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Sabbing a grouse moor

Two days with hunt sabs stopping grouse shoots

I spent two days with hunt sabs that stopped grouse shoots

by Glen Black

 

Each year since 2017, the Hunt Saboteurs Association has co-ordinated a national day of action against grouse shooting on 12 August. This is the so-called Glorious Twelfth, the opening day of the grouse shooting season. For 2022, though, the HSA decided on a “week of action”, targetting shoots over multiple days beginning on 12 August.

The Glorious Twelfth itself saw more than 50 sabs shut down a large shoot on Abbotside Common near Hawes, North Yorkshire. The last couple of years have seen sab groups move increasingly further north to find grouse shoots on 12 August because, as pro-shooting media platform Fieldsports TV pointed out, those in the Peak District realised they were vulnerable to sabs. What those in the Peak District appeared not to realise, though, is that sabs can sab on more than just one day.

I joined Staffordshire Hunt Saboteurs on Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 August as sabs looked for grouse shoots across the Peak District. It was an early start on Monday. I joined four others in a small car at 7am as we drove to Axe Edge Moor, south-west of Buxton. I was told this is close to the southernmost grouse shoots. Sabs used binoculars to scour the valley sides and ridge line for signs of activity. This could have been 4x4s, groups of people with guns (shooters) or sticks (beaters), or any movement inside the many grouse butts that littered the landscape.

We found nothing, though. And after 45 minutes we left Axe Edge Moor and moved north to Wild Moor.

Grouse shooting often begins mid-morning but signs of setting up begin much earlier. There was a number of sab groups out that day, scouring different parts of the Peak District, each hoping to find evidence of a shoot as early as possible. An efficient communication network between the groups meant that, should one hit gold, others would quickly catch up.

Nonetheless, after Staffordshire Hunt Sabs found nothing at Wild Moor either, and with little coming through from other groups, I was beginning to wonder if the day was a dud.

 

The hardest part of sabbing a grouse shoot is finding shoots in the first place. But this precarity can also be a strength. Once found, stopping shooters from killing grouse is relatively straightforward. And that means an apparently dud day can become a successful one in a heartbeat.

Just after 10am, information started coming through from other groups that they may have spotted a shoot on Strines Moor. It was over an hour from where we were but, as more information came in, it looked like a solid possibility. We jumped in the car and headed northwards, passing through winding hillside villages.

When we arrived, a line of sabs marched past us on the road towards Strines Moor’s main entrance. We parked and hurried back down the hill, attempting to catch up with them. We strode past two 4x4s at the entrance to Foulstone Road, a public footpath that leads onto Foulstone Moor and Strines Moor, and as we rounded the corner the sight of other sabs stood at the top of the hill was a relief.

They’d stopped a large 17-vehicle convoy of shooter vehicles on its way to the next drive.

Foulstone Moor and Strines Moor are part of the Wentworth Fitzwilliam Estate, a prestigious shooting business owned by aristocrat Philip Naylor-Leyland. He also owns the infamous Fitzwilliam Hunt, the huntsman of which was prosecuted for illegal hunting after Beds & Bucks Hunt Sabs filmed hounds chasing a fox in 2016. The communities of wildlife abuse are truly entangled.

With the hardest part of sabbing a grouse shoot over, sabs took over Foulstone Road between 11.30am and 2.30pm. The hours involved very little action, but that is the reality of stopping grouse shoots. Unlike the bursts of intense action that sabbing hunts can bring, this played out more like a blockade or occupation. Apart from one moment where a Gator-style quad bike drove forcefully (but thankfully not damagingly) into the back of a sab, the aim was broadly to keep spirits high.

 

At 1pm a police car with two officers arrived. They didn’t once speak to sabs and made a bee-line straight for the shooters. Nonetheless, an overheard exchange confirmed that with just two officers available, there was nothing the police would do to move the sabs on. This, of course, is the reason for getting large groups of sabs onto the grouse moors.

There was no grand exit when sabs eventually chose to leave. Happy that this shoot was unlikely to continue to another drive, we simply got up and walked slowly back down to the road. The two police officers trailed us, bemused, as the shooters scrambled to get back to their cars.

It’s hard to estimate how many grouse lived to see another day as a result of stopping the convoy of shooters. A description for one grouse shoot in Lancashire says “high drives” will see an average kill rate of six grouse for every gun. But every shoot and drive is different. Higher figures don’t seem impossible. Stopping a convoy of 17 shooter vehicles from progressing onto its next two or three drives likely meant hundreds of grouse would live to see another day. It also means thousands of pounds wasted by those taking part.

That was only day two of three from the HSA’s ‘week of action’, though.Everything moved a lot quicker on Tuesday. We covered the same two moors in the morning as we had the day before. They were quiet again. But other groups found a shoot more quickly this time. By 10am, sightings rolled in of a shoot about to start. This one was at Snailsden Moss, a sickly looking moor outside of Holmfirth. This was another hour-long drive from our current position, but this time we arrived before any sabs had gone in to stop shooters.

Everything moved a lot quicker on Tuesday. We covered the same two moors in the morning as we had the day before. They were quiet again. But other groups found a shoot more quickly this time. By 10am, sightings rolled in of a shoot about to start. This one was at Snailsden Moss, a sickly looking moor outside of Holmfirth. This was another hour-long drive from our current position, but this time we arrived before any sabs had gone in to stop shooters.


There was some waiting around, with sabs hanging out on a drystone wall overlooking a reservoir. We were waiting, someone at the other end of the radio said, because the shooters knew sabs had arrived and were trying to figure out what to do. The reputation was enough, it seemed.
About an hour after we arrived, a police car with two officers pulled up next to the parked sab vehicles. These were a lot more animated than the two from the day before, claiming they’d had a report of someone wielding a knife. They claimed to have an image to back up the allegation but hadn’t ‘downloaded the image’ yet. This was the tone of policing for the day.

About an hour after we arrived, a police car with two officers pulled up next to the parked sab vehicles. These were a lot more animated than the two from the day before, claiming they’d had a report of someone wielding a knife. They claimed to have an image to back up the allegation but hadn’t ‘downloaded the image’ yet. This was the tone of policing for the day.

Just after midday, sabs decided to march in on foot. It was a fast walk around the reservoir then up to the shooting lodge, where both police and gamekeepers waited. One gamekeeper shut the gate to the lodge to stop sabs from getting any further but, not to let such minor obstacles stop them, the group found a way around the lodge through some fields. However, it became clear that the group would need to walk across at least some of the lodge’s property in order to reach the convoy of vehicles now slowly making its way down the moor.

Sabs rushed through one gate before the gamekeeper was able to close it, apparently leaving him frustrated. He then used his bodyweight to push sabs around, leaving one woman with an injured arm. The male police officer also attempted to stop a sab, grabbing them from behind by the collar but losing his grip almost immediately. The crowd of more than 20 sabs was able to push through and make it to the convoy. The appearance of sabs stopped it dead.  And as more sabs made it up to the vehicles, it was clear the shooters’ day of killing was ended.

It was midday.

This convoy was a little smaller than that on the Wentworth Fitzwilliam Estate, with about 12 cars total. But we were lucky enough to see some familiar faces from the day before, including the guy that said ‘we’d never stop them’. Well well well. Not suffice with egg on his face though, we also ruined a day out for Lord Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham – although we didn’t realise it until after we’d left.

The group of sabs decided to leave about an hour later after an uneventful blockade, though one gamekeeper attempted to steal a sab’s camera. Rather than risk trying to return the way we arrived, the group decided to head as the crow flies across the moor.

As we crested the hill it became clear that several police units including a riot van were parked up by the sab vehicles, with officers searching through one of the cars. Someone came over the radio to report that there were further allegations of a knife. But, like earlier in the day, the allegations eventually turned out to be spurious.

That was it. My two days on the grouse moors with sabs, stopping shooters from enjoying their day. Grouse shoots are notoriously pricey, with one estate advertising its prices at nearly £3000 per person per day during August and September. That’s an eye-watering amount to all but the most affluent of bloodjunkies. It’s clear that putting a stop to a single grouse shoot is effectively burning a pile of cash in front of the shooters’ eyes. Putting a stop to three is a bonfire.