Page last updated at 17:27 GMT, Tuesday, 12 August 2008 18:27 UK

Rain clouds over Glorious Twelfth

By Bob Walker
BBC News, Lancashire

Grouse shooters
The Glorious Twelfth marks the start of four months of grouse-shooting

As the grouse-shooting season officially opens, BBC News spent the day traditionally known as the "Glorious Twelfth" with a group of shooters.

It was anything but a glorious start to the grouse-shooting season in Lancashire's Forest of Bowland.

Sheltering from the pouring rain in a converted barn and warmed by the flames of a wood stove, a group of eight shooters waited for the mists to lift from the surrounding moorland.

They described it as an informal, relaxed syndicate run by eight friends. But certain niceties were still observed. All the "guns" were wearing ties, some sporting traditional tweeds and shooting jackets.

Once again the Glorious Twelfth was dominated by the controversial subject of birds of prey and their persecution by keepers.

Conservationists say there is little doubt that some are killing birds such as hen harriers and goshawks because of the impact they have on grouse stocks.

Birds disappearing

The RSPB says that between 2002 and 2007 there were 108 nesting pairs of hen harriers on conservation land in England but only 17 on grouse moors.

And on those moors more than half of the birds mysteriously disappeared.

At a recent meeting in the Peak District, all the moorland managers present wanted a change in the existing law that protects birds of prey, or raptors.

The point will come if we get any more hen harriers that the number of grouse will not warrant having a shoot here
Alan Peet

Alan Peet, who helps run a shoot on a 6,000-acre stretch of the Forest of Bowland, has three pairs of hen harriers on his land.

They have a significant impact on grouse levels but he says they will not be harmed. That is not to say he is totally happy with the situation.

"I think three pairs are too many," he said. "You have to be prepared to get your head around the fact you're going to have less grouse around.

"I've got to live with what I've got. I'm prepared to put the work in on maintaining the habitat because we can achieve a certain level of shooting. But the point will come if we get any more hen harriers that the number of grouse will not warrant having a shoot here."

Shooting skills

Mr Peet thinks the law should be amended so numbers can be controlled, possibly by removing some of the eggs from hen harrier nests.

After a large fry-up breakfast in the barn, the eight shooters piled into Landrovers and 4x4 vehicles and drove towards the moors.

After driving through swollen streams and up a rocky track with a sheer drop to the valley below, the party arrived at the start of the shoot.

Spreading out in a line covering hundreds of yards, the group advanced slowly across the sodden moorland, occasionally stumbling into hidden pits beneath the heather.

The first grouse broke cover after about half an hour, and from then on the shotguns rang out as the party began to accumulate kills and the dogs were kept busy retrieving dead birds.

By the end of the day all but one shooter had claimed a victim - the highest number was three - taken by the party's only female shooter.

Expulsion threat

One of the organisers, Peter Pedder, said despite the driving rain it had been a worthwhile exercise.

It was, he said, more of a social shoot run for and by a group of friends, rather than a commercial enterprise.

But he said the presence of the shoot meant the moorland was maintained and benefitted all wildlife.

And he claimed that wildlife could be under threat if the number of birds of prey on the moor continued to grow.

He said it was time for all sides to sit down and work out an acceptable way of controlling numbers, although that did not mean he was asking for a cull.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation says it will expel any member found guilty of killing raptors.

The organisation wants a way of managing numbers which is acceptable to all parties.

That could include moving raptors away from grouse moors and limiting the number of eggs in a nest.

The association also emphasises the economic benefits of shooting across the UK.

In the North of England alone, shooting provides almost 14,000 jobs, with 11,000 in Scotland and 2,600 in Wales. In Scotland shooting is said to be worth 240m to the economy.

Grouse shooting season starts up
12 Aug 08 |  Scotland
Game shooting laws to be relaxed
12 Jul 07 |  Politics

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