Killzone: How Our Moorlands Became A Playground Of Death

Animals are often snared on shooting estates

The red grouse shooting season takes place each year from 12th August – the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ – until 10th December. The HSA has a longstanding tradition of sabbing the beginning of the season and last year was no different with a number of shoots being shut down.

Sabs disrupting a grouse shoot in the Yorkshire Dales

The management of land for grouse shooting began in the 1850s. Grouse shoots are now a major landowner in the UK. In 2016 Who Owns England carried out an investigation which found that grouse moors covered an area of at least 547,937 acres in England. Their investigation further discovered that 30 grouse moor estates covering 300,000 acres received over £4 million in public subsidy in 2014.

Moorland areas are burned to encourage growth of the young heather on which grouse are fed, these grouse will later be killed by shooting parties. Repeated burning causes long-term damage to vegetation, water pollution in reservoirs, a decrease in habitat and an increased risk of wildfires. In fact, Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust are calling for all burning to stop.

Image: Andrew Curtis / Burnt heather moorland on Bewick Moor
Image: Andrew Curtis / Burnt heather moorland on Bewick Moor

The release of damaging carbon emissions from burning peatlands led to a ban being introduced in 2021 in some protected areas of England and for peat deeper than 40cm. However, an investigation by Greenpeace found evidence of dozens of fires which may be illegal under this law.

Then there’s the persecution of wildlife trying to exist alongside grouse moors, for example the 95 hen harriers confirmed ‘missing’ or illegally killed in the UK since 2018, mostly on or close to grouse moors (see Hen harriers are being driven to extinction by grouse shoots. King Charles’ estate at Sandringham in Norfolk has been identified by The Guardian as being linked to 18 cases since 2003 of suspected wildlife offences, including the disappearance of eastern England’s last breeding female Montagu’s harrier.

Animals such as foxes, mountain hares, weasels and stoats are routinely killed by gamekeepers. Animals caught in snares can spend hours struggling before being found and killed, or succumbing to their injuries. In 2017 the Hunt Investigation Team carried out an investigation on the Moscar Estate in the Peak District, a grouse shooting estate owned by the Duke of Rutland. They found systematic wildlife persecution, with around 400 wire snares set across the estate and a variety of traps. Large mammal traps were placed by active badger setts. The investigators found wildlife dead or dying including foxes, badgers and hares.

Animals are often snared on shooting estates
A victim of a snare on a shooting estate

In Scotland a study found that up to 300,000 grouse are shot each year and up to 250,000 other animals are killed to enable this to happen; including hedgehogs, foxes, stoats, birds and badgers using cruel snares and stink pits; piles of rotting animal carcasses, also known as middens, which are surrounded by snares. The carcasses in stink pits are used to attract other animals to their deaths. They are then thrown onto the pile.

Hundreds of birds of prey – including golden eagles – have also been killed on grouse estates.

Stink pits are indiscriminately cruel. Images: Raptor Persecution UK
Stink pits are indiscriminately cruel. Images: Raptor Persecution UK

A HSA spokesperson commented,

“Grouse moors are barren landscapes, where wildlife is persecuted and murdered to create a killing playground for the wealthy elite.

The HSA has a proud tradition of shutting these shoots down and preventing the shooting of hundreds of birds each year. This year will be no different – expect us.”

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