Stop turning moors into bloody killing fields in the name of 'sport' - Elisa Allen

Over the next four months, many Yorkshire moors will become bloody killing fields. The ‘Glorious Twelfth’, as the start of the grouse-hunting season is known, opens the county’s picturesque landscape to those who get their jollies from blasting birds out of the sky.

Some pay up to £14,000 to join a shooting ‘party’, with whom they prowl the moors gunning down defenceless animals. Many have no shooting experience or training, so almost half the birds don’t die outright and are instead mutilated and left to endure lingering, 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 shooting season, hunters kill more than 5,000 grouse a day. If dogs and cats were shot for fun, we wouldn’t call it sport – we’d call it abuse. And that’s exactly what it is when it’s done to birds, who feel pain and fear just as much as any animal does. It is unconscionable to allow them to suffer for someone’s pleasure – and it must end.

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It’s worth remembering that all grouse want from life is the chance to live it. They are charming birds who have their own thoughts, feelings, and families. In fact, they are devoted parents. Females build the nest, but the parents share responsibility for 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 mimicked in folk dances in North America and the Alps. Yet during hunting season, human ‘beaters’ deliberately drive them from their homes, straight into the line of fire.

A grouse in the moors.A grouse in the moors.
A grouse in the moors.

And it’s not only grouse who are slaughtered in this blood sport. To boost the number of grouse, 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 every year. In a crude attempt to catch predators, gamekeepers place snares, barbaric devices that can severely maim any animal – including dogs and cats – unlucky enough to become entangled in them.

Terms like ‘game management’ are employed by the industry in a repugnant attempt to justify the killing of other animals to increase grouse populations. Mountain hares, in particular, are targeted, as they carry a tick-borne virus which can kill grouse chicks. So great is the carnage that a report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds shows that the greatest threat to hen harriers, who are being driven to extinction, is “illegal killing associated with management of moorlands for driven grouse shooting”. All this to ensure that those who pay to go hunting get their money’s worth and satisfy their bloodlust.

To add insult to injury, grouse hunting is also worsening the climate catastrophe. Grouse feed on young heather shoots, so to speed up these shoots’ growth and artificially boost numbers of grouse for killing, vast areas of heather are burned. This exposes the carbon-rich peat, degrading this enormous natural carbon sink. The result is that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere, damaging our ecosystems and increasing global heating. These areas can be vast: in the 540-square-mile North York Moors National Park, a whopping 85 per cent of the land is managed for grouse hunting. No pastime, let alone one which is based on cruelty, is worth wrecking delicate ecosystems and suffocating the planet for.

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In addition, almost all hunters use toxic, polluting lead ammunition – hunting groups may discharge up to 1,700 shells in a single day. Though this shot is favoured by the shooting community for its ballistic qualities, it can poison other animals. When birds mistake the shot pellets for seeds, they quickly succumb to lead poisoning. Ammunition can also contaminate water courses, plants, and the soil, where it presents a risk for humans, too.

Fortunately, times are changing. In a major shift, Yorkshire Water – which owns many acres of moorland in the county – has already decided not to renew shooting leases on two of its moors, with eight more up for review.

It’s a welcome move, but more must be done. Hunting has no place in a civilised society. Pastimes based on cruelty to animals are outdated, and a ban on them is long overdue.

Elisa Allen is vice president of UK programmes and operations at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).