Monday, December 09, 2019

A Grouse about Grouse

A report for Revive, a coalition of environmental and animal rights groups, has found grouse moors cause significant ecological damage by burning heather, allowing heavy grazing by deer and sheep, and using intensive predator control. Conservation groups have called for Scotland’s grouse moors to be closed down and replaced by woodland to protect the country from the impacts of the climate emergency.

The industry’s practices have created a treeless landscape that has severely limited the number of animals and plants living there, and also threatens peatlands and bogs that are the country’s greatest reservoir of carbon dioxide, the report said. Helen Armstrong, its author, said replacing driven grouse moors – estates that are intensively managed for shooting – with natural woodland and scrub would be far more sustainable and more economically productive. Drawing on experience in south-west-Norway, Armstrong said returning the Scottish uplands to mixed woodland would support craft industries, low-impact timber felling, sustainable hunting and small-scale farms.  While intensive management supported ground-nesting birds such as curlew and golden plover, it prevented many other endangered species from prospering, including wild cats, capercaillie and golden eagles, she added. Armstrong said it was essential that Scotland’s substantial deer herds were heavily culled to allow woodland and scrub to naturally regenerate. Sheep numbers should also be heavily reduced, with organised tree-planting used in some areas to stimulate woodland regeneration.

1m hectares (2.47m acres) of upland Scotland, about 13% of the country’s land area, had been used in recent decades for driven grouse shooting in areas such as the Cairngorms, the Monadhliath mountains, Deeside, the Angus glens and southern Scotland. Even so, the industry added only about 0.04% of value to Scotland’s economy.

Many of the industry’s most damaging practices should be strictly controlled or stopped. Those included a presumption against muirburn, where large strips of heather are burned to create new growth for young grouse to feed on. It creates a grouse moor’s characteristic patchwork appearance and flowering heather, but also releases significant amounts of CO2 and dries out underlying peat, she said. Recent aerial surveys suggested that 328,000 hectares – or 4% of Scotland’s land area – is regularly strip-burned for that purpose. The UK government has proposed banning muirburn in England on sustainability grounds
Revive – formed by Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoES), the League Against Cruel Sports, the animal rights group OneKind, the wildlife crime website Raptor Persecution UK, and the pro-independence thinktank Common Weal – has called previously for much tougher legal controls on grouse moors. It accuses these estates of widespread illegal persecution of birds of prey, as well as unjustified culling of mountain hares and other mammals that could carry ticks or eat grouse chicks or eggs, using inhumane techniques.

Broadcaster Chris Packham has accused the Scottish Government of dragging its heels over reform of Scotland’s grouse shooting moors. The criticism comes as animal welfare charities release a report which, they claim, lays bare the suffering endured by wildlife and domestic pets on grouse moors. Packham, who wrote the introduction to the report, said: 
“There is a circle of destruction that surrounds grouse moors. This report looks at the welfare impact on the untold thousands of animals that are killed so that more grouse can be shot for sport.It puts the spotlight on a perverse and cruel situation that is hidden from the ­public gaze and, in many cases, allowed by the Scottish Government. It calls for an end to ­indiscriminate cruelty, and it calls for an end to the unnecessary killing.” He said: “Frankly, we’ve run out of patience. We need instantaneous reform but the Scottish Government is dragging its heels.”
The report produced by charities League Against Cruel Sport and OneKind, says thousands of traps are set to protect red grouse, which are shot for sport. Foxes, mountain hares, stoats and weasels are among predators legally killed on grouse moors, which cover almost a fifth of Scotland’s land. However, dogs, cats, birds of prey, badgers and squirrels are just some species also snared and slowly killed in traps, claim the charities. Among the devices used are spring traps, which catch and crush parts of the body leading to an agonising death, and snares that catch animals in a thin loop of wire, often leaving them distressed for hours, according to the report. The charities say trapping and shooting has minimal regulation in Scotland and no evidence of shooting proficiency is required.
Director of  the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland Robbie Marsland said: “The Werritty report was expected in the spring, and then we heard mid-summer. Then it all went quiet. Then we expected it in September. Meanwhile, thousands and thousands of animals are condemned to die a cruel death, all to make sure there are more grouse to be shot for entertainment.”
Bob Elliot, director of Scottish animal welfare charity OneKind, added: “OneKind calls for a complete ban on these cruel traps and snares and recently petitioned the Scottish Parliament to end these wildlife killings in Scotland.”

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