Grouse: Changing the rules of game

Photo by Sailesh Panchal

By Dr Mark Avery, blogger and author, and former Conservation Director of the RSPB

The Red Grouse shooting season opens on the Glorious 12th but there are at least three reasons why diners and restaurateurs should think again about grouse being on the menu: wildlife crime, unsustainable land use and lead in the meat.

Let me put my cards on the table: I am running a campaign to ban driven grouse shooting (see this e-petition) and I have a book out (Inglorious – conflict in the uplands) which makes the points I’ll cover here, and many others, in more detail.

Wildlife crime: the grouse that get onto a menu are the ones that avoid being eaten by foxes, crows, stoats etc. Red grouse live on heathery hills in the north of England and Scotland, and grouse moors are managed by gamekeepers to provide lots of grouse for shooting. A day’s shooting for 6-8 ‘guns’ could cost them £40,000, so they want lots of grouse to shoot at.

Killing foxes, stoats and crows is legal, and big part of the gamekeepers’ job. Unfortunately on too many grouse moors, protected wildlife, particularly birds of prey such as golden eagles and hen harriers, are killed too; this is illegal. Government figures show there should be 2600 hen harriers pairs in the UK and there are only c800pairs – illegal persecution is the main reason for the deficit. How can you be sure that the grouse on your menu have not come from a moor that kills birds of prey? What checks has your restaurant made?

Unsustainable land use: grouse moors are intensively managed to produce unnaturally high densities of grouse for shooting. As well as predator control, there is heather burning and land drainage. A five-year study by Leeds University showed that management for grouse shooting leads to polluted watercourses, increased flood risk, more greenhouse gas emissions and reduced wildlife in watercourses. Recently, the Committee on Climate Change reported to government that ‘The damaging practice of burning peat to increase grouse yields continues, including on internationally protected sites.’. That’s hardly an endorsement!

Lead in meat: I eat game now and again – and I quite like it. But most game is shot with lead ammunition and some of the lead gets into the meat. You can’t avoid high lead levels by spitting out the shot – tiny fragments of lead spread through the animal’s carcase and cannot be removed by butchering. Of course lead is a poison, which is why the Food Standards Agency toughened their advice on eating game a couple of years ago. I’d be keen to patronise a restaurant that offered lead-free game on its menu. Why isn’t it widely available? Other countries banned lead ammunition years ago.

The opposition to grouse shooting is growing – and campaigners like me ask how long can grouse remain on the menu of any restaurant claiming high standards of sustainable production? And when will restaurants demand game meat to be lead-free?

Dr Mark Avery is a blogger and author, and was once the Conservation Director of the RSPB.


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