Scottish Moorland Group
Blog » 25/07/14

RSPB Should Be Working More Closely With Moorland Managers

The past few weeks have seen an increase in anti-grouse moor campaigning from RSPB and individuals on social media. While most of the pressure has been focused south of the Border ,Stuart Housden Director of the RSPB in Scotland has called on the Scottish Government to license grouse moors. Scottish Land & Estates see this as illogical and unnecessary, and it risks undermining joint projects to benefit all of Scotland’s upland birdlife.

RSPB Scotland and grouse moors have many parallel objectives and existing initiatives, where we are working together such as Wildlife Estates Scotland and the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project. There is ongoing work at the Moorland Forum to develop best practice, in which both our organisations are involved (for instance Understanding Predation project and the Muirburn Code Review) and that is taking us all in the right direction on the issues raised by the RSPB. This attack appears to cast aside the positive work that we have all put in on the Wildlife Estates Scotland initiative. RSPB have endorsed the sustainability of driven grouse moors that have been through the rigorous accreditation process that they themselves helped to develop. WES is now beginning to gather momentum with the recent batch of accreditations, including a further two grouse moors, and more applications in the pipeline. Looking forward, accreditation is the basis on which we can measure improvements on farms and estates over time.

The RSPB make no mention of the positive contributions that driven grouse management makes to wader and other endangered species conservation, which is endorsed by their own scientists. Cessation of management has already happened in many parts of Scotland, particularly in the west and south with loss of wildlife, employment and social cohesion. There are other examples of such loss of birdlife where grouse management has ceased, for instance in mid Wales where RSPB manage a significant area, and we will need to look at this much wider picture of the outcomes of different moorland management regimes. RSPB is quick to criticise but in many respects its own upland management model is less successful than that of driven grouse shooting.

The timing of the RSPB’s attack is incongruous given the recent developments at the Langholm Project. The rapid increase in number of Harriers now breeding there, as well as the other birds of prey, makes Langholm a key test bed for solutions to the raptor/other moorland bird dilemma. It will show whether diversionary feeding works effectively with a high number of harriers and whether the technique actually results in viable grouse shooting.

The call for licensing on the basis of wildlife crime ignores the general long term decline in bird of prey persecution incidents and new work to understand the different pressures on bird of prey numbers in the uplands – for instance the recent Golden eagle study in south Scotland. We fully support the need to keep the focus on proven cases of raptor persecution and deal with them individually. There is a strong suite of legal and regulatory measures already in place to deal with anyone who breaks the law, while self-regulation and best practice training are improving all the time. New measures to deal with raptor persecution have recently been introduced by Government and more may be implemented later this year.

In respect of criticisms about management intensity, many grouse moors have been planting strategic woodland areas for years, burning is done according to the muirburn code and appropriate burning regimes are agreed with SNH on deep peat areas. Research has proven that mountain hares thrive on grouse moors because of the predator control and there is no evidence that their management is impacting on the overall population or range.

Deer have been fenced out to get high levels of tick under control, but on some moors are now being allowed back on in manageable numbers. The issue of hill tracks has been debated and Government has made a decision that supports them provided that best practice construction is followed. Our earlier blog here shows why a greater understanding of grouse moor management is needed:

The grouse management sector is increasingly frustrated when RSPB is involved in joint projects but blocks real progress when they approach an uncomfortable turning point. The most recent example is the hard won DEFRA Hen Harrier Joint Action Plan, which would break the stalemate over conservation of this species in England, but RSPB have now indicated that they will not sign up unless the terms are rewritten. A petition has been launched (see here) to ask DEFRA to publish the plan without further change and Scottish Land & Estates would encourage anyone with an interest in the future of Hen Harriers and viable grouse moors to sign it, whether in England or Scotland or anywhere in the world.

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