An introduction to Grouse Shooting

Driven grouse shooting is pretty much unique to the United Kingdom. Red grouse are often imported from European ‘farms’ before being transported to the UK by sea and road and put out onto upland moors - known as grouse moors - where they are left alone whilst the local wildlife and potential predators are "taken care of" by the gamekeepers before the Grouse are shot for pleasure! 

The grouse shooting season extends from 12 August, often called the “Glorious Twelfth” by shooters, to 10 December each year. A shooting party usually includes 8–10 ‘guns’ who form a line in  ‘the butts’. The butts are hides for shooting, spaced some 25 yards apart, and screened by a low wall to minimise their profile.

The grouse are ‘driven’ from they're hiding places in the deep heather towards the guns. The guns aim is to shoot the grouse in flight. Some claim this to be ‘a sport’ but most see it as a massacre - The Grouse have no realistic chance of escape. 

Up to 700,000 grouse are shot during the season. Add to that the of 6000 or so, tons of lead left scattered over the uplands and massive subsidies paid to the landowners by British taxpayers, the damage to our environment, from the carbon release of burning peat bogs - the flash flooding of the lowlands and the massacre of raptors, such as the Hen harrier, eagles and corvids, terrestrial species such foxes, stoats and badgers and it’s not hard to see why many people think grouse shooting should be banned in the UK.

Most heather moorland is a mixture of bog and heath habitats, this is a ‘pioneer stage’ on the way to naturally regenerating into a stable woodland. Such forests were the norm across most of the UK before they were destroyed by man in the past. Heather moorland supports a limited range of species but is ruthlessly maintained for grouse and heather by routinely setting fire to the heather. This is called ‘burning’.

Burning on moorlands is widely used to increase the numbers of red grouse that are available for recreational shooting. As patches of heather are burned, fresh shoots come through which are ideal nutrition for grouse. Burning is done in patches to provide a variety of heather heights, (the older, taller heather is used as cover by grouse,) on a rotation of between 5 and 10 years.

Burning heather has a lot of negative consequences on the diverse moorland environment. Burning reduces Sphagnum moss growth and the density of macroinvertebrates which play a vital role in aquatic food chains by feeding on algae, mic, obes and detritus at the base of food chains before they themselves, are consumed by birds, fish and amphibians.

The impact of burning on peat bogs is dramatic as it reduces the ability of the peat to resist acid rain and inhibits plant growth. Rivers that drain burned catchments are more acidic than rivers that drain unburned catchments and have higher concentrations of silica, manganese, iron, and aluminium that are carried into our drinking water. 

For Save Me, the routine killing of native wildlife is abhorrent. Classed as ‘predators’ native wild animals like foxes, crows and stoats are routinely trapped and killed. Protected species such as Hen harriers and Eagles are poisoned - illegally - whilst, in Scotland, Mountain hares, who are not predators, are killed because they can carry high levels of ticks and the tick-borne louping-ill virus that is believed to transfer to red grouse.

The mass culling of mountain hares has been shown to be of no benefit to grouse. Their persecution is meaningless. Perhaps, we get closer to the truth when you understand that mountain hares are an important food source for larger raptors such as the golden eagle, harriers and peregrines and mammalian predators such as foxes, stoats and the Scottish wildcat. The culling of mountain hares by gamekeepers takes away this food source from the natural predators of grouse.

To give an idea of the scale of wildlife destruction carried out by gamekeepers in the past Dr. Mark Avery often quotes an example from the Highland estate of Glengarry. In the four years between 1837 and 1840 the estate keepers killed 11 red foxes, 198 Wildcats, 78 house cats, 246 pine martens, 106 polecats, 301 stoats and weasels, 67 badgers, 48 otters, 98 Peregrines, 78 Merlins, 462 kestrels, 475 ravens, 285 buzzards, 3 honey buzzards, 15 golden eagles, 27 sea eagles, 18 Ospreys, 63 goshawks, 275 red kites, 68 hen harriers, 109 owls as well as 1,432 hooded crows and 475 ravens. 

Whilst this devastation happened nearly 200 hundred years ago, it serves as a shocking reminder of the scale of the destruction that gamekeepers and the estate owners were prepared to inflict upon native wildlife species so they can continue shooting Grouse. At least, back then they had the honesty to record their actions!