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Reclaim Our Moors Walk 2023 (Moscar Moor)

On August 13th, the day after the Inglorious 12th (and a Sunday so no shooting was taking place), I joined a group of ‘Reclaim Our Moors’ protestors on a short hike from Redmires Reservoir near Sheffield up onto the notorious Moscar Moor. A grouse shooting estate, Moscar has become a national symbol of the public fight against grouse shooting. It has been owned since 2016 by the 11th Duke of Rutland, David Manners. It borders another enormous grouse shooting estate owned by the Duke of Westminster.

I travelled up to the Peak District at the invitation of veteran campaigner Clive Swinsco, who has been disrupting grouse shoots for decades and has spent weeks distributing flyers for the walk. The primary organisers of the “Reclaim Our Moors” Protest Walk, UniteTheUnion Activists Robert Howarth (image below) and Jackie Kennedy have been building interest in the walk since the first one several years ago, and despite a drizzly start to the morning some sixty people set off up the track onto the moor after a feisty politically-impassioned speech from Robert himself.

 

Robert getting the walk underway with a barnstormer of a speech

Moscar Moor

Moscar lies within the Peak District National Park, a ‘national park’ that is dominated by shooting and a hot spot for raptor persecution.

Moorlands here are allegedly Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSi), but while 95% of moorland habitats are covered by designated sites (mostly with the highest level of European protection) the majority are in ‘unfavourable condition’. They are parched after decades of draining and demonstrably devoid of the biodiversity that should be expected of areas like these.

Moscar’s gamekeepers have a reputation (locally and more widely) for eradicating anything on the moor that is seen as a ‘threat’ to Red Grouse. In 2017 the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) conducted covert surveillance on Moscar which they said revealed “systematic programme of wildlife persecution, which intentionally targeted iconic species on popular open access moorland and in the vicinity of celebrated nature reserves“. In spring 2020, HIT again reported that Moscar’s gamekeepers were investigated by the RSCPA after using a wounded call bird in a Larsen trap, trapping hypothermic fox cubs and setting traps on badger setts – on land owned by the National Trust and Peak District National Park!

Monitors in the area told me (anecdotally, but these are experienced ‘eyes in the field’) about the disappearance of a once-thriving population of Goshawks and that once-regular Short-eared Owls are now very rarely seen. The chances of seeing a Hen Harrier (a moorland species that should be common in the Peak District National Park) are ‘almost zero’.

 

 

At this time of year, Moscar looks – on the surface at least – rather lovely. It’s the stuff of tourist postcards anyway. The heather is flowering and the uplands roll away into a purple-tinged distance. Unfortunately, the healthy appearance is entirely superficial. The moors are dried out and patterned with the effects of rotational burning (grouse need a mosaic of heather growth, and setting fire to the carbon-rich peatlands is how estate managers ensure it for them). There are lines of both stone and wooden gun butts. Short white posts mark where trays of grit medicated with antibiotics to control the diseases of ‘too many grouse in one place’ have been left. And it is unnaturally and unpleasantly quiet.

I’ve been a birder for decades. I know when I’m in an area full of wildlife and when I’m not. In two hours I saw just four bird species – remarkably that didn’t include a Red Grouse, which appears to be having another bad year in the Peak District. There were no Skylarks, no Meadow Pipits, no Stonechats. No corvids of any species. A single Kestrel (a vole eater and no danger to grouse chicks) was the sole representative of the suite of raptors that an SSSi like Moscar should be blessed with.

A small pond at the top of our walk marked our main rallying point. Disgustingly it was fringed with wooden ‘hides’ where, we were told, guns could crouch and massacre released ducks at near point-blank range (just in case they hadn’t had their fill of killing grouse). There were no ducks when we were there (which was a relief) though the floors of these wooden boxes were littered with dead amphibians: the ‘conservationists’ who’d built these things hadn’t considered leaving a way out for any small animal that become trapped.

 

Like the moor itself, the pond was incredibly depressing, silent, and empty.

Shooting sells near-sterile monocultures like Moscar as ‘conservation successes. A laughable tweet by the Moorland Association, a lobby group for the appallingly complacent grouse moor owners, crashed and burnt on social media when it called the grouse shooting industry ‘sustainable’ and ‘enjoyable’.

 

Shooters may get a kick paying more than the average monthly salary to blast Red Grouse out of the air, but nothing else ‘enjoys’ the ongoing persecution and slaughter here.

 

Walking and Talking

Which perhaps makes the walk – and in fact anything connected with telling the truth about grouse shooting – sound like a glum and sombre affair. But that’s not the case.

Where the lamentable Moorland Association did get it right in their tweet was to urge people to ‘enjoy getting together’. They probably didn’t have families, local residents fed up with the smoke pollution that stings the eyes, or the naturalists fed up with seeing the wildlife vanish in mind. They will have meant people with deep pockets and guns – but our group, ordinary people, some more knowledgeable than others, were enjoying the chance to come together, share stories, and support each other.

And to make their feelings known. The organisers even kindly invited me to say a few unplanned words about why I’d come to Moscar, unleashing a ten-minute tirade that began with, “Why? Because I’m angry…”

I and many other people are angry about what’s been done to the wildlife and to the moors themselves just so that a few people can kill Red Grouse. Angry about the killing of not only hundreds of thousands of grouse, but the countless number of animals caught in traps and snares, the wildlife crime and the lack of enforcement of the law by police. They’re angry too about the intimidation and threat carried by gamekeepers up and down the country. A tangible threat that make campaigners wonder if their car will have been vandalised by the time they get back to it or whether they should be seen on the moors with their partners in case they’re targeted instead.

Angry because these moors could be beautiful, could be restored and rewilded, could be teeming with wildlife again, and could be places where everyone could marvel at the wilderness just outside their front door.

 

A blast from the past: a Henry the Hen Harrier banner courtesy of Derbyshire birder Stewart ‘@birdman1066‘ Abbott

Clive Swinsco about to demonstrate one of  the ‘cable restraint devices’ that gamekeepers use to snare huge numbers of predators on grouse moors

Snared‘ author, fell runner, and monitor Bob Berzins explains why the history of the moor means there is so little wildlife up here

Me (Charlie Moores) explaining how many Hen Harriers have ‘disappeared‘ from moors since 2018. Photo Clive Swinsco

 

Stopping the shoots

The ‘Inglorious 12th’ got off to a limp start the day before we met on Moscar Moor. That was down to a combination of a ‘poor’ Spring for the Red Grouse (‘poor’ in terms of how many birds the gamekeepers could ‘produce’ to be shot), a creeping despair amongst shooting lobbyists that they are losing the argument (badly), and the work of a huge number of Hunt Saboteurs who converged on moorland up and down the country. Our protest was an entirely ‘non-confrontational’ affair, of course, and tailored for the audience who came. Sabs put themselves in an entirely different, more high-risk situation and literally got in the way of shooters and angry keepers.

Shoots are having to change the way they work because of sabs’ willingness to travel and pile pressure on estates. Especially estates like Moscar that are within a few minutes drive of major conurbations like Sheffield.

Many factors will shut down the grouse shooting industry. It’s closure will come from increasing awareness of the killings and growing public revulsion; anger about downstream smoke and water pollution; the changing climate and the lure of carbon credits enticing moor owners to abandon shooting; and wealthy clients themselves getting bored and moving on to the next fad. But there is no doubt whatsoever that sabs groups will have played an enormous part in making shoots so difficult to manage.

If you are reading this and wondering how you can help, there are many ways. Talk to family and friends about the moors, and urge them to contact local councillors or MPs. Think about what words like ‘gamebird’ and ‘shooting season’ really mean. Find out how to join a protest walk near you perhaps. And if you can, get in touch with a local hunt sab group and offer your support.

As a final thought, while progress seems slow a huge amount has changed in just the last decade, and there are influential people on our side.

Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake signed up to be a Hen Harrier Species Champion in 2021 for instance, and has advocated on many environmental issues.

And everyone who attended also heard a powerful statement from Sheffield Councillor Minesh Parekh which was read out by Robert. I’ve reproduced part of it below with permission from the protest organisers:

“I’m proud to represent a council, Sheffield, that has publicly called for a total ban on moorland burning, and to work alongside Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake, who has led the charge to protect and restore peatlands in her constituency and beyond.

Our peatlands must be restored wholly and rapidly. As private landowners continue to ravage our natural environment it makes clear the limits of our democratic system; we need a community right-to-buy to bring mismanaged land into community hands. We need an immediate end to grouse shooting, and immediate end to burning, and an environment agency that is well-funded and capable of reversing natural decline.”

 We Can Win

We can win this battle with shooting estates. We all have a role to play. Just over the horizon are moorlands bursting with life, where natural cycles are allowed to play out, and the guns finally fall silent. Let’s get there as soon as possible.

  • Photos by Charlie Moores. Please feel free to use any of them to help end grouse shooting.