In yesterdays’s posting I quoted a piece of written evidence to Parliament submitted ahead of a debate on Monday to ban driven grouse shooting. That evidence very much supported a ban on driven grouse shoots. I promised to give an opposing view so this morning so I went for a run on Battersby Moor in search of a suitable picture to illustrate grouse moor management.
With a view of Captain Cook’s Monument of Easby Moor in the distance I came across this wooden grit tray used to administer a drug to the grouse population. Grouse suffer from a nematode worm in their guts called Trichostrongylus tenuis. Perfectly natural and results in a cyclical fluctuation of the grouse population on the moor every five years or so however a crash in grouse numbers is not very welcomed by the estate so grit coated with the drug Flubendazole is used to kill the parasitic worm. The grouse use the grit in their crop to help digest the fibrous heather shoots, their main food plant.
For the opposing view I have somewhat arbitrarily chosen the written evidence submitted by The Dawnay Estates for the simple reason that it is a local estate centred on the Danby Moor.
Grouse Shooting Enquiry
I am a manager of a grouse moor and common in the North York Moors. I understand that the House of Commons Petitions Committee wish to hear evidence about grouse shooting to help inform the debate.
My role is to manage Danby Moors (a Common CL63) which is a 10,500 acre grouse moor in the North York Moors, which has been owned by the same family for over 350 years. The land is designated a SSSI, SPA and also a SCA, and this designation is as a result of many hundreds of years of grouse moor and moorland flock (sheep) management.
Danby Moor is also a common, and currently 11 graziers maintain moorland flocks, hefted to the moor, which supports their “lowland” farms. Again this is an established management system which compliments both sheep and grouse.
Danby Moor is currently in the Danby Moors Environmental Stewardship Scheme which brings financial support to the traditional methods of managing heather moorland, protects and enhances the habitat and supports bird, insect and amphibious life.
What effect does grouse shooting have on wildlife and the environment?
Managing moorland for grouse shooting and sheep grazing is the very reason for the current good state of the wildlife and environment. It is why the moorland vegetation is what it is and also why the landscape is so special and protected. The protected landscape also attracts numerous visitors to the district and in particular the North York Moors.
Grouse are a wild bird, and depend on a habitat which is predominantly heather, but a mosaic of ages – hence the reason for burning small areas of heather over a tenyear cycle. The different ages provide food and cover for nesting and survival. Other ground nesting birds such as lapwing, curlew, golden plover and merlin also rely on a very similar habitat.
The grouse moor management practices therefore support a wide variety of ground nesting birds, much of this as a result of controlling vermin (stoats, weasels, crows, foxes) who attack the ground nesting birds and destroy their nests and young. It is acknowledged that grouse moorland management, largely by keepers, protects the wildlife and in particular the fragile ground nesting bird population.
The vegetation and flora is also a key reason for the designation and protection of the moorland landscape, and provided burning is carried out in a sensitive manner (“cool” burns, small areas, etc) the variety of age group of the vegetation can be maintained.
The impact of grouse moor management for shooting and the grazing of sheep has a beneficial impact on wildlife and the environment. Much of this benefit is provided at little cost to the public as it is funded by grouse moor managers and owners.
What role does grouse shooting play in rural life, especially the rural economy
Danby Common forms an essential part of the rural community in the upper regions of the River Esk Valley.
The grouse shooting employs four full time keepers, and a shepherd. Additional part-time labour is employed during the bracken control season (July to September), and also during the grouse shooting season (25 beaters, flankers and pickers-up between August and November). This excludes other sources of income in the rural upland areas such as vehicle hire, garages (fuel and maintenance) and hotels.
Danby Common also supports 11 graziers who derive a large part of their farming income from the moor, and who largely believe in the traditional values of moorland flocks.
The interrelationships between sheep and grouse moor management is incredibly strong and inter-dependent, and both contribute towards the moorland landscape.
Rural life and the rural economy, particularly in the uplands is all about local people managing a local and fragile economy. Grouse shooting is an essential arm of the lifeblood and tradition, and in a very large part funds the management of the environment and economy. The uplands can survive with the financial resources from grouse shooting, but it could not do so if reliant solely on sheep or government subsidy.
Should the law on grouse shooting be changed? If so, how
I hope I have demonstrated that grouse shooting is an essential ingredient in the success, development and preservation of the environment (habitat) and supporting the uplands rural economy. Grouse moor management is already regulated to some degree because of the status of much of moorland Britain (designations of SSSI, SPA and SCA) which imposes restrictions on over intensified moorland vegetation management.
I cannot see how it could be changed and indeed what purpose would be served in changing it. Licensing is a possibility but there would be little or no benefit to the public or the environment and it would only introduce another layer of bureaucracy.
There is a continuing and positive relationship between grouse moor owners / managers, farmers and the government agency, Natural England, via Site Management Agreements over SSSIs, and any introduction of further regulation or laws does not seem to serve any useful purpose.