Antis target the grouse season. They know that disrupting a grouseshooting day will bring them publicity.
Their biggest target is opening day, the glorious 12 August, as they know that many driven shoots will be on the moors.
The Wentworth estate in the Peak District is one of several that won’t start shooting on ‘the twelfth’. It’s delaying its first shoot day in order to avoid clashing with antis.
Head gamekeeper Nick Gardener says that a lot of places don’t like shooting on 12 August because the antis are out trying to stop shoots. He says: “We like to avoid that day to avoid that hassle.”
Nick says the Peak District has a lot of problems with antis because the estate is so close to big cities such as Sheffield and Manchester.
Estates are hoping the 2022 grouse season will be more ‘glorious’ then the last two years. In 2020, covid hit then, last year, the weather blighted the season.
Richard Bailey, of the moorland group of the National Gamekeepers Organisation says the heather is in great condition this year. He says: “The last couple of years, a lot of the Peak District moors been hampered with heather beetle. Most of the moors have got over that, but still some moors have them.”
Richard says that weather last year wasn’t conducive for chicks. He says this year it’s a different story and spring 2022 was good for chicks. It’s also helpful the insects are thriving too as they are vital for groundnesting birds. you can see in our film, the number of insects buzzing around Richard and Nick as we interview them. It turns out a well-keepered moor is good for bugs, too.
Gareth Dockerty of BASC is equally optimistic. He says this year’s weather has created the right conditions. He says: “This year we had a decent spring. We’ve not had the light snow or the downpours of previous years. Admittedly, the really hot weather in the last couple of weeks hasn’t helped.”
Despite this he says it’s going be better season than the previous four years. Gareth recently wrote a blog article on how grouse can be a positive indicator to the health of the overall moorland biodiversity.
Everyone in grouseshooting agrees that a better season is a boost for the rural economy. The grouse shooting industry employs hundreds of people. It’s worth more than £65 million. Gareth says the twelfth isn’t just a celebration for the shooting community, the grouse shooters or the beaters. It’s a celebration for everyone. He says: “It’s a celebration of this unique landscape, that attracts around 30 million visitors to the Dales, to the North York Moors, and to the Peak District National parks.”
Richard says grouse shooting brings in huge benefits to the communities near to shoots, too. He says that local pubs provide accommodation for the shooters and the shoots gives work to people including beaters and catering staff.
Grouse shooting also brings people together and creates community spirit. Richard says the sport is for everyone. It offers children a chance to earn pocket money and get together with their friends. He says all the local farmers like to join in too. He says: “It’s just a really good community spirit here. You can end up covering a lot of miles which makes you fitter.”
Richard says because the shooting is often in August people can get a great suntan too. He says: “It is unlike any other type of shooting. And this is why people come from all over the world to come here and shoot grouse. It’s real benefit when there are grouse to shoot, it’s a force for good.”
Grouse shooting is good for the environment too. Moorland owners spend around £50 million a year on conservation, much of that money comes from grouse shooting. It is the income from driven days shoots and moorland keepers that are bringing back the hen harrier in England with the brood management scheme. Gareth says the grouse moors are home to curlew, golden plover, and soaring raptors such as the little merlin. He says it’s also pivotal to the recovery of hen harriers as its their main base. He says: “Let’s celebrate the biodiversity. Let’s celebrate our fight against climate change, and let’s celebrate the stunning landscapes.
“The investment from the landowners and the time put in by the gamekeepers doesn’t diminish. They’re still out fighting wildfires, reducing the fuel load and making sure that the carbon locked into these hills is safe.”
Nick says the work he does as head gamekeeper with his team goes beyond grouse shoots. He says the predator control they do has massive effect on all of the other birds that come to breed in the area. He says the estate sees red listed waders, birds of prey and ground nesting birds. He says: “All the work that we do is vital for all of them to come here and breed successfully.”
The GWCT says that driven grouse is one of the world’s most successful conservation stories. A recent report [PDF] says keepered grousemoors beast rewilding projects for achieving the government’s biodiversity and environmental targets.
For more than 100 years, grouseshooting has funded the protection of heather moorland. Groups such as the National Trust and RSPB fail to acknowledge this – and the RSPB campaigns directly to end gamekeeping. Gamekeepers feel their work isn’t appreciated and accuse the conservation industry of snobbery. Richard says grouse shooting has been the leader in conservation for 100 years. He says: “It should be up there on a platform. We should be gold medal. But obviously we have the knockers that say it’s a desert that is a monoculture. Looking at the moors you’ll see bilberry, crowberry, and the heathers.”
Politically, grouse shooting beat off attacks in Westminster last year. Under scrutiny from the government, it is a conservation and social success story. It is the passion for grouse shooting that means the future is bright for driven shoots.
Nick says the moors and wildlife thrive because of the work that is done. The gamekeeper says if you compare moors that are managed with those that aren’t there is a huge difference. He says moors that aren’t managed have little wildlife compared to those that are managed for grouseshooting.
The antis want grouse shooting to fall on its face. They want to cover precious heather moorland with trees. Nick says if antis turn up at a shoot everything is stopped. He says: “It’s not safe to just carry-on shooting while there are people trying to stop you. Even if you move elsewhere on the moor they can just walk in and find you.”
He says the irony is antis don’t realise if they stop a shoot another day is added which gives more money to local economy.
Gareth agrees that the rural community won’t be defeated by the antis. He says: “It is true that grouse shooting, particularly ‘the twelfth’, can cause some attention from the anti-shooting brigade but we won’t let that spoil things. The shoots themselves and our partner shooting organisations have plans in place. We will win the argument. We have the science on our side, and we have these beautiful landscapes.’
The red grouse season runs until 10 December in England, Wales and Scotland. Shooters and estates hope it will be a glorious season for all – and for many more to come.