The move comes in the wake of mounting concern about the illegal poisoning or shooting of birds of prey, and large-scale culls of mountain hares. Raptors and hares are killed in order to protect grouse so that there are more available to be shot for sport.
A petition calling on the UK government to ban driven grouse shooting, which can kill thousands of birds a day, was launched last Sunday. By late Friday it had gathered over 10,800 signatures, enough to ensure that the government must respond.
One of the first to sign was Chris Packham, a presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch, Autumwatch and Winterwatch programmes. “Real conservationists have run out of patience with the illegal persecution of raptors and the continued abuse of our uplands which are drained, burned and denuded of life,” he said.
“We want the law to be upheld and sustainable management implemented, that’s all, and in a reasonable world that wouldn’t be a big ask.”
The petition has also been supported by Bill Oddie, a veteran TV comedian, bird-watcher and naturalist. “At a time when wildlife is being abused all over the world, killing for fun is surely sacrilege,” he said.
“Grouse are the targets, but animals are snared, birds of prey are poisoned, and moorlands are damaged and degraded. This is nothing more than bringing death to country life.”
In the latest suspected wildlife crime incident, it was revealed last week that a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Lad had been found dead near Newtonmore in the Cairngorms National Park. According to a port-mortem commissioned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Lad had died from injuries “consistent with damage caused by shooting”.
The Sunday Herald has recently reported evidence of three mass culls of mountain hares in the Cairngorms towards the end of February. One was alleged to have involved the Queen’s Delnadamph estate, and one resulted in a pickup truck full of dead hares.
The Cairngorms National Park Authority has voiced concern about the increasingly intensive way in which grouse moors are managed. The government’s wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, has expressed doubts over the “long-term sustainability” of the hare culling.
The petition was started by the wildlife blogger, Mark Avery, who said he was aiming for 100,000 signatures. It describes driven grouse shooting as “economically, ecologically and socially unnecessary”.
“People want to see the end of industrial-scale killing in the uplands - especially in national parks,” he said. “We need sustainable management of the Scottish highlands not intensive management for the 'sport' of grouse shooting.”
This is Avery’s third petition, and he hopes it will be by far the biggest. The first reached 22,399 signatures in March 2015 after 11 months, and the second reached 33,655 signatures in January 2016 after six months.
Avery’s latest petition is backed by the League Against Cruel Sports and the Scottish animal protection charity, OneKind. They both argue that grouse shooting is cruel, and that its increasing intensification is harming wildlife.
The petition is also being promoted by the influential blog, Raptor Persecution Scotland. “The grouse shooting industry has, for 62 years, shown itself to be either unwilling or incapable of abiding by the legislation,” it said.
Other conservation groups are calling for grouse shooting to be controlled by a licensing regime. “A grouse moor licensing system would help to remove the criminal practices that are associated with much driven grouse shooting,” said Patrick Stirling-Aird, secretary of the Scottish Raptor Study Group.
The Scottish Green Party’s environment spokesman, Mark Ruskell, said: “Unless governments and landowners can resolve all of these problems through regulation and reform the case for banning intensive driven grouse shooting will become compelling.”
In defence of their sport, landowners have launched an online social media campaign called ‘Gift of Grouse’. It is headed by Tim Baynes, who is also director of Scottish Land and Estates Moorland Group.
“This Westminster petition is not relevant in Scotland as these matters are devolved to the Scottish Government and its agencies that regulate the sector,” he said.
“Driven grouse shooting is a vital part of the rural economy and culture in Scotland. It brings in significant tourism income and investment, it supports many jobs and local services in remote areas and it underpins a massive amount of conservation work.”
Baynes added: “This is clearly recognised by government, agencies and conservation bodies. The Gift Of Grouse has attracted widespread support across Scotland for demonstrating the multitude of benefits that driven grouse shooting provides.”