The Status of Red Grouse in Northamptonshire

Red Grouse, Hawsen Burn, Cheviot Hills, Northumberland, 21st April 2014 (MPF/Wikimedia Commons)
Red Grouse, Hawsen Burn, Cheviot Hills, Northumberland, 21st April 2014 (MPF/Wikimedia Commons)

Vagrant. The only county record was of a male shot near Warkworth in November 1892. It’s as simple as that. But its status in the UK is a different thing altogether as this species plays a pivotal role in determining the way in which our country’s uplands are ‘managed’ and the significant, largely detrimental, impact this ‘management’ has on other wildlife and the environment as a result.

There is now a fast-growing movement to ban the so-called ‘sport’ of driven grouse shooting which has given rise to moorland ‘management’.  If you have not heard about this already then read on … and sign the online petition organised by our very own local birder and conservationist campaigner, Mark Avery. Below, is an article explaining why this issue is important to every birder, naturalist and environmentalist in the country.

My grouse with grouse shooting by Dr Mark Avery

Driven grouse shooting is an unsporting and pointless sport that damages the ecology of our hills and depends on illegal killing of protected wildlife.

Some say birdwatching is an odd hobby, but compare it with driven grouse shooting and we all seem completely normal. In driven grouse shooting, a line of people with shotguns wait for a line of people with flags and whistles to drive Red Grouse past them so that they can shoot at them as they fly over.  There is no hunting involved in this – it’s merely using wildlife as living targets. An individual may pay upwards of £5,000 for a day of such ‘sport’.

The record ‘bag’ for a day of such shooting is 2929 birds, shot by eight guns in the Trough of Bowland in Lancashire on 12 August 1915. That’s over 350 birds/gun that day. Modern bags are approaching such levels again.

To generate such high densities of Red Grouse, to justify such high prices; heather moorland is burned into a patchwork of long and short vegetation; Foxes, Stoats, Carrion Crows etc are killed in large numbers; Mountain Hares are killed off too (because they carry a tick which can transmit a virus to the grouse); the moorland is drained and medicated grit is provided to kill intestinal worms. Red Grouse are not reared and released (like Pheasants), but driven grouse shooting depends on intensive management of the prey, their predators and their habitat.

Many raptors are illegally killed because they are unsporting enough to include Red Grouse in their diet, eg Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Peregrine and Hen Harrier. This year is a survey year for Hen Harrier – the last, in 2010, found c650 UK pairs whereas the science shows that there should be c2600 pairs.  English uplands should hold around 300 of those 2600 pairs, and yet in recent years, breeding numbers have rarely reached double figures – this year there aren’t 300 pairs, there aren’t 30 pairs, there are just 3 pairs.

A scientific study on a grouse moor in Scotland in the 1990s showed that when birds of prey are properly protected, as the law requires, then their numbers will rise and they can remove much of the ‘shootable surplus’ of birds on which driven grouse shooting depends. There is a real conflict, you can’t have protection of birds of prey and massive grouse bags. You have to choose! What is your choice?

The grouse shooters say that it’s only a few bad apples that kill raptors, but they don’t deny the massive impacts that bad apples (I believe there are more than a few) have on protected wildlife.  So you do have to choose whether you want an unsporting sport to continue or whether you want the legal protection given to birds of prey to be real. I choose legality and birds of prey over criminality and a pointless ‘sport’!

Grouse shooters contend that other ground-nesting birds benefit from grouse moor management (some do, it’s true, but not all), that the hills would be covered with conifers, sheep and windfarms if grouse shooting were stopped (they wouldn’t – it’s environmental legislation that controls these activities not grouse shooters) and that all those people paying for grouse shooting are delivering wealth to the economy (economists say the figures are greatly inflated and do not take everything into account anyway).  You must choose who you believe.

All that intensive management for grouse, the burning and the drainage, have other important ecological impacts. Grouse moors shed water more quickly than moorland not managed for grouse shooting – and this increases flood risks for masses of people downstream, people who never go grouse shooting and have never heard of a Hen Harrier. Greenhouse gas emissions are higher from grouse moors where burning occurs on peatlands; grouse moor management was criticised by the Committee on Climate Change last year. Water companies spend more money on water treatment in catchments dominated by grouse shooting and those costs go to the customer not the grouse shooter. And aquatic biodiversity is lower in watercourses draining managed moorlands too. Intensive grouse moor management imposes big costs on the rest of society. And so, again, you have to choose – grouse shooting or sustainable uplands?

Over the years of wrestling with these issues my views have hardened. I used to think that grouse shooting was a bit odd but if only we could reduce the levels of wildlife crime then it wasn’t a high priority. As time has passed I have realised that our uplands are the scenes of unrelenting wildlife crime, and all for a hobby (sport, pastime) that is enjoyed by the few and which imposes costs on the many.

I’ve made my choice and it is that we should do away with driven grouse shooting which is why I have launched a number of e-petitions to ban this sport. The current e-petition has far surpassed the total signatures of the previous two and runs until 20 September. If it reaches 100,000 signatures by then this whole issue will be debated in Parliament and that will flush out the arguments and put them even more strongly in the public domain. If you are keen on wrecked uplands and wildlife crime then please don’t sign my e-petition, but if you choose change in the uplands, even if you don’t favour a total ban (and I think you should!) then please sign because this is the strongest way you can make your voice heard. It really is your choice!

Sign the e-petition for a debate in parliament here .  Every signature counts so please give yours now. For more information then check out my blog at and/or read my book Inglorious – conflict in the uplands for the 100,000 word version of the case against driven grouse shooting. But thank you for letting me have 1000 words here.

Dr Mark Avery is an author, blogger, birder and campaigner. He worked for the RSPB for 25 years until 2011 and for 13 of them was the RSPB Conservation Director.


Maidwell and the curious “yow-yow” call of Common Quail

For local birders trying to catch up with Quail it’s proving to be a tough year so far. Normally by late June they have been heard at up to half a dozen or so sites … but not this year. The only ‘reliable site’ – and I use the term loosely – has been the Blueberry Farm complex near Maidwell, where up to four sporadically singing males have been heard. There they are decidedly elusive, calling only very infrequently during the early mornings and late evenings and it’s possible to spend hours there without hearing even a snatch of song. Perhaps this year’s lower than average temperatures and poor weather have conspired to dampen singing males’ ardour. But are they being overlooked?

It took me four trips to Maidwell before I managed to catch up with one – albeit very briefly. On Wednesday evening I paid a late visit to the site, arriving at the complex’s southernmost setaside field (SP731745) at 22.25. Despite being almost dark, there was still some lingering brightness in the sky but this was quickly extinguished by thickening cloud backed by a light breeze. A Grasshopper Warbler started to sing and continued almost incessantly throughout the time I was there and then, at 22.40, something happened. It was a call I had never heard before – a single “whip” followed by a rasping “yow-yow” and then another “yow-yow”. Initially perplexed I eventually dismissed it. But I was intrigued. I didn’t hear it again and I left the site at 23.00, contemplating my next visit and feeling somewhat deflated.

It was not until I decided to follow up this rasping “yow-yow” call that I discovered that there is more to the vocabulary of Common Quail than I – and I suspect many birders – had realised. While most texts major on the diagnostic “quick-quick-quick” or “wet-my-lips” song of the male, BWP refers in more detail to a ‘pre-song growl call, an abrupt and nasal metallic grinding “mau-wau” often repeated and usually preliminary to’ [the diagnostic song outlined above].

A quick (no pun intended!) listen to the selection of Quail songs and calls on Xeno-Canto confirms this. However, out of the thirty recordings of Quail on this site, only a small minority reflect this “yow-yow” call, most being of the “quick-quick-quick” song normally associated with the species. You can listen to the “yow-yow” call here by clicking on catalogue number XC100988. This recording consists entirely of the rasping “yow-yow” call, which raises the question: is this also used as a general contact call, which also brings me back to my original question, are they being overlooked … ?

Common Quail header photo Dr. Raju Kasambe, Wikimedia Commons