“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends”
Some readers may be baffled by the presence of the above quote, taken from Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, is doing in a nature blog; and yet for the subject that I am talking about on this post, I could think of no better way of illustrating the problems I face. Not only does the argument on this post go against the arguments of many bloggers from the “biocentric tribe” (i.e. Peter Cairns’ description of the people who believe nature does best when left alone) whom I follow, but it also goes against arguments I have made myself, on this very blog. The issue in question? The e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
The fourth such e-petition was created back in November last year, but while many naturalists were actively promoting it from the get-go, I barely gave it a mention. Part of this can be attributed to my six-month absence, but when all three of the previous e-petitions were created, I swiftly put my signature on all of them, something I was very vocal about. It was a great feeling to see the third e-petition achieving 120,000 signatures and a debate in Parliament, and frankly a bit disappointing to witness the low turnout of MPs on the actual debate. The same could be said about the result of the debate, even if, deep down, I never expected a ban to actually come to fruition. Not that this deterred Gavin Gamble from creating the fourth e-petition mentioned above, which as I said, I didn’t sign.
So what was my reason for not signing it? Quite simply, I had changed my mind on the subject. I no longer think that banning driven grouse shooting is the way to stop illegal activity.
On one hand, I still have a lot of issues with grouse shooting. I don’t like the fact that the habitat being maintained is the result of deforestation, I want to see more upland land allowed to manage itself and I still believe that this would be compatible with grouse shooting as an industry.
At the same time, I can’t deny the huge amount of good that grouse moors do. This was a point that was frequently brought up in the Parliamentary debate, and I found myself agreeing with a lot of the facts backing this statement up. Grouse moors are providing a haven for a lot of species that are otherwise scarce in the UK: studies from the GWCT show successful breeding increase by 35% in curlews and 40% in lapwings following keeper-led management, for example, not to mention the demonstrable benefits to golden plover, black grouse, merlin, short-eared owl and greenshank, among others.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t shifted on the need to combat criminality in shooting. The
recent disappearance of both a golden eagle in the Monadhliaths and hen harriers over grouse moors in Northumberland and Wales illustrates why. But I’m no longer convinced that a ban is the way forward. When push comes to shove, I would advocate licensing game shooting: it’s a compromise between two extremes, utilised in most European countries, supported by the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts, and is currently being implemented in Scotland as we speak.
I know that I am in a somewhat awkward position in terms of what I want, but then again this position is a good illustration of how this debate is not clear-cut and lacks easy answers. But regardless of where we stand in this debate, we can all congratulate ourselves for raising awareness of an issue that only five years ago was almost unheard of. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than when the hen harrier overtook the puffin in the competition for Britain’s national bird. While wildlife crime is, in many ways, as bad as ever, the outcry against it has never been stronger, and the perpetrators are finding themselves challenged for perhaps the first time.
The petition to ban driven grouse shooting is still open until April 2nd, and if you support it, then you can add your signature here. Meanwhile, Ed Chalmers’ petition for licensing is open until June, and I would also recommend signing it. And remember that it’s okay to disagree, even with like-minded people.