Red grouse (Lagopus lagopus) are wild birds that live in heather moorlands of the UK and Ireland.
In order to keep red grouse numbers as high as possible, gamekeepers routinely kill predators, such as foxes and stoats, undertake large-scale mountain hare culls and, on some estates, illegally persecute birds of prey, such as hen harriers and golden eagles.
A fifth of upland Scotland is used for driven grouse shooting, with the land being managed to maximise the number of red grouse available for shooting.
It is time for the Scottish Government to reform the intensive management of Scotland’s grouse moors and put an end to the indiscriminate killing of our wildlife.
More than 26,000 mountain hares are killed each year on Scotland’s grouse moors, according to Scottish Government figures.
The mountain hare is Britain’s only native hare and its conservation status was recently downgraded to ‘unfavourable’ as a result of new data supplied by the UK to the EU, primarily because of hunting and game management. This means that special conservation action needs to now be taken to stop further declines and aid population recovery.
Yet, gamekeepers routinely carry out mountain hare culls as they fear that the hares spread disease via ticks to red grouse, thereby reducing the number of red grouse available for commercial shooting. This management has persisted despite the fact that scientists at one of Scotland’s independent research institutes concluded that there was ‘no compelling evidence base to suggest culling mountain hares might increase red grouse densities’.
Hares are notoriously challenging to shoot as they are small, fast-moving animals that are able to take cover easily. This means that the risk of causing injury rather than a clean kill is heightened, and hares can suffer greatly as a result. There is also no requirement for cull returns during the open season, or for welfare monitoring of these culls, so the scale of suffering is unknown.
OneKind has been campaigning to secure greater protection for mountain hares for the past three years, with a petition currently before the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee as well as an open letter to the Scottish Government that has now attracted almost 22,000 signatures. Both call for an end to the slaughter of these iconic creatures.
There is a clear and well-documented association between driven grouse moors and the illegal persecution of protected birds of prey.
Methods of killing these protected birds include shooting, live-trapping, illegal poisoning and nest destruction. Each year RSPB reports incidents on driven grouse moors in its Birdcrime report.
In order to help conservation planning of golden eagles, in 2017 a number of these protected birds were satellite-tagged. Of the thirteen that later went missing, eleven occurred on land managed for grouse moors.
In May of this year, a young male hen harrier was also found in an illegal spring trap sat next to its nest on a grouse moor. The hen harrier did not survive, and a senior vet confirmed it was clear that he had suffered greatly.
Another trap was found in its nest, beside abandoned eggs, and with no sign of the female hen harrier. Naturalist, Chris Packham, met with experts, including OneKind Director Bob Elliot, to unravel the horrific storyon camera.
It is no coincidence that the majority of those convicted of raptor persecution crimes are gamekeepers.
Traps and snares can be, legally, set on grouse moors to target the red grouse’s natural predators: foxes, weasels, stoats and other birds. However, these traps are indiscriminate, and cause suffering to non-target species too, such as protected badgers and even companion dogs and cats.
There is no limit to the number of animals that gamekeepers can legally kill, and many of the target species are not protected by closed seasons.
In addition to the estimated 700,000 red grouse shot each year in the UK, hundreds of thousands of other birds are also killed each year on driven grouse moors.
Birds are captured in legal live-catch corvid traps, traps which are also indiscriminate as to the species of bird caught: victims can spend hours under stress in this confined space before the gamekeeper arrives to shoot or beat them to death.
Foxes are targeted with cruel, outdated snare traps: an anchored noose that is positioned to capture an animal by its neck, leg or abdomen. They can cause severe physical and mental suffering for captured animals and although they are only meant to ‘restrain’ the animal, their struggle to set themselves free causes the wire to tighten, often leading to severe injury or strangulation.
To lure foxes into snares, gamekeepers often lay snares around a ‘stink pit’: a place where the gamekeepers dump rotting animal carcasses. The smell of decomposing animals lures the foxes towards the dead animals, where they are then caught in the snares surrounding the pit. During our work in the field we have discovered foxes, deer, geese and fish in stink pits.
Although stink pits are targeted towards foxes, they can also attract badgers, otters, pine martens and domestic cats and dogs.
We believe that it’s time to end the indiscriminate killing of wildlife on grouse moors and elsewhere and that’s why we recently launched a petition with the Scottish Parliament to conduct a full review on the use of traps and snares and their impact on animal welfare. You can keep up to date with our campaign here.
OneKind is also part of a coalition of like-minded organisations that have come together to work towards radical reform for Scotland’s grouse moors.
The Revive Coalition has the backing of naturalist, Chris Packham, and recently hosted a collaborative conference with members of the public. You can sign the Revive pledge to revive Scotland’s moors here.
Eve Massie is campaigner and press officer for Scotland's leading animal campaigns charity, OneKind.