Why the twelfth could still be glorious for wildlife

PIC: Simon Hulme
PIC: Simon Hulme
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THE traditional shooting season has been seen by many conservationists as among the biggest enemies of one of England’s most endangered bird of prey – the hen harrier.

But the advent of the Glorious Twelfth tomorrow has been held up as a saviour of the endangered bird of prey.

The time of year when Yorkshire’s heather-clad moorlands become sporting arenas for shooting parties and nature’s tranquil purple carpets are sprinkled with tweed has been made all the more glorious with the launch of a new multi-million pound conservation scheme.

Landowners and countryside organisations have pledged £52.2m every year to safeguard 860,000 acres of heather moorland for wild red grouse, which they say has benefitted some of the UK’s most endangered birds.

It comes after the UK’s first ever hen harrier day, held yesterday, led by conservationists campaigning for further crackdowns on landowners illegally persecuting the bird of prey because they eat red grouse chicks. Some protesters have called for an outright ban on grouse shooting.

But the Moorland Association has today thrown its weight behind countryside organisations lobbying for a sustainable increase in the population. They warn that without the income created by the Glorious Twelfth, wildlife would suffer “severe consequences”.

“We have a vital part to play in stemming the decline of some of our most vulnerable bird,” said chairman Robert Benson.

“It is careful game management which has seen significant gains in a number of at risk species. Endangered lapwing, curlew, golden plover, ring ouzel, merlin, black grouse and grey partridge all fare far better on moorland with gamekeepers.”

A notable milestone for conservation came when the country’s first hen harrier chicks for two years recently fledged in north Lancashire.

Of the three successful nests, two were on grouse-managed land and produced 11 young.

The cause has been championed by George Winn-Darley, who manages several estates on the moorland North Yorkshire moorland.

He predicts an average season on his 6,500 acres, following damage caused to heather in last year’s late frost.

Mr Winn-Darley said: “The industry is responsible for over 1,500 jobs, as well as the remarkable gains for fauna and flora. Shooting creates 42,500 days of work a year.

“With the prospects of a strong season for many moors, associated spin-offs will be in excess of £15m, essential earnings in challenging economic times. So many people benefit, from the food industry to hoteliers, the list is endless.”

From tomorrow, shooting days can be held every day except Sunday until December 10. Only the surplus population of grouse is shot ensuring a healthy wild breeding stock for the following year.

“Shooting usually stops well before the official end of the season, but every day is a bonus for the local economy,” said Mr Winn-Darley.

Management of uplands for grouse shooting is said to be vital to protecting heather moorland in Yorkshire and across the country.

“Without grouse moor management, many moors would revert to scrub and forest. Moorland plants, animals and precious landscapes that attract millions of visitors a year would be lost,” added Mr Winn-Darley.