The great grouse debate... is shooting a sport or just slaughter on the moor?

Grouse shooting looks set to return to Ilkley Moor after 11 years, but is the decision by Bradford Council to invite tenders from syndicates for a 10-year lease a cause for celebration or a backward step towards animal cruelty? We asked those for and against to put their case.

The case against

THE CASE IN FAVOUR: Phil Pugh, British Association of Shooting and Conservation's regional director for the North of England

A little over a decade ago, I was one of those who tried to persuade Bradford Council to continue grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor.

Our attempts to raise the profile of the issue failed to convince the powers-that-be and while I was never entirely sure what was behind the decision, shooting partieswere banned.

Eleven years on, grouse shooting looks set to return, a move which will makes both environmental and financial sense and which should be

applauded.

Most of us now accept that mankind has been guilty of upsetting the natural environment and of doing great damage to the landscape.

There are those who will tell you grouse shooting is a further example of humans overstepping the mark, but in fact it will help to restore this delicate natural balance.

Grouse, while enjoying fairly healthy populations in the North of England, are on the national list of potentially endangered species and their future is directly dependent on the proper management of areas such as Ilkley Moor.

The syndicates who run shoots work tirelessly all year round to maintain the optimum environment for grouseto thrive.

They take on the responsibility for periodically burning the heather,

allowing the young plants which grouse feed on, to flourish.

Without this intervention, heather can become rank and disease can spread through bird populations and their work doesn't simply benefit grouse.

Research shows that well-maintained moors are home to 33 different species of birds compared with 17 in areas where no management takes place.

The success of a syndicate relies on ensuring there is a sustainable population of birds and shoots only go ahead once that has been achieved.

It would be an incredibly short-sighted syndicate which allowed shooting parties on to their land knowing the numbers were low and in fact on moors where grouse shooting takes place the numbers of birds actually tend to be higher

The financial arguments are as equally persuasive as the environmental benefits.

By passing responsibility to a grouse shooting syndicate, the council will enjoy a rent for the land, the countryside wardens will have more

time to spend on other aspects of moorland management and a wider economic benefit will be felt across the region.

In Yorkshire and the Humber, 4,000 jobs are currently dependent on the shooting industry, which already generates 110ma year.

Re-introducing grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor will further boost a sector which is a valuable contributor to the area's economy.

We also need to be clear that this isn't about shooters taking over the moorland and depriving others of their enjoyment.

The evidence of countless other areas has shown walkers and shooting parties can live happily side by side. There is a strict code of

contact governing safety and etiquette and those who raise fears of public safety are I'm afraid guilty of scaremongering.

The reality is that the grouse shooting season is short. At most, it lasts from August 12 to December 10 and in reality many syndicates only shoot for a few days during that time.

Financial and environmental considerations aside, the very mention of grouse shooting is inevitably followed by accusations of cruelty.

There are many misconceptions surrounding the sport and if grouse

shooting is to return to Ilkley Moor, it is a prime opportunity to dispel some of those myths.

If you accept that we are carnivorous beings, I would argue that not only is shooting grouse the same as killing cows or sheep, but in fact it is more humane.

Grouse are wild animals, they are not bred to be shot and, regardless of shooting, two out of three will die within one year of hatching.

Once shot, the birds are immediately retrieved by gun dogs, none is left dying of injuries and for most death is instantaneous and painless.

Yes grouse shooting is a sport, but the majority of the birds, if not all, are eaten.Grouse shooting is part of our heritage. I agree that just because something has been done for hundreds of years doesn't mean it's right, but as people have become more aware of their responsibility to their environment we have actually seen a resurgence in its popularity.

The British Association of Conservation and Shooting has 13,000 young members and with more than one million people going shooting each year, it's certainly not elitist.

Yes, people can pay thousands for just one day's shooting, but they can

also pay as little as a couple of hundred pounds for a whole year, which is probably less than most people spend on a week's holiday abroad.

Shooting is not a sport which suits everyone, but those who oppose it would do well to ensure they know the facts about a pastime which has numerous benefits and which will help preserve large swathes of moorland for all of us to enjoy.THE CASE AGAINST: Louise Robertson, League Against Cruel Sports

The case in favour

In an era when green spaces are becoming something of a rarity, with housing developments gradually eating away at many green belt areas, it seems a great shame that Bradford Council appear to be hell-bent on ruining a natural space, enjoyed by locals and tourists alike for many years.

The space I'm referring to is Ilkley Moor – and, no, the council doesn't intend to build houses or sell off the land to developers. This is, after all, a space intended for "public pleasure", or indeed that was the intention when it was gifted to the council by Marmaduke Middleton in 1893.

No, Bradford Council has decided the best use for this space is to re-introduce grouse shooting and to this end has invited interested parties to tender applications for the shooting rights.

This is a decision which is almost definitely motivated by financial gain and certainly does not have the local people's interests at heart. After all, how many of us actually want to spend our free time slaughtering wildlife for pleasure? You'd be surprised at just how few

actually take part in commercial shooting.

But, shooting generates a lot of money. Another reason it is enjoyed by such a minority, for the average person simply doesn't have the disposable income to spend a few hundred pounds blasting birds out of the sky.

Sadly, the council seems to have fallen for the shooting industry spin of economic gain over the moral, ethical and welfare arguments against it. The shooting industry is very good at glossing over the horrors of their so called sport and presenting an image of economic boom which seem too tempting to ignore.

Only a couple of months ago in Scotland, the Government chose not to ban the use of snares, a cruel method of trapping animals which predate on game birds, despite overwhelming public and political support for a ban, because of the perceived financial loss this would impact on the shooting industry.

Here in Bradford, it's a similar tale, with public needs being ignored to make a fast buck. I wonder if the council has considered the impact shooting on Ilkley Moor will have on the local community.

This is something which was actually shelved a number of years ago, for what must have been a good reason at the time. It does lead one to

wonder what has changed within the last 11 years making shooting now a viable option for the moor.

Commercial shooting is not just something which upsets those labelled as "animal rights activists", although the use of live targets for sport does present a sizeable moral dilemma. Commercial shooting is something which has serious repercussions for those livingin the vicinity of the proposed shoot.

As someone who lives on the edge of a shooting estate I know only too well the problems which can arise.

Firstly, and perhaps the most obvious is the safety issue. Realistically, there is no way shooters and non-shooters can safely share the same moor. I certainly wouldn't go walking through the middle of a shoot and under no circumstances would allow my child anywhere near a shoot for fear of mishap.

The council is proposing signage to alert the public to the fact a shoot is taking place but all this is doing is effectively shutting off the moor to everyone other than shooters so they can enjoy their sport. This hardly seems fair to the thousands of ramblers, dog walkers, families, bird watchers – the list is endless – who currently use Ilkley Moor.

Another problem, and one which is perhaps less obvious, comes with managing the land to suit one species (in this case grouse). Techniques such as burning and gripping which are used in managing moorland can have adverse impacts on the environment, including erosion, and more worryingly the release of carbon into the atmosphere.

In the process of producing large numbers of one species for shooting what in effect is happening is a rich food supply for other wildlife is being produced. So, the natural progression is that as you increase the number of birds the number of natural predators will also increase as a direct result.

On grouse moors the birds are seen as an asset or commodity of the business as this is essentially what generates profit from paying guns. Other wildlife is seen as a threat to the industry so measures are taken to eradicate them. This can take many forms, none of which is pleasant, including snaring, trapping, shooting or poisoning.

In fact, according to extrapolations from the industry's own figures, it is estimated that a massive

12,300 animals and birds are killed every single day due to predator control methods employed to protect game birds. This is a staggering amount of needless killing and surely no amount of financial gain can justify this?

So, if the council gets its way and grouse shooting is re-introduced on Ilkley Moor, things are about to get very different around the local area.

For example, you will no longer be able to walk on the moor when it suits you, and if you do go walking, you will definitely need to keep your dog on its lead in case it is unfortunate enough to get caught in a snare.

Remember these are just thin wire nooses, almost invisible to the eye, which can cause dreadful injuries and a painful death for

its victims.

Next time your cat doesn't return home you will be left wondering if it too has become a snare victim. And think of the noise from the endless shooting of guns.

If none of this bothers you then fine, but I suspect a rather large proportion of the community will be upset at the loss of what is a safe, beautiful place enjoyed by many in favour of what will effectively become a killing field sadly barren of those who have loved and enjoyed it over the years.GUN LORE: THE GROUSE INDUSTRY

Red grouse, which can fly at up to 70mph, are unique to the British Isles. The largest populations are found in Scotland and northern

England, with small numbers in the south-west, Ireland and Wales.

There are 459 grouse moors in the UK, covering 1.5 million hectares, and the annual shooting season lasts from August 12 to December 10.

Although the sport has been around for centuries, it became particularly popular in Victorian times when new railways made it possible for shooting parties to access some of the more remote upland estates.

In order for shoots to be economically viable, there need to be 60 birds per sq km. To protect the numbers, syndicates employ full or part-time game keepers to control the populations of foxes, crows and stoats.

According to the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, since the middle of the 1800s, grouse shooting has become one of the major land-uses of upland ground and the most important source of income for many estates.

Shooting generates more than 650m for the economy each year.

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