The RSPB has announced its intention to push for English grouse moors to be licensed ‘to prevent the wanton destruction of wild birds’. In his blog entry, entitled Why it’s time to license driven grouse shooting, conservation director Martin Harper states that ‘more reform is urgently needed’ to protect birds of prey, such as the hen harrier, from being illegally killed on driven grouse moors.

‘Hen harriers are, for some grouse moor owners, their least loved bird,’ writes Mr Harper. ‘Given the near eradication of the species as a breeding bird in England and the intensity of the management of our uplands, we cannot accept the status quo.’

Adding that the RSPB ‘needs and expects the grouse shooting community to change’, Mr Harper reveals that the charity has written to the Moorland Association (MA) explaining why it’s time to regulate the industry. He confirms that the RSPB will be writing to all major political parties, urging them to introduce a robust licensing system after the General Election in 2015.

Responding to an open letter from the RSPB’s chief executive Mike Clarke, MA director Amanda Anderson says she looks forward to meeting with Dr Clarke to discuss the issue. ‘We feel that further regulation of grouse moors will not see the improvements the RSPB hopes for,’ comments Mrs Anderson. ‘We are challenging the RSPB to work with us and others to define what successful upland management looks like and achieve it together across all uplands.’ Mrs Anderson acknowledges the conflict between red grouse and raptors and calls for the RSPB to sign off and help implement Defra’s hen-harrier joint recovery plan.

The GWCT says it ‘wholly endorses the RSPB’s desire for sustainable grouse moors and a swift delivery of Defra’s recovery plan’, but warns that it’s ‘challenging to have linked sustainability and recovery, even tangentially, to any future licensing of grouse moors’.

Adrian Blackmore of the Countryside Alliance (CA) labels the RSPB’s calls as ‘irresponsible’ and argues that licensing would have an ‘adverse affect on many upland areas’. He says: ‘Moorland managed for grouse shooting has helped conserve this unique landscape where elsewhere it has been totally lost.’ The CA estimates that grouse-moor owners in England and Wales collectively spend more than £52 million each year on management.

BASC chairman Alan Jarrett points out that it’s ‘no accident’ that more than 70% of moors managed for red-grouse shooting in England are SSSIs. ‘That special interest is inextricably linked and maintained by that management, and it requires significant and ongoing investment. Without grouse shooting, local rural communities would wither and die,’ he comments. ‘The licensing of activities that are already regulated by law is a blunt and unnecessary instrument and would harm investment. It’s a poor policy tool that often fails to deliver sensible and progressive out-
comes. It’s no solution—it’s red tape.’

A bumper grouse season is predicted after another summer of good breeding conditions. Robert Rattray of CKD Galbraith’s sporting lets agency predicts: ‘Covey sizes are possibly slightly down on last year—around the 6–8 mark—but there appears to be a good and consistent spread of birds across moors throughout Scotland.’