The Inglorious Twelfth

Something a bit different today because this is an issue I simply can’t ignore.

Today is the “glorious” twelfth of August, the day when the shooting season of the red grouse begins. Over the next few weeks and months the season opens for other “game” too. Personally I don’t think there is anything glorious about it at all.

Let’s think for a minute about what grouse shooting actually is. Killing defenceless birds for entertainment. I can’t understand how any decent human being could find enjoyment from murdering another creature. Yet this practice still goes on.

It’s worse than that though. In order for there to be enough grouse to be shot, predator numbers need to be reduced. This means foxes, stoats and crows are routinely killed and in most cases perfectly legally too- gamekeepers are given licenses.

Recently Natural England granted a gamekeeper a licence to kill up to 10 buzzards, a legally protected intelligent predator. 10 buzzards may not sound like a lot but it has huge consequences. For a start, it’s almost impossible to ensure a gamekeeper sticks to that number. Natural England will now be swamped with applications for licenses to kill buzzards and with a precedent now set it seems likely they will grant at least a small number. It also means gamekeepers will feel that it’s OK to kill buzzards and the less scrupulous ones will probably start killing buzzards.


Buzzards are something of an unusual conversation success story. In the 20th century they were wiped out from large swathes of the country but since they were given legal protection in 1954 there numbers have risen to the extent that they can be considered common. Between 1993 and 2013 Britain’s buzzard population increased eightfold.

This doesn’t make them safe though. There are still occasional but regular cases of illegal persecution so surely their numbers would be affected if lots of gamekeepers were also given licenses. It all seem a bit pointless anyway. There are some 45 million factory-farmed pheasants dumped into our countryside each year. A study has found that 1-2% of young pheasant deaths are caused by birds of prey. I don’t have figures for grouse but I it seems likely the latter statistic would likely be similar.


Last weekend was Hen Harrier Day. Hen Harriers are in big trouble. Last year there were six breeding pairs of hen harriers in the UK- this year there are only three. The main reason for this reduction is illegal killing on grouse moors. That’s not speculation it’s fact with pole traps and a decoy hen harrier being found. The hen harriers Chance and Highlander both disappeared in suspicious circumstances.

It’s bad enough when common birds like buzzards are being killed to support a blood sport. But when it’s a deeply endangered bird like the hen harrier it’s totally outrageous.

There’s a big petition about banning driven grouse shooting  on the government petition website. At the time of writing it needs about 32,000 signatures to be considered for debate in parliament. I doubt that a ban will go ahead any time in the near future; it goes against many traditional conservative beliefs. But I hope it can some effect. It will at least raise the profile of the issue and encourage the government to do more to protect hen harriers and other birds of prey. The RSPB have just withdrawn their support for the Hen Harrier Action Plan which adds weight to the petition’s argument.


It often feels that being an average person on the street means you can’t change anything. Not directly perhaps but you can at least make your views known.

All the facts and figures in this post come from the following sources:

The Guardian- 4th August 2016

RSPB- Martin Harper’s Blog- 25th July 2016

The Guardian- 2nd October 2014

The Independent- 12th August 2014


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