Guns silent on the inglorious twelfth
Strife in the Highlands: Landowners blame plague of insects and rising numbers of protected birds of prey as grouse stocks plummet
Saturday 12 August 1995
A plague of ticks, brought on by the warm weather, coupled with rising numbers of predators such as foxes and birds of prey, has devastated grouse populations. Stocks are now so low that some sporting estates have cancelled all shooting.
Studies published by the Game Conservancy Trust reveal that in England and Wales red grouse numbers have fallen by 10 per cent in the past year. Scotland, which endured a disastrous spell between 1991 and 1992, has suffered even greater losses. The number of birds in Perthshire alone has slumped by 12 per cent.
The Scottish Landowners' Federation (SLF), which represents 4,000 estate managers north of the border, predicts that this year's season will be one of the worst on record. Graeme Gordon, the federation's convenor, said: "After three difficult years, the birds are still under serious attack. These are very difficult times."
With some Scottish estates closed for the sixth successive year, landowners are now calling for radical action to boost the pounds 20m-a-year industry, which employs more than 3,000 people in the Highlands. They want the Government to relax the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act to allow selective culling of birds of prey, including falcons, buzzards and hen harriers.
Lairds argue that recent research carried out by the Game Conservancy Trust indicates that raptors are killing increasing numbers of grouse. Measures designed to protect the threatened species have, they say, proved too successful.
John Drysdale, who has been forced to delay shooting on the 25,000 acres of moorland he manages near Inverness, explained: "Killing birds of prey has been illegal for many years and now these birds are out of balance with the grouse populations. On my estate I am seeing ever fewer grouse because they are being eaten by raptors.
"If things carry on like this, grouse stocks will never recover and I will be forced to lay off staff and turn to other forms of land management, like forestry, which will destroy the moorland. That would be a disaster."
In April this year Mr Drysdale, backed by the SLF, urged the Government to consider changing the law. Last month the Department of the Environment set up a working group to study the issue. The group comprises the SLF and conservation groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Hawk Trust.
Although landowners are hopeful that the new body will recommend a return to licensed shooting, the RSPB says it will oppose any attempt to change the law. Officials argue that with more than 100 birds of prey killed illegally in Scotland last year alone, any relaxation of the 1981 Act could lead to a return to large-scale persecution which drove some species to the brink of extinction 20 years ago.
David Dick, investigations officer at the RSPB, said: "We are keen to examine all the issues surrounding the declining grouse stocks but we don't believe that culling is the solution. Raptors are still under grave threat. You can't take risks with birds that have been part of the natural environment for thousands of years. We cannot recommend the killing of any birds of prey."
RSPB officials argue that raptors are not to blame for the sharp decline in grouse numbers. Instead, they point to the widespread destruction of heather moorland since the war, through commercial forestry and intensive grazing, which has removed the birds' traditional breeding grounds.
Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way
Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down
The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
- 1 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Chicago voter tells Obama 'don't touch my girlfriend' – Obama stays super smooth
Oscar Pistorius: The brutal prison life that awaits disgraced athlete
Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
Raphael Ravenscroft dead: 'Baker Street' musician who played the most famous saxophone solo for just £27, dies aged 60
Darren Vann: Indiana man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear more
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...
£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...
£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...