Caught by the River

Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands

30th July 2015

Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands, by Mark Avery
Bloomsbury Natural History, hardback, 304 pages. Out now

Book Review by Ceri Levy

Grouse shooting for ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management which damages protected wildlife sites, increases water pollution, increases flood risk, increases greenhouse gas emissions and too often leads to the illegal killing of protected wildlife such as Hen Harriers.

This is the description for Mark Avery’s e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and his latest book, Inglorious, sets out the issues behind the grouse business and its conflict with conservation and the health of our countryside. It succinctly explains the role the hen harrier, as well as other creatures, play within this unjust and unjustified drama and is essential reading for anyone who has an interest in conservation in modern day Britain.

It is a whodunnit, a murder mystery in which we know who did it from the start but we stick with the author as he tells the story in such an engaging manner that we find ourselves within a tome which by turn is a social commentary, a wildlife disaster tale, a story of the haves and have nots, a history book of the UK and an explanation of what driven grouse shooting consists of and the measures taken to ensure its grisly success.

Driven grouse shooting takes place on moorlands and consists of men driving Red Grouse towards other men who wait with pointed guns to shoot the birds as they fly past them. This is conducted by approximately 15,000 people (mainly men), and it impacts on the other 60 million of us in one way or another, from use of our tax payments to help landowners ‘manage’ their land as well as illegal habitat management which can lead to damage of our environment and our wildlife. It’s a complex series of issues but the nub of it is – kill creatures at all cost to preserve Red Grouse, and then kill lots and lots of… Red Grouse.

The areas where grouse are shot are usually large upland estates that have been in the hands of the same families for many generations. They are often the people who have run Britain through their wealth, their seats in the House of Lords and their grip on the voting system. They can be expected to be a fairly conservative bunch who are accustomed to getting their own way.

So what is the major issue for the shooters? It is the effect predators such as Hen Harriers, crows, foxes, Peregrines, Stoats, Weasels and other birds of prey have upon the number of available grouse to be shot. The moorland is prepared in every way to make comfortable surroundings for the revered Red Grouse, so that come shooting time, there are plentiful numbers of birds available to be killed, which is a murder that only the privileged can afford. A weekend’s hunting can cost about £35,000 for eight people. A lot of work can go into clearing sites of unwanted guests and the hen harrier, a reviled creature amongst the shooting class, has suffered more than most.

Grouse shooting interests have persecuted the Hen Harrier to such an extent that, despite full legal protection for the last 60 years, it is almost extinct as a breeding species in England (2 pairs nested in 2013) despite there being habitat available for 300 pairs.

I always wondered how many grouse hen harriers could take to engender such hatred when thousands of birds are being reared on the moors and whether the amount taken really made a difference. Well, it transpires that the numbers are high and during a study in the mid-90’s it was discovered that Hen Harriers took 37% of the Red Grouse chicks when left to their own devices with no persecution being exacted upon them but as Charlie Moores, the conservationist and writer tells me, “yes, they take chicks, but that doesn’t impact the overall population of breeding grouse – they are what shooters call the ‘shootable surplus’ and what the rest of us see as birds that would be lost naturally to predation in any population of any prey bird. Without that rider it sounds as if the shooters can justify their position – when they can’t (no way ever, not now not never).”

When your aim is to produce a large shootable surplus (of grouse) in the autumn, then any loss of eggs, chicks or adults through the season is a problem, and a financial one at that. Because grouse lay so many eggs, the potential autumn population of Red Grouse is much larger than the spring population, if only you can keep alive as many of the adults and their sizeable broods of young as possible. To that end any predator of eggs, chicks or adults is reducing the size of the autumn bag.

Mark has suggested that possibly 5% of the UK population support driven grouse hunting and possibly 5% are against it. That leaves 90% of the country without an opinion or perhaps even the knowledge of what goes on. He feels that on the whole people would probably prefer wildlife to live as opposed to it being killed, but the only way to find out is to get the story out there and invite new people into the debate.

Inglorious is fuelled by hard and difficult facts, which the author has presented without getting them too caught up in his own emotional bias, but we as the readers, can allow ourselves to be affected by this awful tale and can pass on the message of this book. I am angry about what I have learnt in reading this and I will support all efforts to halt this strange and hideous pastime. Perhaps you will feel the same once you’ve read the book and we can throw our passionate hats into the ring, as this massacre of predators and grouse alike is not fit for the 21st century.

As John Lydon said, “Anger is an energy.” Let’s harness that energy and put it to good use. Let’s save the Hen Harrier (and all other lifeforms that suffer too) from further persecution in the UK. Inglorious is a logical and well-conceived book and the only conclusion I can draw is that now is the moment to ban driven grouse shooting as a sport forever and then finally we can sort the moors out.

Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands is available here

Sign Mark’s e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting here

Find out how about to be a part of Hen Harrier Day on August 9th

Ceri Levy on Caught by the River