I WAS recently involved in a road accident. There was no chance for me to stop. The poor bird bounced off my bonnet and through the air.
What surprised me the most was the shaking fist of the oncoming driver in his Range Rover who screamed and shouted. I slowed down, wondering what chaos I had caused.
He drew up alongside and berated me for not swerving to avoid the pheasant, and how people like me should stay out of the countryside.
Apparently, my crime had been that I had killed the bird with my car, stopping him from shooting it with his gun.
The one thing I am not is a tree-hugging vegetarian who stands against country sports.
However, what is beginning to bother me is the way in which a pastime enjoyed by the entitled few can have catastrophic effects on the environment and natural wildlife. Every week I drive across the North York Moors. It is one of the most impressive areas of the country and yet I see very little natural wildlife. It is just miles and miles of brown heather and the occasional red grouse.
It is for these little creatures that the moors still exist today. Had they not been present, trees and wildlife would have returned long ago. The issue is that grouse shooting is big business and some of the richest and most influential people in Britain have their fingers deeply wedged in the pie.
Millions of pounds of subsidies have been given to those who run grouse moors. In other words, taxpayers’ money is given to sponsor the rich to blast 500,000 little birds to death each year.
Not that they need sponsoring. A day’s grouse shooting can cost thousands of pounds per person. It is a pastime that can be enjoyed only by the super-rich. Perhaps that is why they can get away with things that poor, hard-working upland farmers can’t.
Gone are the days when farmers could burn off stubble in fields, but in the past few weeks the moors have been shrouded with palls of smoke from the burning off of heather. This is done to promote new growth of heather shoots, which is food for the grouse. More food equals more birds and more birds means more money to the owners of the moors.
Yet this comes at a great cost to the moorland ecosystems. A study by the University of Leeds clearly states that heather burning is bad for the environment. It pollutes rivers and can cause flooding. The people of Hebden Bridge will not forget the inundation of water that sped off the grouse moor and down into the town when the area was flooded.
Many people believe there are links between the clearing out of moorland drains and burning of heather and the inability of the moors to hold back the water.
This is one of the reasons I would like to see a total ban on driven grouse shoots on the moors. Our beautiful uplands have to be allowed to return to a more natural state. Other types of bird that are regularly killed on grouse moors have to be better protected so they can establish themselves again.
The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) says that grouse shooting estates routinely eradicate species which compete with red grouse – including foxes, stoats, weasels, corvids and mountain hares – by trap, snare and gun to ensure large numbers of game birds are available for the customers to shoot.
Yorkshire is the worst region in the UK for bird of prey persecution as a direct consequence of it being at the epicentre of grouse shooting. The LACS believes that gamekeepers regularly trap, poison, shoot and destroy the nests of vulnerable species including the hen harrier, red kite and peregrine falcon. These incredible creatures cannot be lost so as to please a handful of tweed-clad toffs.
It is not just birds that need protection. So, too, does the environment. With the threat of more severe weather events and the rise of global temperatures, it is imperative that we do everything we can to stop it.
A recent United Nations report suggested that one of the more practical ways to prevent climate change is to plant more trees.
The lower parts of Yorkshire’s moors and dales would make an ideal place for a new national forest of native British trees. Imagine an unbroken oak wood from Fylingdales to Ingleton becoming the lungs of our nation.
Surely that would bring in more tourism and work than grouse shooting?
The gun lobby will tell you that grouse moors bring in millions of pounds and give jobs to locals, but do they really?
Perhaps now is the time to put an end to the Glorious 12th and let our moors become a haven for walkers and wildlife, and not a playground for the privileged elite.
GP Taylor is an author and broadcaster. He lives in Whitby.