WRITTEN by a former conservation director of the RSPB, this campaigning book sets out the case for banning driven grouse shooting, where flocks of red grouse are chased by lines of beaters so they fly over lines of ‘guns’ that shoot the fast-flying birds.
Invented in Victorian times, it is, he argues, ‘a practice pursued by the few to the detriment of the many’ and he describes the shooting of red grouse in huge numbers for fun as a ‘ridiculous pastime’.
This peculiarly British field sport, backed by powerful and wealthy lobbying groups, is a multi-million pound industry which dominates the hills of northern England – the Pennines, Cheviots and North Yorkshire moors – and the Scottish uplands.
Having evaluated the facts and arguments presented by all sides, the author states that after many years of soul-searching he has come down in favour of an outright ban to stop this field sport which has led to the killing of wildlife such as mountain hares, buzzards, short-eared owls, goshawks and hen harriers, the latter being a bird of prey which eats young red grouse chicks.
Although it is illegal to cull this endangered species, it is widely acknowledged that some gamekeepers – employed by many of the richest and most powerful landowners – continue to kill hen harriers in order to protect the grouse chicks and deliberately disturb their nests.
If this illegal persecution were stopped, it is believed that the UK population of hen harriers – currently estimated to be around 500 to 800 pairs – could increase to a possible 2,600 pairs.
Mark Avery also argues that the intensive grouse moor management required to produce artificially high densities of this one species of game bird – including intensive heather burning – is harming the health and functioning of upland hill country.