Channel 4 News exposes ‘wilful blindness’ of grouse shooters

No-one seems to know about it...”, says Channel 4 News reporter Alex Thomson as yet another grouse shooter on The Duchy of Lancaster’s Goathland Moor walks away claiming to know nothing about the illegal killing of a Goshawk by a gamekeeper on the very same moor just a few months ago.

Raptor Persecution UK popularised the term ‘wilful blindness’ to characterise the head-in-the-sand attitude of the entire shooting industry when confronted with wildlife crime and how it facilitates the ongoing persecution of birds of prey in the UK. From lobbyists and moor owners to the deluded ‘sportsmen’ (and women) who think that by massacring wild birds they’re somehow joining the ranks of an elite club that the rest of us will always be barred from, feigning ignorance and waving a mobile phone about is the ‘go-to’ response when asked about the systematic extermination of birds of prey on grouse moors. (Of course, and apologies to Groucho Marx here, most of us have no interest whatsoever in joining a club that would let anyone in providing they’re prepared to spend enough money blowing birds out of the sky for fun…)

They really should have heard about this particular Goshawk though. The bird’s widely-publicised killing – filmed by monitors covering the area – could be leading to the Duchy of Lancaster – which owns Goathland Moor (the majority of which, incidentally, is contained within the – drum roll – raptor persecution hotspot of the North Yorks Moors ‘national park)’ – from pulling out of the grouse killing business. As the Channel 4 News report suggested in an interview with Luke Steele, spokesperson for the pioneering campaign group Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors, the Duchy is considering using the moor’s peat as a ‘carbon bank’, allowing businesses to offset carbon by ‘storing’ their footprint in Goathland’s peaty soil – for a price of course, but better that than selling wild birds to the gun.

Walking away (or more like scuttling back into the darkness like one of those malignancies hissing at the light on B-movie horror films) sums up the entire industry’s problems when it comes to raptor persecution though. The relentless illegal killing of birds of prey has been the biggest stick of all with which to beat them. It has led to Hen Harrier Day, countless articles and reports on a swelling number of blogs and websites; community groups like the Moorland Monitors; widely read books like Mark Avery’s Inglorious, Gill Lewis’s Eagle Warrior, and Bob Berzin’s Snared; condemnation from local people (and that takes courage, so kudos to the local people who spoke on camera in Channel 4’s report last night), and even voices within shooting itself grudgingly warning that wildlife crime threatens the whole rotten industry.

Wildlife crime is a huge issue now. Yet rather than do anything about it, the industry prefers to talk in platitudes about ‘zero tolerance’ or ignore it altogether. And it will lead to what once seemed like an indestructible edifice crumbling away.

If the Duchy of Lancaster does indeed back away from Goathland Moor few of us will be under any illusions that it will be for compassionate reasons. It won’t be for a sudden love of live grouse rather than the lead-riddled corpse of a small bird on a plate. Despite recent efforts to portray themselves as (semi-)conservationists, the Windsors own huge tracts of land used for shooting and they are of course well-known for ‘celebrating’ Christmas by slaughtering pheasants on the Sandringham Estate (the Daily Mail noted in 2019 that even at 92, the Queen still led out a shooting party where guests were seen ‘toting’ dead birds). Killing wildlife is bred into them from a young age.

No, it will be because wildlife crime (along with heather burning) is in the public consciousness now, and alternatives to having to increasingly bat away direct questions from Channel 4 News reporters and Luke Steele exist and could be just as profitable.

The professed ignorance of the ‘wilfully blind’ filmed by Channel 4 News won’t have gone down well even in the sort of circles where denial used to the standard ‘response’ to an undeniable truth. They know that we (the public) are far better informed, far less pliable, and far less impressed by stonewalling these days. They know that we can see when an entire industry is on the defensive, and have a much deeper understanding of how lobbyists try to deflect and misdirect. That we can spot the difference between a provocative silence and simply having nothing to say.

And for minutes on end we now have the industry’s ongoing demise recorded for posterity by a major news channel. Congratulations to all involved for working so hard to get this filming set up. It couldn’t have been easy. And a massive thank you too for the contributions of the shifty-looking shooters and keepers themselves. Thank you for looking so guilty and so uncomfortable. For being so petty and petulant. For being so determined to look the other way in the face of massive national concern about wildlife crime.

And thank you for not understanding that none of what all you did on camera proves the industry’s strength, it simply gives the game away. Keep it up lads, you’re really helping our cause…