Shooting and Fishing: ‘It is relatively easy to whip up antagonism towards grouse moor owners’

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AS a bit of new year cheer I bring you news of the anti-shooting campaign which is to be launched in England but will surely clamber over Hadrian’s Wall.

This, of course, is all about raptors, birds of prey and in particular hen harriers, the gracious, but tiresome birds which will eat or scatter grouse over several counties given half a chance. Which doesn’t make them bad, just hard to live with. What has happened is this. For the last six years every organisation you can think of south of the Border, plus a few more you did not know existed, have been involved in a “Hen Harrier dialogue” under the aegis of the Environmental Council.

After six years of talk the number of breeding hen harrier pairs in England is precisely one. So the RSPB has walked out of the talks on the perhaps understandable grounds that there isn’t anything left to talk about.

The reason England is down to one pair – there will be many other single birds about – is, for want of any other explanation, that they have been disturbed, poisoned, shot or generally persecuted because they interfere with grouse. Persecuted by whom is of course the question.

The antis say it’s keepers and unspecified agents of field sports. And the field sports lobby says it’s nothing to do with us guv, and roundly condemns hen harrier persecution.

Luckily we have more than 600 breeding pairs in Scotland but an embarrassing shortage in grouse moor areas. Anyway.

In the wake of the RSPB’s decision to leave the hen harrier talks its former conservation director Mark Avery has pretty well declared war on grouse shooting...

He says that if there is no improvement in nesting pairs in 2013, which seems pretty unlikely, then the time has come to mount an organised campaign to ban grouse shooting starting on 12 August.

Goodness knows what form it will take although it is relatively easy to whip up antagonism towards grouse moor owners given Britain’s enthusiasm for class envy.

Most people including governments have more pressing matters on their minds than to bend to Avery’s particularly niggling wind. But you never can tell. The problem with an anti-grouse shooting campaign, is that the poison is insidious and over time will seep out inexorably to affect all game shooting from pheasants to pigeons. Mind you government agencies both sides of the Border recognise that a great many non-game birds would struggle to survive if large areas of lowland and upland were not managed with shooting in mind – 4.4 million hectares in Scotland. All the same we’d do as well to remember the hunting ban – and what a cock up that has been.