I always wonder whether or not it’s worth writing about the politics of grouse shooting. It’s usually not. Over the past few years, the birds have become a rallying point for all kinds of opposition to shooting, and it feels like my contribution (although based on practical experience) would be meaningless in a world of glib hashtags and demonstrations.
In an effort to gain mass support for a ban on grouse shooting, it has been necessary to simplify the main arguments to make them easily digestible to as many people as possible. That’s why we’ve been seeing preposterous headlines like “grouse shooting makes your village flood”, or “Gamekeepers burn peat to speed up global warming”. Delicate, complex arguments have been polarised into tub-thumping absurdity; Facebook-friendly soundbites which make it easy to garner a sense of injury and injustice. More than anything, I’m disappointed by how ready some people are to dive in and condemn upland management without pausing to consider that they might only have half (or less than half) of the story.
So I’d been trying to stay out of it. That was until a recent drive on social media tried to suggest that harriers would be “one of our most common birds of prey” without the spectre of gamekeepers. This is taking a nuanced, interpretative point beyond the realm of reason. As it happens, I think that there are some things about grouse moor management that I would like to change. There are some strong arguments to make in the name of reform and refinement, but these are not advanced by the clamorous recital of half-truths and craziness.
As the campaign to tackle grouse shooting gathers momentum, there is a feeling that “anything goes”. You can make any accusation you like against gamekeepers because everyone knows how difficult it is to secure convictions for wildlife crime, and in a world where proof is hard to come by, why not cut it out of the loop altogether? Earlier in the year, there was a photograph of a peregrine with blood on its legs. This was circulated with the caption “peregrine shot by gamekeepers”. Last year, a photograph of a buzzard missing a few wing feathers was captioned “buzzard displays bullet wounds”. Neither of these incidents were ever confirmed or elaborated upon, but they were well publicised regardless.
Alongside some of this subjective, baseless mud-slinging, there are basic, fundamental errors which sometimes suggest that the campaign is snowballing beyond reason. People routinely scream about tame grouse reared in pens and released onto the moor, despite the fact that this is categorically untrue. Police are called to investigate piles of poison left on the moor only to find that it was just flint grit. Animal Aid released an outrageous document which informed readers that Scotland is home to a spurious fifth species of grouse known as “willow ptarmigan” (I’m amazed they still haven’t changed this). This level of misinformation seems to have no brake; in recent weeks, it seems to have grown exponentially to incorporate a more general and ambiguous dissatisfaction with the world which has little or no bearing on the subject in hand. In this environment, a “top five reasons to ban grouse shooting” might one day read:
- Posh people are the worst.
- Grouse abduct children.
- Flooding and stuff.
- Er, horse meat scandal?
- I have to get up in the night to pee.