Grouse Moors – The Desolate North!


HSA Shooting Officer

Drive through some of the countryside in Wales, Scotland and England you could be forgiven for thinking, especially when the heather is in bloom, how beautiful and diverse it is. In reality, the Grouse Moors are not dissimilar to palm oil plantations: a monoculture. The “crop” being grouse.

The only animals allowed to survive up there are ones like curlew, stonechat and lapwing. Nothing is allowed to live that may predate on a grouse, egg or chick. No weasels, stoats or even field voles – or if you do see them, they will be dead in traps. No raptors or owls either – you will rarely find their corpses, after being shot or poisoned their bodies tend to disappear….

At this time of year, gamekeepers are ramping up predator control in preparation for the so-called “Glorious 12th” – the first day of the grouse shooting season. Last year this was low-key because of Covid restrictions, this year will probably be a lot more upbeat… until sabs arrive!

Moor Trouble

There are an estimated 150 shooting estates in England alone (many more in Scotland). Go to this link for more information.

Illegal raptor persecution is widespread, hen harriers in particular are almost non-existent and any raptor that dares to fly over a grouse moor, on its way to somewhere else had best do so quickly.

Burning is also widespread – muirburn is used to burn off old heather, encouraging new growth that grouse eat and leaving less cover for predators like foxes. Towns in the Calder Valley such as Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd have been flooded repeatedly – partly because the high moors that surround them can now hold back very little of the rain that falls. When damaged, peat bogs emit carbon into the atmosphere, and this is what burning on grouse moors threatens every year during the six-month burning season.

Trapping On Grouse Moors

Trapping is endemic on grouse moors. Some of the legal methods used to kill foxes, weasels, stoats, and anything unlucky enough to blunder into them include Ladder traps, Larsen traps, Fenn traps, clam traps, snares and lamping of foxes at night.

Ladder Traps are used to capture corvids but can easily catch raptors and other species. Birds enter the cage through the ladder on top, but it is a funnel from which they cannot escape. They are lured in by food or a call bird (either real or plastic).

Larsen Traps – designed to catch birds (usually magpies) alive and unharmed. It can be baited with food, or with a live decoy magpie, provided all welfare regulations are met – very often they are not. Traps legally must be checked every 24 hours. In Scotland, a cage trap must have an identifying tag obtainable from the police Wildlife Crime Officer.

(Image courtesy of Hertfordshire Hunt Sabs)
(Image courtesy of Hertfordshire Hunt Sabs)
Ladder Trap (image courtesy of Hunt Investigation Team)
Ladder Trap (image courtesy of Hunt Investigation Team)

Snares are often set on badger runs. These are meant to be set to strict rules but, in reality, they become rusty or are set where an animal can become entangled in surrounding vegetation. The modern legal snare is meant to tighten around an animal and hold it quietly until a gamekeeper from the shoot comes to kill it. But in their desperate struggle to escape, animals may be strangled, suffer a torturous evisceration and a lingering death. Even if the snare doesn’t kill the animal, they may still die at the hands of a predator, dehydration or exposure to the elements.

Typical snare
Typical snare

The below photo shows an old-style Fenn trap which were made illegal to catch stoats from 1 April 2020, because tests have shown they failed to kill within a 45 second timeframe. Also shown is the newer Tully trap.

(image courtesy of Raptor Persecution UK)
(Image courtesy of Raptor Persecution UK)
The new Tully trap.
The new Tully trap

The Inglorious Twelfth

The Glorious 12th (!?!?) is the highlight of the shooting calendar and shooters pay thousands of pounds each for the privilege of blasting birds out of the sky. Hunt Saboteurs have been there year in, year out, putting themselves in front of the guns to save animals. If you wish to get involved in stopping this cruel, unethical blood sport please contact your local sab group.

What You Can Do When Walking On Moorland

Many more of us will be holidaying in the UK this year. As a lot of moorland is ‘Open Access’ you can legally walk across it without having to stick to public footpaths. A lot of snares are in small fenced off areas or down in cloughs. Most spring traps are on logs which are put across runnels of water and small cloughs – anywhere an animal like a stoat, weasel or mouse will feel comfortable traversing.

If you do go out monitoring moorland, make sure you dress to blend in. Dress like an everyday walker or hiker. Be aware of your surroundings and that someone may be watching you. Snare sites usually start within walking distance of a gate which is reached by vehicle, on the moorland/farmland fringe. They are rarely a long way onto the moor because the keeper needs to access them easily each day. Look for well-defined vehicle tracks which come to a stop shortly into the moor.

There is a legal requirement to check on traps at least once every 24hrs; a check must be thorough enough to ensure that the call-bird is not sickly and to see if other birds have been trapped. If a decoy is being used, they need to be supplied with water and shelter. Non-target birds, such as birds of prey, found trapped must be released unharmed.

Any traps or snares you encounter, please ring the HSA tip off phone number 07443 148 426 and/or message your local sab group.

If a trap is believed to be illegal it can be made safe by tripping it (using a sturdy stick for example). You should consider that this may alert trap operators to the fact they’ve been found and putting up a trail camera or having police/RSPB investigate may have a bigger impact. You should also remember that there are likely to be other traps nearby.

Details of your local sab group can be found here.

Further Reading

  • Snared – Bob Berzins
  • Inglorious – Mark Avery
  • Killing By Proxy – Alan Stewart
  • Shut Your Trap (HSA Leaflet)

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