A Good Read – Inglorious, Conflict in the uplands – Mark Avery

I am conflicted and sometimes, I feel, hypocritical when it comes to shooting.

As a wildlife lover I cannot conceive of every wishing to kill a living creature for fun and yet all year I talk to farmers about ‘predator control,’ two sanitised words which equate to killing foxes.

Foxes are beautiful creatures but there is no getting away from the fact that they cause major problems to beleaguered ground nesting birds such as lapwing and, unless you can afford to erect a big fence around your land, shooting foxes is the only way that waders can currently survive on the small pieces of habitat suitable for their needs.

After reading Mark Avery’s book I am also convinced that there is also no getting away from the fact that hen harriers cause major problems for red grouse .The difference is that, unlike foxes, hen harriers are protected and threatened with extinction as a breeding species in England due to the activities of game keepers on grouse moors. While red grouse are living at such densities on shooting estates that they are developing such gruesome sounding illnesses as bulgy eye!

Mark Avery feels that hen harriers and grouse shooting cannot survive together and numerous scientific reports support this. One has to go and in his book Inglorious, Conflict in the Uplands, Mark persuasively argues for the banning of driven grouse shooting.

Far from being full of dry facts and tub thumping rhetoric this book is very readable due to Mark’s conversational style and, while the man seems well able to hold his own in debate, he actually comes across as reasonable and balanced. This is not a vendetta against land owners or a call to end all sport shooting in this country rather a laying out of the argument against once form of shooting.

Like many other people in this country I thought about sport shooting as a rather quaint, antiquated activity practiced by toffs that probably doesn’t do that much harm to the countryside as a whole and provides a source of free range meat possibly preferable to the lives and deaths of factory farmed animals. However after reading Inglorious I feel much better informed and much less likely to eat grouse.

Grouse shooting relies on big ‘bags’ of grouse to be killed by wealthy punters. Many of whom nowadays are as likely to be city bankers with more money than sense than country squires. In order to create this mass population of grouse the shooting estates burn off tracts of moorland in order to encourage the growth of young heather, which the grouse eat. The burning of moorland destroys blanket bogs, a rare habitat, which the UK is especially blessed with, having 13% of the world’s total. The burning also destroys peatland which in England alone sends the same amount of carbon into the air annually as 140,000 cars! It also contributes to downstream flooding which has devastated livelihoods in places like Hebden Bridge. If all of that wasn’t bad enough we are paying for this environmental damage twice over as the grouse moors receive government money to manage the land for wildlife.

It is farcical and could only be supported by a government whose ministers often went to the same schools and probably are involved in the same funny handshake societies as the grouse moor owners.

The evidence also stacks up that gamekeepers are killing hen harriers. The shootings industry would have you believe that illegal persecution is down to the activities of just a ‘few bad apples.’ But the industry seems to have done little to remove those bad apples as hen harrier numbers are still pitifully low.

Mark Avery suggests that there should be around 2000 more pairs of hen harrier in the UK than there currently is. This year only 9 nests in England fledged chicks. The government feels this is a remarkable success.

Given the option I would rather have hen harriers than grouse shooters in my country and if the two can’t live with each other then I am quite happy to live with the latter’s extinction.


Mark doesn’t want you to just read his book and walk away he wants you to take up arms for his cause and the book ends with a variety of suggestions for action you could take to help. Good for him. It is hard to close the book and do nothing. For my part I donated to an anti wildlife crime campaign, made a note in my diary to attend a Hen Harrier Day event (11-12th August) and set off to the coast to witness one of these beautiful birds while I still can.

9 thoughts on “A Good Read – Inglorious, Conflict in the uplands – Mark Avery

  1. Thanks Carol for such a comprehensive review. It Is great when a book can enlighten and change one’s mind. Mark Avery writes an essential award winning blog that covers all conservation issues in the UK – https://markavery.info/blog/
    I have more time now to read having left the RSPB for a while so aim to read Inglorious soon.

  2. This undoubtedly is a ‘good read’ Carol, and I support your views on grouse shooting; -I both loathe the ‘sport’ (if one can call it that) & have also encountered reports of suspect practices by gamekeepers to promote the commercial interests of areas under their control.
    However, heather burning, or ‘swiddening’ as it is also known, is an ancient practice. If done properly, i.e. what’s known as a ‘cool burn’ –is aimed at passing quickly over the surface. It burns the overground vegetation but should not affect the underlying humus or litter layer on the surface of the peat. Hence it does not necessarily damage peat layers. It’s only uncontrolled fires, maliciously or carelessly set, that can burn into peat, causing the very severe damage & loss of carbon you talk of.
    As you rightly say, grouse thrive on the new tender young green shoots that burning produces. But other species of upland moorland birds – curlew and golden plover can also benefit in areas of recently burnt (heather) ground. The latter, I’m told having a liking for such areas for nesting purposes. But, as with any land management programme –some species will benefit whilst others may be disadvantaged.

    • Hi Simon. Management of heather on grouse moors has significantly intensified and around double the amount of heather is burnt now than it was a few decades ago. This is having the effect of drying out and damaging peat bogs, in particular blanket bogs. The European Commission has asked moorland owners to stop burning peat bogs but many moorland owners are not complying as they want to produce excessive numbers of grouse to be shot. Grouse moors do produce lots of waders but that is because of the amount of legal and illegal predator control practiced. I will lend you the book and then you can make up your own mind.

  3. Thanks Carol – think I would benefit from reading the book; I’m clearly not “up to speed” on this topic!
    So, the EU Commission is trying to curtail the practice of the burning of moorland; I wonder, post-Brexit, what chance that Gove /the Tories will follow this through. The wealthy moorland landowning fraternity are staunch “blue”. There’s so much money bound up with grouse shooting – including all the associated peripheral countryside businesses that cater for the personnel involved- (pubs, B & B’s, cafes, petrol stns & so on), -that it’s argued that the grouse shooting “industry” – undesirable as it is, brings in (a lot of) money to what would otherwise be very poor areas.

    Recommend yesterdays’ radio 4 programme / Open Country – (‘Moorland on the Mend’ -22.12.18). They visited moorland areas badly damaged by last year’s wild fires to see what’s being done to restore them & how they’re faring. Some new ideas of moorland management are mentioned (burning not included), aimed at holding back water and keeping the moors wetter. This idea seems key to improving much of the current poor state of UK peat bog moorland and safeguarding against the risks of the damaging wild moorland fires we saw so much of last summer.

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