false assumptions in the raptor/ grouse conflict
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