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Let’s Ban Driven Grouse Shooting

Written by: Dr. Peter Bevis
Published: 25th April 2016, last updated: 4th July 2019


Driven grouse shooting is a field “sport” peculiar to the United Kingdom. Red grouse breed naturally on upland moors and lines of “beaters” drive the birds towards “guns” who wait with shotguns to kill them as they fly overhead. A shooting party usually includes 8–10 guns who stand in a line in the butts (hides for shooting, spaced some 25 yards apart and screened by a low wall to minimise their profile) to shoot the grouse in flight. The grouse shooting season extends from 12 August, often called the “Glorious Twelfth”, to 10 December each year.

Whilst this is clearly all bad news for grouse, it is other aspects of the “sport” which have attracted the ire of Highland Titles and other conservation bodies. In addition to the annual scattering of 6,000 tons of lead over Scottish uplands and massive public subsidies (In 2011 the editor of the Daily Mail pocketed £250,000 in subsidies for his estate near Ullapool) the environment is damaged by heather burning and predator control by estate gamekeepers.Grouse-shooting-1

Most heather moorland in Scotland is a mixture of bog and heath habitats, and are frequently a pioneer stage on the way to naturally regenerating into a stable climax community such as Scots Pinewood. Such forests were the norm across most of Scotland before they were destroyed by man in centuries past. Heather moorland supports a limited range of species. But woodland is not useful for driven grouse shooting and so the heather moorland is ruthlessly maintained by periodically setting fire to the heather,

Burning on moorlands is widely used to increase the numbers of red grouse that are available for recreational shooting.  As patches are burned, fresh shoots come through which are ideal nutrition for grouse. Burning is done in patches so that there is a variety of heather heights, on a rotation of between 8 and 12 years. While the short new shoots provide food, the taller, older heather provides cover and shelter for the grouse.


Scottish wildcat in gamekeeper’s snare

Burning heather has a large number of negative consequences on the diverse moorland environment. Burning reduces Sphagnum moss growth and the density of macroinvertebrates which play a vital role in aquatic food webs by feeding on algae, microbes and detritus at the base of food chains before they themselves are consumed by birds, fish and amphibians. Worse still, it reduces the ability of the peat to resist acid rain and inhibits plant growth. Rivers that drain burned catchments are more acidic than rivers that drain unburned catchments and have higher concentrations of silica, manganese, iron and aluminium.

Grouse moor management involves the routine legal killing of predators (vermin control) such as foxes, crows and stoats and other wildlife such as hares. To give an idea of the scale of wildlife destruction required by gamekeepers in days gone by to manage a shooting estate, Dr Mark Avery gives an often quoted example from the Highland estate of Glengarry.  In the four years between 1837 and 1840 the estate keepers killed 11 red foxes, 198 wildcats, 78 housecats, 246 pine martens, 106 polecats, 301 stoats and weasels, 67 badgers, 48 otters, 98 peregrines, 78 merlins, 462 kestrels, 475 ravens, 285 buzzards, 3 honey buzzards, 15  golden eagles, 27 sea eagles, 18 ospreys, 63 goshawks, 275 red kites, 68 hen harriers, 109 owls as well as 1,432 hooded crows and 475 ravens. Most of these species are now protected by law, but gamekeepers still kill them when they can.

photographs are from an article on the iShoot website, written by Peter Carr in April 2015 about a February trip he made to the Angus Glens to participate in a weekend of driven mountain hare shooting.

photographs are from an article on the iShoot website, written by Peter Carr in April 2015 about a February trip he made to the Angus Glens to participate in a weekend of driven mountain hare shooting.

Mountain hares have been suspected of playing a part in the transmission of louping ill virus (a tick born disease) to Red Grouse. This has led many Scottish estates to slaughter thousands of mountain hares in an effort to boost grouse populations.  Although Scottish Natural Heritage have a statutory duty to maintain a healthy population of mountain hares, they routinely fail to do so and have a history of granting licenses to kill hares out of season and using indiscriminate methods.

Interestingly the destruction of hares has been shown to be of no benefit to grouse. Their persecution is meaningless.  But worse, mountain hares form an important food source for larger raptors such as the golden eagle and mammalian predators such as foxes, stoats and, most importantly, the Scottish wildcat. Thus, the extermination of mountain hares by gamekeepers helps to reduce the natural populations of predators.

In addition to the suffering caused indirectly by the persecution of mountain hares, the grouse’s natural predators are also targeted directly by gamekeepers.  These killing are illegal and always denied by gamekeepers and estate owners, except when caught red handed. As well as the illegal destruction of wildcats, gamekeepers continue to illegally destroy peregrines and hen harriers, both of whom prey on Grouse, and particularly grouse chicks.

Concerned by this damaging and inhumane slaughter the former RSPB Conservation Director Dr Mark Avery raised a Government petition in 2014 calling for a ban on the practice of driven grouse shooting. It failed to reach more than 20,000 signatures. He has now created a new petition with the support of Eduardo Gonçalves, CEO of League Against Cruel Sports, Chris Packham and Bill Oddie, and is already much more successful. Everyone we know who works for Highland Titles has signed it, but we need more concerned individuals to take the time to add their support.



Please help us to ban driven grouse shooting by signing the petition below.

All British citizens or UK residents have the right to sign

Mark Avery at the Highland Titles Gathering, 2016

Mark Avery at the Highland Titles Gathering, 2016

About the author

Written by: Dr. Peter Bevis

Comments on this post

  • cath mclellan
    27/04/16 - 19:14

    this isn’t sport

  • Margaret mclean
    27/04/16 - 23:19

    Don’t support killing of animals for sport

  • Margery Watson
    28/04/16 - 06:36

    So agree with this.

  • Susan Boniwell
    28/04/16 - 10:53

    Killing for food is one thing, but killing for fun is another. This is the 21st century.

  • Laird Wendy Flanagan of Glencoe.
    28/04/16 - 13:09

    Animals of all kinds are sentient beings, they feel love, joy, pain.
    I am not in favour of any form of animal cruelty, especially blood sports.
    I have signed the petition and informed my MP.

  • graeme peel
    28/04/16 - 18:57

    and what they haven’t told you in this is that the shooting fraternity bring in 1.2 billion pounds a year!!! which is spent on the upkeep of the moore’s and I also see that they have had to dig up figures from nearly 200 years ago!!! when things were run a lot differently than they are now!!! IF YOU DON’T LIKE WHAT GOES ON IN THE COUNTRY-SIDE STAY IN THE TOWN’S.

    • Peter
      08/05/16 - 08:16

      Hi Graeme,
      We do not seek to make an economic argument, although I believe one could be made (Grouse moors are heavily subsidised). Our argument is principally one of humanity and compassion. A few people gain pleasure from the slaughter of millions of animals and birds. Over 35 million pheasants and 6.5 million partridges are reared for shooting in the UK each year. Can that be right?

      Doubtless bull and bear baiting, dog and cock fighting and other similar long outlawed and cruel practices could be justified on financial grounds. But does that make them morally right? And I live in the countryside as do many people who oppose bloodsports.

  • janice
    28/04/16 - 23:35

    Surely a petition to the Scottish Parliament would make more sense? petitions committee.A petition to Westminster cannot have any effect under Scots law in Scotland! Westminster legislates for England. I see many of these petitions and they don’t seem to grasp that petitions in England don’t apply to Scotland.

    • Peter
      08/05/16 - 08:22

      Hi Janice,
      Driven Grouse Shooting is unfortunately not just a Scottish problem. It is also an English problem. The UK Parliament at Westminster can pass laws matters with a UK-wide or international impact, even where they also affect Scotland. The obvious place to start is with the UK parliament but action in the Scottish parliament, even though it could not set matters straight outside Scotland, would be welcome.

  • Patricia Perry
    01/05/16 - 13:35

    I don’t see any fun in breeding birds just to make them fly to their deaths. There is no need for hunting in any of it’s cruel forms.

  • Nicola John
    01/05/16 - 16:02

    The selfish individuals who partake in grouse driven shooting should acknowledge that the UK’s ecology does not revolve around them, and they should modify their behaviour accordingly. Furthermore, they cause a lot of suffering. Those who go through life causing as much suffering as they please, need to be stopped by those of us who care.

  • Debbie sweeney
    01/05/16 - 17:11

    Cowards the lot of them now can they call frightening little beautiful birds in 2 the firing guns of cruel scumbags sport or fun no need for it nice 2 c them in there natural habitat notably 2 pieces

  • mick allmark
    03/05/16 - 10:51

    this is for fat old rich ppl all blood sport should be stopped

  • Margaret Smith
    06/05/16 - 22:28

    Cruel deaths in the name of sport. What have human beings come to!This evil must be stopped!

  • Stewart Abbott
    07/05/16 - 09:39

    What a typical comment from graeme peel, Stay out of our buiness, we’ve being doing it for years response. The moors have been around for 1000’s of years, Driven Grouse Shooting for around 150 years. DGS didn’t create the moors but it does unbalance the ecosystem in favour of Grouse. Let nature do what it does best and let’s get rid of this destructive hobby. As for the money, the economy wouldn’t miss it, we survived without Coal, we’ve survived without a car industry so I’m sure we’ll cope without DGS.

  • Jon Bissett
    08/05/16 - 09:23

    “DRIVEN GROUSE SHOOTING IS KILLING ANIMALS FOR FUN” That is a very bold statement. People shoot and hunt because they want to provide their own food, free range food at that. Many hunters and shooters do not want to contribute to the mass rearing of animals sent for slaughter. I could also confidently say that the fieldsports community contribute more in money and hours worked than the keyboard warriors on here, towards conservation work.

  • Nick weston
    11/05/16 - 10:03

    I have read everything you have posted. My only comment is simply to say please publish facts not fiction

    • Douglas Wilson
      12/05/16 - 07:03

      Hello Nick, thanks for your comment. Can you be more specific please? Which of the claims we make would you like to contest?

  • Norma
    14/05/16 - 14:55

    I signed the petition ages ago . Would like to wish you every success. It made me so happy to know something is being done about this cruelty and restored my faith in mankind a bit .

  • Norma
    14/05/16 - 15:13

    I think if you could get a newspaper to support the cause and state the facts as you have done we could get more signatures.

  • Chrystine Vernon
    14/05/16 - 20:04

    This is not sport !

  • Gary Vernon
    14/05/16 - 20:05


  • JW
    15/05/16 - 08:26

    Still people hiding their heads in the sand regarding DGS …..
    It’s MY money they’re being subsidised with, it’s MY environment they’re destroying, it’s MY wildlife that is paying with their lives …..pesticide and chemical laden grouse, habitats being destroyed, wildlife poisoned, trapped, snared, shot …….. which part of this is ‘sport’
    Many, many country dwellers abhor DGS (and I am one). Just look at the map at the bottom of the petition – it’s in areas where there are grouse moors that there are the most objections.

  • Oliver Craig
    16/05/16 - 17:30

    I have said time and again its about land ownership and how we use it. We have large areas of our uplands set aside for this Victorian pastime. The Scottish Government is supposed to be planning a change to the the usage of land I will believe it when I see it.

  • Nikki Paulson
    18/05/16 - 05:36

    This is the 21st century, we don’t need to kill animals for food or sport.

    Raising animals for food or sport is bad for the environment, bad for them and bad for your health.

    Animal murder is not acceptable in a civilised society.

    The alternatives are readily available and make for a nicer world for everyone.

  • Sandra Zaninovich
    18/05/16 - 07:09

    Ugh how revolting is this. I’ve always believed, and will always believe, that only someone who is not quite right in the head would get great pleasure out of stilling an innocent beating heart. Get some help, the lot of you.

  • Malcolm H Whitehbead
    18/05/16 - 08:29

    Protect wild life for future generations – do NOT destroy it.

  • Nicki Farenden
    18/05/16 - 09:42

    This can not be classed as sport and to see that picture of the wildcat caught in the snare appals me. I support the wildcat haven also trying to bring back these wonderful animals what is the point if they are to be killed so others can kill defenceless creatures in the name of sport. Cruel and wrong.

  • Graham Clark
    18/05/16 - 10:56

    I believe the grouse are eaten unlike foxes. Many on here no doubt delegate their killing to abbatoir staff who aren’t famous for the best humane practice. That part of the argument sounds a bit hypocritical to me …

  • Laurie Paterson
    18/05/16 - 12:22

    The days of shooting animals for sport or pleasure should be over regardless of the type of animal. Most animals are defenceless and need us to leave them alone to live their lives. Killing them for fun or sport is inhumane and this needs to stop, not just in the UK but all around the world. Were surposed to be civilised aren’t we!

  • Jessica
    18/05/16 - 13:25

    I would like to add my support for this petition even though living in Australia means I can’t sign it. I dislike killing for “sport” as it is but when that activity effects more than just the single species themselves then there is a serious issue. The institution of the “game” is sickening.

  • Helen
    20/05/16 - 16:43

    This is not a sport in sports both parties know they’re in the game, this is just all about the £££ and to many sadist’s.

  • Michael Gassaway
    24/05/16 - 18:40

    Famous movie called “Hunger Games”. I suggest that, every year, 5 game “keepers” and 5 land owners are selected to go up into the Scottish hills. Only one survives to come back. While in the wilderness, they are free to kill and eat grouse.

  • Ben McGurk
    26/05/16 - 07:48

    The birds will all find themselves eaten in restaurants etc. Game is is great and organic to eat

    Hunting and conservation bring benefits to the environment. But you can’t explain that to anti’s who are driven by emotion and exist in a box in a city.

    The hypocrisy displayed by many meat eating anti hunters amazes me.

    • Peter
      26/05/16 - 23:34

      I was arguing against the destruction of vermin, including wildcats, hen harriers, peregrines, eagles and now even the humble mountain hare. Shooting grouse is not in itself the problem. Being against DGS is not just a matter of emotion.

  • Ben
    26/05/16 - 08:12

    I support shooting animals for food, try looking into how animals are farmed and have a go at them before you start on people eating free range organic meat……

    • Peter
      26/05/16 - 23:31

      I do too. Venison, expertly shot, is better than eating battery chicken. But then I was not arguing against eating wild animals.

  • Ricky
    26/05/16 - 08:40

    Do any of you eat any kind of meat? …… These birds get a much fairer chance than a cow pig or sheep. It’s humain and fast. This sport also brings £££s into the economy.
    I see people are saying that they like the wildlife etc…. So do hunters. In fact it’s because of the hunters we get to see such great animals. With out hunts there wouldn’t be any pheasants in this country. Without deer control we would have many mutant deer, unlike the beautiful ones we see today.
    So if people really hating animals getting killed…. What’s your opinion on the fox? An animal that will kill every single bird in a pen, to just walk out with one and eat that…. That’s disgusting right? So surely they should be eradicated right? Or is that different

    • Peter
      26/05/16 - 23:29

      We have no position on killing animals although it is hard to have much sympathy for people who enjoy shooting animals. But certainly deer must be killed unless we reintroduce the top predators that man removed from the Scottish ecosystem in bygone days. The wolf, the bear, the lynx. They all have a place in nature. What we object to is the creation of an artificial moorland over thousands of square miles of Scotland, which should by rights be native woodland, with a rich and diverse network of plants and animals, instead of a lot of red grouse and ticks.

  • Sarah
    26/05/16 - 15:01

    This is so wholly unfactual and based merely on one bloggers opinion. It lacks the other side of the arguments in an attempt to pull on heartstrings of those gullible enough to eat it all in.

    I resent the comment about it being a rich mans sport. I hunt, shoot fish and I am regular lady living a modest lifestyle on a particularly modest wage.

    Look at the bigger picture here, removing those with the money to put the amounts of conservation work done on a driven grouse moor you will be sending that moor to its death, Welcoming in an incredibly unbalanced environment, no longer do we have apex predators like wolves bears etc to keep on top of the predators such as the foxes, stoats, feral cats etc! When will we stop with this romantic notion that the UK can be rewilded, Every part of the U.K. Has mans interference, through grazing draining liming etc.

    Our rural communities rely on money from the sporting sector, wages paid by the wealthy then those wages being circulated into the economy….tell me where that money will come from????

    Look at the recent issues on some of the islands with an unbalanced number of hedgehogs or stoats or rats….governments are now spending hundreds of thousands of £££s to remove these animals for the better of native ground nesters etc! You talk of landowners being subsidised….its no different from what would happen if shooting was removed there would still be that need to have species controlled however there would be no other money to put into conservation which like it or not grouse keepers put in!!

    It upsets me that we are not willing to learn all about what happens in the uplands, I live on thriving grouse moors in Northumberland and I’d invite anyone on here to meet me and spend a day on these moors with the keepers and I. If you still feel the same then I will accept that but please let me show you there is so much more to grouse management than what is in the above drivel!

    • Peter
      26/05/16 - 23:38

      “no longer do we have apex predators like wolves bears etc to keep on top of the predators such as the foxes, stoats, feral cats etc! When will we stop with this romantic notion that the UK can be rewilded”

      I mourn the loss of the apex predators and will work towards my romantic notion that Scotland at least can be rewilded. You can continue to support the maintainance of sterile grouse moors, but I will work towards restoration of real ecosystems. Banning DGS would be a great start.

  • Peter Laidlow
    26/05/16 - 18:42

    What about the French and Maltese who shoot migratory birds as a delicacy, Grouse, Pheasants etc are bred to meet a rich mans’ sport but provide employment for many in isolated area’s

  • Thomas David Dick
    26/05/16 - 22:09

    A good review. The management of the moors, burning heather and killing all predators, is what produces the artificially high numbers of grouse.

  • Jeremy Dixon
    26/05/16 - 22:49

    A simple search on Google shows what happens when grouse moor management ends. Due to financial pressures 10 grouse moors in Berwyn, North Wales stopped being managed in 1990’s due to them becoming financially unviable (which brings into question this subsidy arguement). The result has been a loss of 50% of the moorland heather and other flora and fora and replaced not by Scots pine as argued above but grassland, which does not benefit biodiversity

    There has been a complete loss of lapwing, golden plover have fallen by 90%, and lapwig have fallen by 79%, hen harriers by 49%. Grouse have all but disappeared at Berwyn.

    The mountain hare arguement is worrying, like deer, when there is an overpopulation of mountain hare lead to over grasing and therefore need culling to protect important flora and fora, saplings and small trees to promote other wildlife. This would surely have to continue in the event of the banning of grouse shooting in order to return the moorland to pine forests as is argued by the author or it will just turn to grassland as the wales example proves. Yet half the arguement here are about ending all killing, ironically we know that would lead to the end of far more species (Berwyn)

    By all means argue for ending of grouse shooting, but be dam sure that you scrutinise your own opinions, and be even more sure that your arguements are better than the alternative, often when you scrape under the surface as you see with Berwyn complex story unfolds.

    • Peter
      26/05/16 - 23:22

      Unmanaged land does not always produce the results we might wish – at least in the short term. However, managing land for grouse is a nasty game. Burning heather which prevents recolonisation by young trees and killing “vermin” including wildcats and falcons is not an easy position to support. The land is only poor heather moorland because it is artificially maintained in this state. Manage it properly and it could return to being a balanced ecosystem, much of it would be pinewood with a little help.

  • Jame McLean
    18/08/16 - 23:30

    Shooting animals for sport is not fair competition. Surely clay target shooting is just as much fun and a lot less barbaric.

  • Bettyjean Bailey-Schmiedige
    20/08/16 - 17:35

    I’m against any “sport” hunting; if for food yes, but not for pure sport. I may not be a UK citizen, but I’m a citizen of the world and as a World citizen it is my responsible as well as our government to protect the environment and all animals for our future generation.

  • Jeremy Dixon
    05/08/17 - 21:18

    What an extraordinary argument. “Unmanaged land does not produce the results we might wish”. Roughly translated as unmanaged land is worse ecologically than managed land. Please give me some examples of where this unmanaged land has returned to pine forests over the past 100 years. Should we not be focusing harder on this and how it might be achieved. Grouse shooting is one of many landuses in our uplands.

    I would love to see more pine forests , it would require considerable investment and management of various species, near eradication of red deer and most mountain hares for a start. Grouse shooting is one of many possible land uses of uplands and I think as the example of Berwyn shows and you seem to concede benefits more wildlife and species than the devastation of leaving it unmanaged. Perhaps you would rather some of the alternatives such as commercial forestry dominated by exotic non-native fast growing trees or intensive sheep farming, which have both been responsible for the rapid decline of heather moorland (replaced by rank grassland) we have seen in the past 50 years.

    Would your time not be better served positively trying to figure out how we might return some of the highlands to Caledonian forest rather than attacking the one land use over many others that clearly preserves more wildlife, flora and forna than the alternatives.

    • Peter Bevis
      06/08/17 - 12:37

      I would certainly like to reduce the use of exotic species in commercial forestry. That upland sheep farming has been heavily subsidised for most of my life is disgraceful. Likewise commercial forestry. Perhaps subsidies might be awarded to help foresters plant native species, but to reward foresters for destroying habitat to plant Sitka spruce? Simply mad. Sheep are the natural enemy of the uplands. Deer can, and I hope will, be dealt with by the re-introduction of Lynx. I would like other predators such as wolves to return, but this may be more controversial and harder to achieve. None of this takes away from the shocking destruction of birds of prey and wildcats *(amongst other “vermin”) by the gamekeepers employed by grouse shoots.

  • conservation shooting
    06/08/18 - 22:07

    It is sport yes but as gamekeepers we do all the conservation things as well we lower numbers when needed and up them when needed for example I have recently released a large group of english partridge and they will not be shot they are just out there to raise numbers you are the real cruel people leaving heather and debri up there making it hard for the birds to get away from prey,get to food and survive.

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