Members of Scotland’s Regional Moorland Groups attended the Conference of Revive in November

This blog is to help the public and Scottish MSPs challenge information about grouse moors from Revive. It is written by those in attendance, who rely on grouse shooting for jobs and homes.


Key Points:


  • Revive’s vision would lead to Gamekeeper Unemployment and loss of homes but Revive don’t accept responsibility for the consequences of their campaign

  • Revive, and those associated, will misinform if it promotes their end cause (see point above)


Revive’s website says 12 to 18% of Scotland is used for grouse shooting. The 2020 Scottish Government commissioned report says this is incorrect. No more than 10% of the uplands is, or has been, used for grouse shooting, with less more likely. https://www.gov.scot/publications/summary-report-socioeconomic-biodiversity-impacts-driven-grouse-moors-employment-rights-gamekeepers/

 

Opening, Max Wiszniewski of Revive said there were over 400 attendees. A head count found just over 250. Over 30 of those were gamekeepers and moor managers.



Chris Packham talked about muirburn happening during Cop26. League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) had obtained un-consented drone pictures of gamekeepers carrying out muirburn. This muirburn was consented by NatureScot. The fires were small surface cool burns in line with the Muirburn Code. Mr Packham referred to this as muirburn smoke ‘sweeping over the conference’ where delegates were debating carbon reduction.


The muirburn was 130 miles away in the Grampian hills and took place 3 days before COP26. Emerging research suggests low intensity muirburn is carbon neutral, with carbon losses off-set by vigorous regrowth of vegetation.



Dr Helen Armstrong, ecologist and author of Revive’s report, A Better Way, was asked by the partner of a gamekeeper what would happen to their jobs in Revive’s vision. The reply was courteous but the gist was: these jobs will be ‘transitioned’.


When probed further, Dr Armstrong suggested that the people picking up the pieces would be Scottish Government. It would be the responsibility of Scottish Ministers. Scottish Government’s role, therefore, would be to re-employ and re-home dependents and deal with the fall-out of unemployment, displaced children and the mental anguish arising from that.


Revive’s endgame, therefore, involves tearing people away from the lives they want, and choose. The consequences will be left to others.


Some suggested ‘better’ uses for grouse moors ranged from hemp farming to energy. Hemp germination requires 18 degree temperatures- at 2000ft up a Scottish mountain! Some estates are already exporting energy. Ironically, most applications fail because of the number of rare breeding birds on grouse moors.


 

Predator Control featured a lot.


Robbie Marsland of LACS and Revive claimed that no one knows the number of species killed under General Licence or how many grouse are shot. Grouse estates keep game and predator records. These are referenced in science by Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and were even referred to by Chris Packham. Game dealers keep detailed records of how many grouse they purchase to sell. Estates count grouse annually.


Similarly, General Licences are kept under review by NatureScot. There is no evidence any of the species on General Licence are the subject of unsustainable management. The 2021 General Licences can be found, here: https://www.nature.scot/doc/general-licences-birds-2021


References were made by Mr Marsland and Kirsty Jenkins from OneKind of animals being shot for ‘fun. Birds collected on a shoot day enter the human food chain. Game dealers report no shortage of markets for grouse for eating. It was also suggested by Mr Marsland that ‘every animal that eats a red grouse’ is killed.


This is not true.


While some abundant species such as stoats, weasels, crows and foxes will have their populations controlled, the objective is to maintain the assemblage of moorland species, noting the role they play in the food chain.


The benefits of skilled predator management is felt not just by grouse. Read: https://www.gwct.org.uk/research/species/birds/lapwing-and-other-waders/predator-control-and-moorland-birds/


Furthermore, RSPB and NatureScot are getting £7m to kill all the Orkney stoats to save the birdlife in the ‘largest conservation project of its kind’. Mr Marsland may not to recognise predatory stoat impacts. The Heritage Lottery Fund does.


Gamekeepers are not involved in total wipe-out projects such as this. Management goes on each year because predator species are left to sustainably reproduce.

While Mr Marsland is appalled by predator management, RSPB and NatureScot are running thousands of stoat traps in Orkney. Unfortunately, they are using individuals without the same trapping expertise. Accidental by-catch records have mortified gamekeepers using the same traps. Over 800 stoats have been killed but 5 cats, nearly 250 rabbits, 48 mice, 18 hedgehogs, voles, frogs and toads have all been caught in poorly sited traps.


Mr Marsland did not seem to be concerned by this? See: https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/project-rid-alien-stoats-kills-23002138


 

In his commentary, Chris Packham said he didn’t care for the argument that grouse moors were helping rare wading birds. He claimed Curlew were a ‘lowland species’ being constantly ‘minced’ by silage cutting farmers. He felt the survival of Curlew in upland areas was not a justification to continue grouse shooting- an odd argument for a professed lover of wildlife. National Resources Wales predict they could lose their last Curlew in 20 years.




Mr Packham also referred to grouse moors not promoting a predator/prey balance. The UK is losing significant birdlife. As Vice President of RSPB, he should know that RSPB erects electric predator fences around breeding sites on its reserves. This should suggest to their Vice President that his predator/prey idyll is not being achieved, even on nature reserves. Removing skilled wildlife managers, in the hope that predator/prey relationships will work themselves out over some chat and a latte is very likely to mean a death sentence for fragile species.


See: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/11/12/electric-fences-cruel-threat-beloved-wildlife/


 

Returning to predators Mr Marsland mentioned a LACS report by ‘experienced’ surveyors. He said LACS used data to extrapolate how many species are legally killed on grouse moors. Mr Marsland did not mention methods used, the anonymous surveyors’ names or scientific credentials. It is known that one of the report’s two named authors, Stephen Harris, has been funded by animal rights groups to produce reports. He left his post at Bristol University by mutual consent weeks after fellow academics accused him of misrepresenting science.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/11/foxhunting-prosecution-professor-misrepresented-science/


In their presentation, Revive showed outdated images of Fenn traps removed across Europe in April 2020 due to legislative change.


Colin Smyth, South of Scotland Labour MSP and a LACS member claimed that moors could be better used, producing more jobs. The 2020 Scottish Govt commissioned report into grouse moor socio-economics studied all moorland uses from forestry to hill farming to conservation. The report found driven grouse moors sustained more jobs per hectare than all other moorland land uses.


infograph courtesy of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association
infograph courtesy of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association
In response to a question about muirburn, Duncan Orr Ewing of RSPB Scotland noted that muirburn can help prevent wildfires. However, he said that ‘some organisations’ believe around 60 to 70% of wildfires actually begin as muirburn.

This first arose in a 2018 paper by National Trust for Scotland which misread Fire Service database records. These records include broad fire category fields, which employees complete after attending blazes. On reappraising raw data, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service found that 9 out of 10 of these fires between 2009 and 2019, recorded on its database as possible muirburn, were actually caused by the public through barbecues, cigarettes, fireworks and other combustibles.


See: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/muirburn-on-scotlands-moors-not-main-culprit-for-wildfires-say-gamekeepers-btk8l6m0k


Duncan Orr Ewing

Duncan Orr Ewing also stated that RSPB Scotland’s prescription was to prevent wildfire by restoring and re-wetting peatlands. When the wildfire took hold at RSPB Forsinard, rewetting did not stop the wildfire. Gamekeepers, farmers and fire fighters at the scene managed to stop the flames by trenching a deep firebreak through the peat with a digger. The fire, which was jumping watered areas and lighting the next area of vegetation due to flame length, was finally brought under control when the wind changed direction.

Long term studies by University of York are currently questioning the narrative that rewetting peatlands is the panacea to preventing wildfires. Several peatlands under restoration or wilding in England have suffered significant fires recently with major carbon loss.


See: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-44648348


Wet peatlands also emit significant methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon, and this prescription requires deeper analysis before being accepted as beneficial in a climate sense.

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