“Grouse shooters welcomed back to Yorkshire Dales”.
That was part of a headline in a Yorkshire newspaper yesterday evening, which used the photograph above (it was uncredited so possibly placed by a shooting industry lobbyist).
Think about that for a moment. The world-famous Yorkshire Dales, renowned for their landscapes, their tranquillity, and their wildlife, welcomed back people whose sole aim is to kill wildlife, shattering the peace and disturbing other visitors while they do it. Actually welcomed them…
You have to wonder whether seaside towns like Morecambe (to the west) or Scarborough (to the east) would ever welcome ‘seagull shooters’? How about the wonderful Spurn Bird Observatory to the south-east welcoming ‘migrant bird shooters’? Maybe the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust’s Martin Mere to the south-west could see themselves welcoming ‘goose shooters’ come the winter?
No, not going to happen…you can’t just go around shooting birds.
Can you imagine the reaction to a bunch of lads in, say, nearby Leeds, Kendal, or Burnley deciding that if the tweed-clad bird shooters were welcome to kill wildlife in the local National Park on a good day out (and most grouse moors are in the so-called ‘national park’) then why shouldn’t they have a pop at the local sparrows and pigeons for a bit of a laugh too? After all the same newspaper article quoted ‘retired assistant gamekeeper Vincent Lynch’, who was hired to flush birds to the waiting shooters, saying “It’s bloody brilliant, a marvellous day like today, you can’t ask for anything nicer“.A ‘bloody brilliant’ day out shooting a few birds with your mates, who’d want to miss out on that?
Ludicrous, of course. As we say, you can’t just go around just shooting birds. There are laws protecting wild birds, and they’ve been in place in various iterations since at least 1954. And you certainly can’t go around shooting wild birds just for a laugh in a protected area that sees thousands and thousands of visitors a year…
Well, unless, of course, you want to kill wild birds in a ‘national park’ and there has been a hundred years of lobbying by the shooting industry to make killing Red Grouse across the UK seem so ‘normal’, so ‘glorious’, so ‘part of the status quo’ that even in the 21st century some newspapers are inclined to cut and paste ‘news’ and images about shooting wild birds from the Press Association that they would find inexcusable if it took place anywhere else…
And in case anyone’s still not convinced, it’s worth remembering that these are the same Yorkshire Dales that has earned an unwelcome reputation as a wildlife crime hot spot precisely because of those ‘grouse shooters’ that are so ‘welcome’ within its borders. Because wherever you find grouse shooting the chances are high that you’ll find the illegal killing of birds of prey as well…
Following the news that two of this year’s five brood meddled hen harriers had ‘vanished’ on grouse moors in the north of England in September 2019 (one in County Durham here and one in the Yorkshire Dales National Park here), we now learn that a third harrier has disappeared, also in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.Raptor Persecution UK 15 Oct 2019
But then our ‘national parks’ aren’t like the National Parks we imagine. Noted conservationist and campaigner Dr Mark Avery, who contributed to Chris Packham’s ‘A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife‘ as Minister for Upland Ecology, said on a recent podcast for this site that, “our national parks are national parks in name only” and should be downgraded until their problems are sorted out.
And as we wrote back in December last year in Shooting in National Parks:
North Yorks Moors NP acknowledges, for example, that “Commercial shooting in the National Park is available on privately owned land and consists of seasonal grouse and pheasant shooting, with small volumes of partridge and duck shooting also available”.
Most shooting does indeed take place on private land within ‘national parks’. but, you might reasonably ask, surely ‘national parks’ are owned by the nation, or at least managed for the benefit of the nation’s people. Or even the nation’s wildlife? Think again. As the website of the Peak District National Park states, “More than 95% of land in the National Park is in private ownership. The National Park Authority has no legal or statutory role to regulate shooting other than on land it owns, which comprises between 4-5% of the National Park”.
The vast majority of the land in the Peak District NP is privately-owned. But the law is the law, regardless of who owns the land, right? You’d hope so, but the northern part of the Peak District NP, known as the Dark Peak, is actually so bad for illegal persecution of birds of prey that the RSPB released a damning report in 2018 called ‘Peak Malpractice’ which highlighted the problem.
Shooting’s criminal element is not confined to England of course. Many of Scotland’s most notorious wildlife crime ‘hot spots’ are in national parks, huge areas of which are controlled by shooting estates. The influential Raptor Persecution UK website has detailed many instances of destruction and wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park, for example.
This vision of bonhomie, public approval, and ‘bloody brilliant’ days out killing wild birds is what the shooting industry wants so desperately to hang onto: a welcome back to wild bird killers, neutered national parks, and a public gulled into thinking slaughtering wild birds is ‘glorious’.
But they’re really not having things their own way. Attitudes to shooting are changing as more and more of us question whether killing wild birds for fun has any ethical legitimacy and finding none what so ever. Grouse moors have been widely unproductive thanks to heather blight. A number of the few shoots that did take place on the ‘Inglorious Twelfth’ were targeted by saboteurs. Covid-19 has led to a ban on heather burning that came into place after frustrated fire chiefs lashed out at gamekeepers setting fire to peatlands during a time of intense pressure on their resources and few overseas ‘gun tourists’ travelling here to kill our wildlife. The well-evidenced killing spree that took place during lockdown has seen even once-friendly media quoting campaigners and investigators about raptor persecution.
Which is perhaps why the newspaper headline we partly quoted wasn’t as supportive as it might seem. The full headline was actually “Grouse shooters welcomed back to Yorkshire Dales – but not everyone is glad to see them return“. We’d venture to speculate that beyond a few land agents and the odd ‘retired assistant gamekeeper’ that ‘welcome’ for the ‘grouse shooters’ wasn’t anywhere like as warm as it undoubtedly once was or that the lobbyists want us to believe.
Nonetheless, ‘welcomed back’ bird killers? Only on a bloody grouse moor. And increasingly only in the minds of the shooting industry’s bloody lobbyists. What a bloody shameful expression and what a bloody disgraceful sentiment…