It has been interesting to see the varied reactions to the Langholm 7 year update which was published just before Christmas.
The RSPB appears to be branding the project an outright success, despite its failure to deliver a shootable surplus of grouse. They argue that grouse shooting is “just around the corner”, and some commentators are beginning to suggest that shooting driven grouse would have been possible in 2014 but was deliberately banjaxed by an unwillingness to compromise on target grouse densities.
Despite two of the most fantastic summers for grouse productivity in many years, grouse are not at the agreed density above which driven shooting can take place, but some anti-shooting activists point out that the density is now around the same level which supported grouse shooting prior to the Joint Raptor Study (the first Langholm project) – they can’t see why the project is dragging its heels and suggest that if the target density could be revised to the old level then everybody would be happy. It would be a sad thing if we let the project’s goalposts be moved to suit these political agendas, and as a keen supporter of the Langholm Demonstration, I can’t help thinking that the value of the experiment would be diluted by such a move.
What the anti-shooting commentators seem to miss is that Langholm is a partnership project and that all the partnership bodies agreed the project’s aims when it started. Grouse had to be at a density to support the golden 1,000 brace bag in order for driven grouse shooting to start, and this density has not been reached. The number wasn’t plucked out of the air, but represented a calculated attempt to offset the huge costs of management – and the project is almost irrelevant unless it produces an income to cover (at least) some of its own costs.
What’s more, imagine the fury if the boot had been on the other foot and all the work at Langholm had brought back the grouse to a shootable level but only produced a pair of harriers. If the shooting community published a press release to say “we’re shooting 1,000 brace this year and we’re sorry that you don’t have many harriers, but there’s no reason why you can’t work with what you’ve got”, there would be blood in the streets.
Langholm has produced all kinds of good news stories, not only for hen harriers but also in terms of heather management research and habitat improvement. Blackgame are on the up, and some amazing management work has seen much of Middlemoss bounce back from one of the most appalling and apocalyptic heather beetle outbreaks in recent years. It is unquestionably a great project, but it is not entirely a good news story because one of the main objectives is unfulfilled and now shows no sign of anything like an upward trend.
If you’re in Southern Scotland, you really ought to visit the moor and see it for yourself. So much conjecture is put forth by politically turbid third parties that it is hard to see the moor as anything more than an obscure theoretical puzzle. I am very glad to live nearby and have spent many days there for work and leisure – I can honestly say that it really is a cracking place. And the Scotsman in me feels that, since we taxpayers are invited to chip in for it, we might as well enjoy it