The wonderful Raptor Persecution UK (RPUK) has posted a blog today about a claim by shooting lobbyist Alex Hogg, Chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), that grouse moors – those wildlife crime-riddled, ecologically devastated playgrounds for so-called ‘sportsmen’ – are ‘a birdwatchers’ paradise‘.
RPUK has analysed the context of Mr Hogg’s words and linked back to numerous articles of their own looking at the rampant raptor persecution that takes place on grouse moors. So as a life-long birdwatcher – and stepping outside of ‘team WoW’ for a moment – I’d like to add my own comments about his ignorant claims from a personal perspective. I had planned to leave it at the tweet posted below, but I won’t let him get away with it so lightly.
First off, I’d like to make clear that I don’t assume for a moment I speak for all birders. Despite most spokespeople for the shooting industry loudly shouting on social media that all birders are ‘extremists’ or ‘antis’, we’re not actually a homogenous group of people. We have different views and opinions. But one thing I think we could probably all agree on, though, is that grouse moors are nothing like ‘paradise’.
There is very little left on our planet that actually constitutes anything like ‘paradise’ anymore. We have, in the immortal words of Joni Mitchell, “paved paradise and put up a parking lot“. What we’ve not destroyed we now manage to either a greater or lesser extent – and that includes those man-made and intensively-managed grouse moors. Moorlands managed by the likes of the SGA are simply farms for Red Grouse. Stripped of trees, miles and miles of heather monoculture aimed at supporting unnaturally high densities of ‘stock’ stretch over the uplands. Then for months on end, they ring with gunfire as ‘sportsmen’ do their best to blow those same grouse out of the sky, aided by men like Alex Hogg. Over half a million beautiful grouse die on your moors every year: in what way does that represent a ‘paradise for birdwatchers’ Mr Hogg?
What else might your management do to turn these blighted regions into a ‘paradise’ for birders? Killing virtually everything else that moves across them, perhaps? Paradise for birdwatchers, Mr Hogg, isn’t a death zone for some of the UK’s most fascinating birds – Hen Harriers, Golden Eagles, and Peregrines that are so persecuted by the industry you support that according to a government report their populations are actually being suppressed. Paradise isn’t littered with traps and snares, dead foxes, stink pits and crow cages. Paradise isn’t burnt and smashed and ‘paved’ with tracks built over SSSis so your clients don’t even need to walk to the birds they kill.
Personally speaking, I loathe what you and your kind do to the countryside. For you to now try to tell people like me that the trashed landscapes you oversee are a ‘paradise’ tells me all I need to know about how little you know about birds, birdwatchers or birdwatching.
Let me explain why I think that is. I don’t see birds as a ‘resource’, an almost abstract unit to be exploited and abused by shooting. I don’t know any birders that do. Birdwatching has nothing to do with killing, trapping, shooting, or snaring. For many of us, it’s about life long discovery. About enquiry and endless curiosity. It’s having respect and empathy for sentient beings. A fascination with and a love for life. It is about doing no harm. Being excited by a day out that is all about observation. Trying your best to exist within the habitat rather than crushing the life out of it. I see nothing in your role as a shooting lobbyist that suggests you have anything to say to me about any of those things.
And just to be clear, Mr Hogg, I’m not gullible, ignorant, or unaware. I don’t look at a denuded landscape, catch a glimpse of a grouse and the very occasional kestrel, and think how beautiful it all looks. I see exactly what has been done so that the wildlife I love can be gunned down or eradicated, and it has nothing to do with paradise.
But I also want you to be certain that your patronising words don’t upset or annoy me. They drive me on. You and people who think and talk like you do, just make me want to work harder. Because one day, when shooting grouse for a giggle on a drunken day out has been consigned to the history books, then the moorlands might be filled with wildlife again and might again echo with bird song.
While they will probably still be a long way from ‘a birdwatchers’ paradise’, they will be a damn sight closer to it than they are now.