pri­vate mo­torists be­cause a mi­nor­ity break the law; so why the cam­paign to stop grouse shoot­ing, with shoot li­cens­ing prob­a­bly the first phase of the pro­cess?

the re­al­ity is that a vo­cal part of the con­ser­va­tion move­ment, in Scot­land at least, has been hi­jacked by po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists who re­sent pri­vate own­er­ship of large es­tates, es­pe­cially when the own­ers are wealthy and ab­sen­tee. this pow­er­ful al­liance reg­u­larly stokes the fire of con­flict to cam­paign for funds to “save” al­legedly threat­ened species or habi­tats, or even buy up the land or its shoot­ing rights to shut down the shoot­ing.

Al­though 60 years have passed since rap­tors gained le­gal pro­tec­tion, most of the grouse in­dus­try has done lit­tle to pro­vide keep­ers with le­gal tech­niques and equip­ment for lim­it­ing pre­da­tion by rap­tors.

So the keeper has to choose be­tween ac­cept­ing this pre­da­tion which could cost him his job if grouse numbers fall too low, or com­mit wildlife crime which would cost him his ca­reer. that is the re­al­ity and a dif­fi­cult dilemma for hard work­ing staff which re­flects badly on the grouse in­dus­try. this was vividly il­lus­trated by the re­cent fail­ure of the Langholm Moor De­vel­op­ment Project.

Some hope that rap­tor prob­lems might one day be re­solved by li­censed con­trol of rap­tor pop­u­la­tions to pro­tect rare species such as waders but af­ter two years of in­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tions in Scot­land there is still no sign of any ac­tion. Such con­trol could ben­e­fit nearby grouse moors, but there is no chance of get­ting li­cences just so per­ceived rich folk can shoot more grouse.

Most moors still cling to tra­di­tional man­age­ment from the 20th cen­tury which al­lows rap­tors easy hunt­ing when chicks are out in the large open patches of young heather re­cov­er­ing from burn­ing. Preda­tors do not de­pend on grouse but they are at­tracted by the abun­dance of prey and the ease of catch­ing it. Pro­gres­sive man­agers ad­just the habi­tat and man­age­ment to make it more dif­fi­cult for hunt­ing and eas­ier for chicks to es­cape.

ecol­o­gists call this “rais­ing the crit­i­cal prey den­sity” so that preda­tors get a bet­ter re­turn for their en­ergy by hunt­ing a dif­fer­ent species and/or a dif­fer­ent area. rap­tor pre­da­tion re­lies on sight and day­light and so is much eas­ier to ob­struct than pre­da­tion by mam­mals who hunt by us­ing eyes, ears and nose.

this ap­proach is part of de­vel­op­ing sys­tems which are fit for the le­gal, so­cial, cli­mate and eco­nomic conditions of the 21st cen­tury and is now used by pro­gres­sive man­age­ments in­clud­ing a group of moors in east­ern Scot­land which has used them for pro­duc­ing enough grouse for driven shoot­ing ev­ery year for the last 12 years.

com­pared to other ru­ral in­dus­tries, such as farm­ing and forestry, the grouse in­dus­try has been very slow to mod­ernise with new tech­nol­ogy. too of­ten we see how moor own­ers, who have earned their for­tune by run­ning very ef­fi­cient busi­nesses, then tol­er­ate ob­so­lete, labour in­ten­sive, high-cost grouse man­age­ment sys­tems, which are vul­ner­a­ble to rap­tor pre­da­tion and not fit for pur­pose in the 21st cen­tury. Of­ten they del­e­gate author­ity to a well­paid hi­er­ar­chy of agents, con­sul­tants, ad­vis­ers, fac­tors etc. While the money keeps flow­ing down the line there is lit­tle in­cen­tive for any of the hi­er­ar­chy to take the risk or bother of keep­ing the en­ter­prise up to date.

If the own­ers were more in­volved in the de­tail of their moors’ man­age­ment and in­sis­tent on le­gal, tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity, they would help the grouse in­dus­try to project the right im­age to the pub­lic and avoid a ban on their sport.

A mi­nor­ity of mis­cre­ants let in the hunt­ing ban and if the same hap­pens to an out of date grouse in­dus­try, the an­tis will next have pheas­ant shoot­ing in their sights. Dick Bartlett Bri­tish moor­lands ltd

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