Restore Peak District land to the wild call as grouse shooting season looms

Campaigners are calling for at least 10% of the Peak District national park to be rewilded after research revealed hundreds of acres are taken up by intensively managed grouse moors.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 4:10 pm

Research conducted by the conservation charity Rewilding Britain found that driven grouse moors cover 21% of the Peak District.

Nationally, 842,000 acres - an area more than twice the size of Greater London - of protected land are used for driven, red grouse shooting.

The annual grouse shooting season traditionally starts on August 12, and driven shooting - which only occurs in the UK - sees rows of "beaters" flush out the birds for participants to aim at.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Ian McColl, director of the Game and Conservation Trust, watches a grouse as the glorious 12th approachess. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Driven grouse moors are controversial because the heather is usually regularly burned to produce fresh shoots for young grouse to eat.

Various studies suggest moorland fires can damage underlying peat soils releasing greenhouse gases.

The process also has a negative impact on biodiversity by suppressing growth of trees and other vegetation, Rewilding Britain said, and kills off swathes of wildlife, particularly insects.

Conservationists also suspect grouse moor managers of the illegal persecution of birds of prey such as the killing of goshawks, hen harriers and eagles to protect grouse chicks to maximise profits.

Rewilding Britain says the trapping of stoats, foxes and mountain hares is also used to keep grouse numbers artificially high.

According to the charity's research, 44% of the Cairngorms National Park is made up of driven grouse moors, along with 28% of the North Yorkshire Moors and a quarter of the Yorkshire Dales.

Now Rewilding Britain wants to see driven grouse shooting phased out in national parks.

It wants a tenth of the parks' land to be designated "core" rewilding areas, with nature recovery goals set across a further 50%.

Rewilding Britain's policy and campaigns coordinator Guy Shrubsole said: "The Prime Minister's pledge to protect 30% of Britain's land for nature - and count national parks towards this total - rings hollow when you realise that vast areas of our national parks are dominated by these nature-impoverished and heavily-managed areas."

The Moorland Association, which represents owners and managers of 860,000 acres of moorland in England and Wales managed for red grouse, strongly disputed the findings.

Amanda Anderson, director of the association, said: "There is a barrage of evidence produced by eminent scientists which has been presented to Government which shows that controlled, cool, winter burning, in the right place for the right reason can actually be helpful to the diversification of vegetation and helps prevent catastrophic wildfires - the biggest threat to moorland."

She added: "Grouse moor managers are wholly committed to their considerable conservation efforts which help protect and enhance the natural world - an ambition we all share.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "We have set ambitious goals for nature and biodiversity in England in our 25-Year Environment Plan, and our Green Recovery Challenge Fund will provide funding for rewilding projects and communities across the country.

"We support the creation and enhancement of wilder landscapes as part of our broader approach to nature recovery, and will continue to back projects which offer both environmental and economic benefits for our communities."