Even Sparrows... Bird watchers


Posted: 12.08.23 in Articles category


Grouse shooting in Britain begins each year on 12 August – a day known to the shooting fraternity as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’. It marks the first of a series of start dates in the annual calendar when various birds are shot for sport; partridges and duck from 1 September onwards, and pheasants and woodcock from 1 October. Personally, I don’t understand what pleasure can be derived from killing any animal for so-called sport. I view 12 August as a date of shame rather than one to celebrate. I am not against the killing of animals per se. How could I without being knowingly hypocritical? I eat meat and fish in the full knowledge that I am eating animal flesh – animals that have been killed for human consumption. Incidentally, I recognise that there are strong environmental arguments today to support vegetarianism, particularly as part of our response to counter climate change. Yet I do not view the killing of animals intrinsically to be wrong. We read in Genesis 9 that God said to Noah: “All the animals, birds and fish will live in fear of you. They are all placed under your power. Now you can eat them, as well as green plants: I give them all to you for food” (verses 2 and 3, Good News Bible). Unlike the rock musician Morrissey, I don’t believe that ‘meat is murder’.


Views about 12 August have become increasingly polarised. On the one hand, supporters defend a traditional country pastime under attack from ‘woke’ liberal urbanites who readily condemn all forms of hunting. On the other hand, birdwatchers and conservationists lament the intensive management of heather moorland as a ‘monocrop’ landscape on which virtually all natural predators are destroyed including rare birds of prey like the Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and the Hen Harrier. As the third of this trio, the harrier has become iconic. The indiscriminate killing of Hen Harriers across the uplands of northern England brought the species to the brink of national extinction by 2016, although there has been a very small recovery since that low with 24 pairs breeding successfully in 2021. Yet northern England could sustain many more - perhaps more than 300 pairs if the illegal persecution stopped. Sadly, all too many birds disappear in the vicinity of grouse moors, leading most birdwatchers to conclude that the harriers are being killed by gamekeepers and others involved with grouse shooting.


As many as 5,300 Red Grouse are shot daily during the shooting season, according to the ‘League Against Cruel Sports’. However, that figure is only a tiny fraction compared to the totals of our ‘non-native’ gamebirds being shot each day during season - 38,000 red-legged partridge and 146,000 pheasants! To sustain those huge totals, it is estimated that 62 million birds are now being annually reared and released for shooting in Britain including several million imported ‘live’ from Europe. That number of birds apparently represents a total biomass greater than all our native birds combined, and such ‘disproportion’ is allegedly having a negative impact on local biodiversity around shooting estates. Shooting birds for ‘sport’ may be big business in the British countryside, but it is dubious whether it serves any overall good for our natural environment.            

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