Some pay up to £14,000 to join a shooting ‘party’, with which they prowl the moors shooting down helpless animals. Many have no shooting experience or training, so nearly half of the birds do not die instantly and are instead mutilated and left to endure lingering and painful deaths.
No sport in the UK has such a devastating impact as the game bird shooting industry, in terms of the number of animals killed. During the hunting season, hunters kill more than 5,000 grouse per day. If dogs and cats were slaughtered for fun, we wouldn’t call it sport, we would call it abuse. And that’s exactly what happens to birds, which feel pain and fear as much as any animal. Allowing them to suffer for someone’s pleasure is wrong – and it has to stop.
It should be remembered that all grouse want out of life is the chance to experience it. They are charming birds with their own thoughts, feelings and families. In fact, they are devoted parents. The females build the nest, but the parents share the responsibility of feeding their chicks. When left to live in peace, male grouse announce their presence to hens by drumming with their wings and engaging in an elaborate courtship dance that has been imitated in folk dances in North America and the Alps. Yet during hunting season, human “threshers” deliberately drive them out of their homes, directly into the line of fire.
And it’s not just grouse that are slaughtered in this blood sport. To increase grouse numbers, landowners kill their natural predators, including hen harriers, golden eagles, and other birds of prey, and destroy their nests. Foxes, crows and stoats are also killed by the thousands each year. In a crude attempt to catch predators, game wardens place snares, barbaric devices that can severely maim any animal – including dogs and cats – unlucky enough to get entangled in them.
Terms like “game management” are used by industry in a repugnant attempt to justify the killing of other animals to increase grouse populations. Mountain hares, in particular, are targeted because they carry a tick-borne virus that can kill grouse chicks. The carnage is so great that a report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds shows that the biggest threat to hen harriers, which are being driven to extinction, is “illegal killing associated with the management of moors for grouse hunting”. All this to ensure that those who pay to go hunting get their money’s worth and their bloodlust.
To add insult to injury, grouse hunting also compounds the climate catastrophe. Grouse feed on young heather shoots, so to hasten the growth of these shoots and artificially increase the number of grouse to be killed, large areas of heather are burned. This exposes the carbon-rich peat, degrading this huge natural carbon sink. The result is that hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere, damaging our ecosystems and increasing global warming. These areas can be vast: in the 540 square mile North York Moors National Park, 85% of the land is managed for grouse hunting. No hobby, let alone a cruelty-based hobby, is worth destroying delicate ecosystems and suffocating the planet.
Additionally, almost all hunters use poisonous and polluting lead ammunition – hunting parties can unload up to 1,700 shells in a single day. Although this shot is preferred by the shooting community for its ballistic qualities, it can poison other animals. When birds mistake shot pellets for seeds, they quickly succumb to lead poisoning. Ordnance can also contaminate waterways, plants and soil, where it also poses a risk to humans.
Fortunately, times are changing. In a major change, Yorkshire Water – which owns many acres of moorland in the county – has already decided not to renew shooting leases on two of its moorland, with eight more to be reviewed.
It is a welcome decision, but more needs to be done. Hunting has no place in a civilized society. Animal cruelty-based hobbies are outdated and long overdue.
Elisa Allen is Vice President of UK Programs and Operations at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).