With reference to Mark Smith's column ("Compelling case for ban on shooting of all birds", The Herald, September 23), as managers of one million acres of grouse moorland in England, Moorland Association members are very aware of the importance of helping hen harriers, actively supporting the recovery plan and cracking down on wildlife crime.

However, the bone of contention in the six-point plan by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' opposition to the removal of chicks from the wild to rear them in aviaries, away from predators and harm, and release back into the wild. An independent poll showed 67 per cent of the society’s donors supported this action.

Our members spend £52.5 million a year on the conservation of internationally protected heather moorland enjoyed by millions of people.

They are praised for far-reaching peatland restoration projects and across 400,000 acres are helping create wetter conditions that will help safeguard the county’s drinking water and lock-up carbon.

Government targets for setting these vulnerable areas on the road to recovery have been exceeded. The Committee on Climate Change’s recent progress report acknowledged 96 per cent were in favourable or recovering condition.

None of this could happen without careful land management and massive investment from moorland owners. Nine out of every £10 spent comes directly from their pockets.

This results in significant spin-offs for a raft of spectacular wildlife which thrive in the protected habits. Many are species in decline or seriously threatened elsewhere.

Mark Smith suggests the grouse shooting fraternity is another endangered species. Perhaps he might like to consider the consequences of banning grouse shooting.

In the late 1990s, driven grouse shooting and habitat management stopped in the Berwyn Special Protection Area in North Wales, leading to a serious fall in bird species.

Hen harriers, whose decline has been blamed on moorland gamekeepers, fell by 49 per cent after the management for red grouse was abandoned and gamekeepers lost.

Consider too rural economies. The Herald has reported that communities in rural Scotland voiced strong support for grouse shooting, saying it made a major social and economic contribution to local people’s lives.

Be careful what you wish for, Mark Smith.

Amanda Anderson, Director,

The Moorland Association,

Well Spring Barn,



Mark Smith mentions that he had been reading Inglorious, the book by former RSPB conservation officer Mark Avery which, in my view, gives a skewed account of driven grouse shooting in the UK.

Moorland managers have a crucial role as custodians of upland areas and can help the UK reach and maintain its conservation objectives.

Research in 2008 investigated the effects of reduction in keepering activities on a Scottish grouse moor on breeding birds. Red grouse, golden plover, curlew and skylark were two to three times more abundant when moorland was keepered for grouse than when not, and lapwing populations were virtually lost when keepering ceased.

Another study in 2010, in northern England, showed an average three-fold increase in the breeding success of lapwing, curlew, golden plover, red grouse and meadow pipit where predator control took place.

Mark Smith highlights the plight of the hen harrier, a conservation problem that has proved more intractable than most, specifically in identifying how we can begin to sustainably rebuild hen harrier populations alongside other moorland activities including grouse shooting. To this end, in 2012 Defra officials established the Hen Harrier Sub-Group of the Uplands Stakeholder Forum.

The plan recognises that if we want viable grouse shooting alongside hen harriers, we will need new kinds of management. Conservation techniques such as diversionary feeding and brood management will be required to resolve the genuine conflict between red grouse and hen harriers.

This conflict was illustrated on a driven grouse moor at Langholm, Dumfriesshire, between 1992 and 1997. Hen harrier numbers rose from two to 20 pairs in six years before shooting was abandoned because the hen harriers ate more than one third of all grouse chicks that hatched. With no grouse shooting, the local culture, economy and employment suffered and the control of generalist predators ceased. By 2003, the 20 harrier nests were back down to two and numbers of breeding grouse and waders had more than halved.

Predation was identified as the likely cause of the declines for grouse, waders and harriers. Grouse moor managers felt their worst fears had just been proved.

Further evidence from the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project has shown how diversionary feeding can reduce predation when harrier numbers are low and their nests easily accessible, but more research is required since, alone, it has not been shown to increase numbers of young grouse.

It must be recognised that, to overcome the root causes of the harrier-grouse conflict, any new recovery plan would need to ensure both hen harriers and grouse populations can thrive. Now, after 15 years of talks, 20 reports, three governments and six years of mediated conflict resolution talks, a positive plan to increase the hen harrier population has been drafted.

Jamie Stewart,

Director, Scottish Countryside Alliance,

16 Young Street,