Comment: Guns must not fire on Inglorious Twelfth

THE 12th of August, the so-called “Glorious Twelfth” (or the “Inglorious Twelfth”, as it’s often more appropriately referred to), marks the start of the annual red grouse shooting season – and for many Scots like me, it’s a day on which we hang our heads in shame.

A male red grouse. Picture: Getty Images

So-called “sportspeople” are gearing up to kill about half a million grouse, turning Scotland’s picturesque moorlands into bloody killing fields. If there were a group of people preparing to shoot dogs and cats for fun, we’d be screaming bloody murder – and honestly, what’s the difference? Birds have the exact same capacity to experience pain and suffering as dogs and cats do.

No training or proof of experience is required to go grouse shooting, which means that many birds will be left to die lingering, painful deaths after being wounded by inexperienced shooters. And shooting grouse is cruel not only to the grouse themselves but also to other animals who are killed to keep grouse populations unnaturally robust.

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A large number of native birds and mammals who are thought to interfere with grouse shooting are trapped, poisoned or snared. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation – a contradiction in terms if ever I’ve heard one – admits that gamekeepers “control” (that is, kill) foxes, crows, weasels, stoats and other animals so that hunters will have more grouse to shoot. Similarly, many birds of prey, including hawks, falcons, owls and other legally protected raptors, are killed and have their nests destroyed because they are viewed as competitors with the millionaires who shoot grouse. Raptor Persecution Scotland, which tracks the deaths of certain birds of prey, highlights the case of 22 raptors which were killed in March in one of the worst wildlife-poisonings that Scotland has seen.

The situation has become so bad that last month the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds wrote to all UK political parties asking them to introduce a licensing system for grouse moors after the 2015 general election so that licences for grouse shooting could be withdrawn if there is evidence of the illegal killing of wild birds. The charity notes that species such as the hen harrier are being driven to extinction because of illegal killings on grouse moors.

Unnaturally boosting the grouse population for the purpose of obliterating it later in the year is also detrimental to the local environment. Scotland’s moorlands are vast carbon sinks – so-called because they absorb more carbon than they release. Because grouse thrive on young heather, operators burn the peatland in order to encourage fresh vegetation. This practice releases hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year and creates an unbalanced landscape, with grouse populations flourishing while other wildlife dwindles, leading one ornithologist to describe Britain’s grouse moors as “grouse factories” on BBC’s Today programme.

In good condition, Scotland’s spongy, deep peatland habitats also provide clean drinking water and help hold back water that would otherwise flood low-lying areas. But large quantities of poisonous lead shot are discharged on the ground from shotguns, further harming both the environment and humans. These environmental concerns have largely been overlooked so that shooters and estate managers can continue in their bloodthirsty ways.

Shooters can pay up to £3,000 a day for the “pleasure” of killing defenceless birds, and the public is forced to subsidise this cruel activity. The government recently announced that it intends to nearly double the amount paid out in Common Agricultural Policy subsidies to moorlands from 2015, and it is feared that much of this money will end up in the hands of grouse shooters.

Reducing sentient beings to targets for the perverted pleasure of gunning them down is not sporting or appropriate in a civilised society. Hunting has no place in Britain, and until hunters put away their guns, traps and poisons, 12 August will be a blemish on Scotland’s reputation. «

• Yvonne Taylor is senior programmes manager at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)