Back on my home hills after three days in the Lakes and a chance to catch up what’s been happening in the world. The news saddened me. In Langholm, in the Scottish Borders, a hen harrier has been found dead. An autopsy has been carried out on the young male, one of only three chicks raised this year in the UK, and the results passed to the police. And on the North Yorkshire, near Thirsk, a buzzard has been found with injuries caused by a shotgun. Fortunately this bird is responding well to treatment.
On Monday next week, following an online petition signed by 100,000 people, Parliament will discuss the banning of driven grouse shooting. I was browsing the evidence submitted to Parliament and I came across one written by a name from the past, Bob Berzins. In my fell running days I had many a tussle with Bob on long distance Lakeland fell races. It’s a good piece of writing precisely echoing my thoughts. It is far better than I could write so I make no apologise for quoting it in full.
- My background and reason for submitting evidence
I have enjoyed the outdoors all my life but over the last 10 or 15 years, especially since reports like Peak Malpractice, I have seen signs of wildlife persecution and understood the significance of damage to protected habitats. As a fell runner I visit all areas of Peak District moors and I have found that officers of statutory agencies and NGO’s are often unaware of what is actually happening in these areas. I now photograph and report any incidents I see and try to follow up these reports so that the differing types of damage are stopped. The uplands of this country are precious and I just want to see all moorland in favourable condition with a full and diverse range of wildlife. I have seen that grouse moor management determines exclusively the shape of our uplands, causes a huge amount of damage and leaves no room for a diversity of species and I am saddened that I cannot see raptors over any grouse moor.
- Vehicle damage
Almost every grouse moor in the Peak District is damaged by vehicles driving regularly over unsurfaced tracks , destroying surface vegetation, destroying rare and precious sphagnum and causing deep ruts in bare peat. Such heavy and regular vehicle use seems to be an essential part of intensive grouse moor management, which is entirely geared up to producing large numbers of red grouse. I will give details of 3 examples, including a surfaced road that has been built.
2.1 Fitzwilliam Estate Strines – Hobson Moss Dyke – damage to blanket bog
Grid Reference SK 223 933.
I reported to Natural England, ruts and an area of vehicle damage to sphagnum and blanket bog in 2011. This was because vehicles were driving to a new line of shooting butts. No action was taken. By 2014 the damage was much worse. A formal complaint was lodged. I followed this up and in 2015 some low fencing had been put in place and heather brash spread over some of the damage. There were clear signs of further vehicle use over the heather brash and sphagnum and lines just parallel. I reported this but NE didn’t take any further action.
2.2 Fitzwilliam Estate Strines – Cartledge Flat/Hollingdale – New surfaced road built
Grid Reference SK 214 920
Regular vehicle use had created a wide rutted area of bare peat and damaged blanket bog from the edge of Hollingdale Plantation (now largely felled) towards Cartledge Flat. Google Earth historical images clearly show how this damage increased over the years. In 2014 the estate built a 1km surfaced road using crushed sandstone aggregate up to a depth of 1 metre and around 3 metres wide. For anyone not familiar with blanket bog, this might sound like a good solution, but this habitat has the highest level of conservation protection. A surfaced road changes the hydrology (water flow) of the blanket bog and can cause severe problems. The surfaced construction is permanent and permanently destroys the area of blanket bog where the road lies. A surfaced road also changes the character of the landscape, which the National Park Authority is duty bound to protect. There is no benefit to the public from this new road construction, access from the public highway is not possible because of private woodland and the new road stops short of the footpath network on the moorland above.
2.2.1 Natural England response
NE consented to a repair using some sandstone, but a substantial brand new surfaced road was created. An official complaint was lodged asking for the road to be removed. The road is still there and to my knowledge no action has been taken from a conservation perspective.
2.2.2 National Park Authority response
The National Park Planning Authority investigated and also investigated other recent examples of surfaced road building on moorland. The NPPA drew up planning guidance for all grouse moor owners which said that surfaced tracks/roads required planning permission and in the situation of a moorland with protected habitat, permission was not likely to be granted. The planning authority are currently engaged with another surfaced track, where they have asked the landowner to submit retrospective planning permission and negotiations over this are ongoing.
2.3 National Trust High Peak Estate – Grinah Stones – Damage to blanket bog
Grid Reference SK 133 962
The National Trust’s High Peak Vision stated that no new sections of unsurfaced vehicle track would be created. However NT’s shooting tenant extended a track to build and access a new line of shooting butts. The new track damages blanket bog. I photographed the damage and informed NT. Some months later vehicles were still using the track and damage was extending.
- Predator Control, Vermin and use of traps
The most commonly used traps on Peak District moors are snares and spring traps (also commonly known as Fenn traps). There is no legal limit on the number of traps that can be used and there has been a massive increase in the number of these traps over the last 10 years.
3.1 Use of snares, stink pits and bait
In a meeting mediated by a Peak Park official, the gamekeeper at Moscar Estate described 4 areas of his estate with 30 to 40 snares in each area, which gives 120 to 160 snares being used on this land. I later discovered a further area with an additional 30 – 40 snares bringing the total up to around 150 – 200. The snares were all set on open access land, with full access to the public. The snares are set to catch foxes and other dead animals and birds are placed on paths and trods and collected together in “stink pits” to attract the foxes. These animals/birds have been shot or have themselves been trapped in the snares then killed. 150 – 200 snares on one estate kills an awful lot of animals. The result of this killing and the use of spring traps (3.2) means that I hardly ever see a live mammal on a grouse moor, other than a sheep.
The last full bird survey of the whole of Peak District moorland was the Moors for The Future Survey in 2004 – not recent but for Crow numbers nothing has changed as far as I can see. The survey states that over 503 square km only 13 individual Crows were seen and there were only 3 breeding pairs. This is less than endangered raptors apart from Hen Harrier. All crows that venture onto a grouse moor are shot, then piled up in stink pits. Some will describe Crows as vermin but the overall effect of this is a complete lack of balance and variety of species and common sense dictates that this is not a healthy and thriving environment. If the full range of raptors were allowed to thrive on grouse moors then birds like goshawk would keep crow numbers in check.
3.1.2 Mountain hare
The DEFRA response to Mark Avery’s petition clearly stated that Mountain hare numbers were controlled (ie killed) so that the risk of infections transmitted by ticks is reduced. The main infection here is Louping Ill but there is a very low incidence of this in the Peak District. The Peak District moors are the only place in England where Mountain Hare is found and there are around 1000 of these animals. The Mountain Hare is seen as an iconic species in the National Park and is often used in National Park and National Trust publicity. However I have seen evidence of the killing of Mountain Hare with dead animals in stink pits. If this “management” practice continues as DEFRA suggests, our relatively small population will soon become extinct. I call upon DEFRA to make Mountain Hare a protected species throughout the UK.
3.2 Spring Traps (commonly known as Fenn Traps)
The target species are weasel and stoat. This year Shooting Times reported that Spring Traps were due to be banned by the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards, in July 2016 (the UK has signed up to this agreement). So these traps by international standards are seen as cruel and inhumane. The Government granted an extension to the use of these traps. I only occasionally saw a spring trap 10 years ago, now every area of moorland supports a large number of these traps. For legal use the trap must be covered and the traps are most commonly set on a horizontal log, covered with wire mesh, crossing a stream or stream bed (known as “grough”). On some parts of the moors groughs occur every few metres and they all seem to have a Spring Trap in them. Further Spring Traps are set in dry stone walls and under boulders, where they are known as tunnel traps. Over the North of England I estimate tens of thousands of Spring Traps are in use. There is no legal requirement to check these traps. The target species are Weasel and Stoat but non-target species are also killed. This year social media publicised a Ring Ouzel killed in a spring trap – these are rare and declining birds in our uplands. The huge increase in these traps is another example of extermination of every possible predator to enable more red grouse.
3.3 How many birds and animals are killed so there is 1 extra wader on a grouse moor?
Grouse moor managers often state that waders (lapwing, curlew, golden plover etc) do better on a grouse moor and predator control is often cited as the reason for this. My own observation of the number of snares, spring traps and carcasses in stink pits leads me to conclude that hundreds of animals and birds are killed on a grouse moor where we may see 1 or 2 extra waders compared to another (non-grouse) moor.
- Example of moorland environment unsafe for people
As well as trapping foxes and other non-target species, snares have trapped and injured runners and walkers.
This news article describes how 2 runners were injured by snares in 2015. A further two runners had been injured in 2010 and following this a series of meetings took place at the Peak District Local Access Forum (a statutory committee) including in June 2011 with the local representative of the Moorland Association. Despite these meetings the snares remained and as the BBC reports there were further injuries. The only option under the present legal system is to wait until someone is injured then offer them the chance to take a civil action under the Occupiers Liability Act. The landowner insisted on his right to place snares on open access land. The injuries to these people are a direct consequence of intensive grouse moor management.
- Conclusion and Recommendation
Intensive grouse moor management requires gamekeeping practices to an extreme level. This in turn necessitates repeated vehicle access through rare and protected blanket bog. Natural England is unable to protect this environment. The commercial interests of Grouse Shooting take precedence over conservation. The only way to protect our uplands is to remove the need for such extreme management by banning Driven Grouse Shooting.
Before Monday for balance I’d better quote the evidence given by a grouse shooting estate.