There’s nothing glorious about the Twelfth

By Kit Davidson, Shooting Consultant to Animal Aid

Glori’ous a. possessing glory, illustrious, conferring glory, honourable, splendid, magnificent, intensely delightful, ecstatically happy with drink.

There is nothing glorious about the Twelfth of August. The only similarity grouse shooting shares with the dictionary definition of this abused adjective is the connection with drink. The hip flasks and shooting sticks will be full and the shoot lunch noisy when another season’s hapless birds meet their premature ends over the grouse butts. This extravagant cruel hedonism is shameful enough to call itself glorious.

What’s it all for? The apologists will shout that is about conservation. They will crow about songbirds and waders, but only because these birds do not prejudice shooting. The defensive will claim it is the harvesting of food. But nobody will admit that it is really about the pleasure of shooting a warm-blooded feathered target.

Grouse shooting is cruel. It is cruel because the bird makes good ‘sport’. Grouse fly low and fast and are difficult to kill cleanly. However, no skill or training is necessary to go grouse shooting. The only qualification is a fat wallet. In the UK, anyone who is lacking a criminal record, which resulted in a custodial sentence of more than three years, can obtain a shotgun licence. Grouse guns do not even need licensing, when shooting with the moor owner’s permission.

Grouse shooting is cruel because the management of the moor subjects the bird to a cycle of over-breeding and disease. All grouse moors enter the cycle by which the grouse populations collapse when they overburden the moor and increase their propensity to fatal gut infection.

It is also the moor management that ‘removes’ natural predators or fauna that might compete with grouse for moorland food. Moor management is cruel and destructive because it indiscriminately persecutes and destroys any creatures who jeopardize the maxima of the shooting. Even the humble heather beetle is vilified because it jointly depends upon the heather with the grouse.

Moor management is not only cruel, it is often criminal. Protected birds of prey are shot, poisoned and trapped. Their nests and eggs are destroyed, and gamekeepers who are successfully prosecuted do not lose their jobs protecting the moor owners’ grouse. The problem is widespread. The crimes are inflicted in the name of a selfish sport. Last month, Scottish Natural Heritage reported the disgraceful connection between grouse shooting, the decline of the Golden Eagle and illegal poisons.1 In 2007, there were at least 11 deliberate cases of poisoning of Red Kites in Scotland alone. 2 The rump of the shooting industry and others who laud the local economic benefits of shooting ignore the obvious: that Golden Eagles and Red Kites are a more inclusive and likely more profitable public attraction than is grouse shooting for selected tweedies with too much disposable income.

Grouse moor management is selfish and unconcerned about the long-term implications of moors burning and draining. The draining of upland moors for grouse shooting is contributing to the flooding of lowland settlements and the discolouration of drinking water in the northern reservoirs.

The upland moors can be considered as equivalent to the South American Rain Forests in their capacity for storing and absorbing carbon. Properly managed – not by gamekeepers and land owners who have the single purpose of managing a sport – the upland moors could reduce greenhouse pollution by up to 400,000 tonnes per year. 3 This is the equivalent of removing 2% of England’s cars from the road. The poor management of the moors at present releases to a vast amount of carbon stored up since the last ice age.

We want the countryside conserved for its own sake and for everyone’s enjoyment, not as a by-product of conserving a cruel sport: a sport which excludes the public – to whom our heritage really belongs.

Grouse shooting is not glorious.