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The Royals must be called out for their obsession with wildlife slaughter

The Royal Family is probably the most well-known family in the world. Its members’ daily lives are scrutinised by the mainstream media, their hobbies photographed for the front page. Through their choices, the Windsors have huge power to influence the public.

The royals, with all their elite privilege, have always been keen hunters. Queen Victoria and her husband Albert were largely responsible for introducing grouse shooting to Britain’s upper classes when they bought the Balmoral estate in 1852. Their purchase and influence paved the way to completely changing Scotland’s moorland as we know it.

And back in 1961, the late Queen Elizabeth and her husband Philip posed for a photo with the Maharaja and and Maharani of Jaipur in India, the group standing over a tiger that Philip had just murdered.

Fast forward to the current day, and the Windsor estate is, essentially, one big hunting and shooting playground, paid for by the public. Freedom of Information requests conducted by Animal Aid found that more than 7,000 mammals and birds were murdered on Royal land in one year. Among that number, thousands of foxes and corvids were killed in order to protect the estate’s pheasants from predators. The pheasants are, of course, murdered for fun by royal shooters and their friends.

The royals are well-known for their love of shooting down grouse, too. The 50,000 acre Balmoral estate and its neighbouring moorland at Corgarff – owned by the King – are used by the family and their friends for private grouse shooting parties.

 

Sandringham: estate of massacre

Philip was such an avid killer that he was patron of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation for more than half a century. He was instrumental in turning the Sandringham Estate into what the shooting industry calls “one of the premier wild bird shoots in the country“. He reportedly murdered his target of 10,000 pheasants during a seven-week stay in 1993.

The estate was originally purchased by Edward VII in the 1800s, primarily to be used as his countryside getaway for shooting down birds. Back then it also acted as a prison for animals imported from Britain’s colonies, including two bears, who were chained to a pole.

Two centuries later, Sandringham is the site of numerous incidents of wildlife crime, including the murder of birds of prey. Its gamekeepers are responsible for the cruel trapping of numerous mammals and birds, including a well-reported little owl who died in a trap in 2020.

A Guardian investigation reported that Sandringham:

has been linked to the deaths and disappearances of a string of legally protected birds over the past two decades“.

The newspaper continued:

“The cases include the alleged poisoning, shooting and disappearance of some of the UK’s rarest birds of prey. One of the cases involved the mysterious loss of eastern England’s last breeding female montagu’s harrier, a critically endangered species whose future in the UK is now looking bleak.

The Guardian has identified 18 cases since 2003 involving suspected wildlife offences or the alleged misuse of poisons, linked to the royal estate and neighbouring farmland owned by the king.”

Birds of prey are targeted by the shooting industry because, like foxes and corvids, they are seen as predators of the birds that shooters want to murder themselves.

The police have “regularly investigated” the Windsors’ estate, but as Protect the Wild has reported, UK laws protect the royals from being investigated properly, because police are banned from entering the King’s estates without his permission.

 

Sandringham House
Sandringham House. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Kate and William

While Philip is now gone, there’s no indication that Charles is going to end the Sandringham massacre. Indeed, the estate is still the location for the Royal Family’s Christmas gathering and “traditional” Boxing Day shooting spree. High profile royal Kate Middleton participates in the annual massacre, killing pheasants, partridges, and ducks. A royal “insider” said of Kate in 2018:

“She frequently goes out shooting when she is staying at Anmer Hall [the Cambridges’ country home at Sandringham] and has become a really good shot. She is very much into the hunting, shooting and fishing country lifestyle. [Her] 20-gauge smooth bore gun is ideal for shooting game birds.”

Kate, who is “a keen markswoman” according to the Daily Mail, has been photographed on a number of different shoots over the years. Photos show her collecting pheasants in 2007, and holding her shotgun on a grouse shoot in 2009. She also sparked controversy when she was photographed deer stalking at Balmoral in 2007.

 

kate middleton grouse shooting 2009
Kate Middleton is photographed at a grouse shoot in 2009. Photo via Ikon Pictures/REX/Shutterstock

 

Kate and William showed their grotesque privilege when they hired a hunter to murder a fox because she was “fouling on little George’s garden toys and what have you.” The hunter said:

“They didn’t want the children running around on the grass with fox mess all over it. You can’t blame them.”

As the wife of the man next in line for the throne, Kate shoulders a great responsibility: after all, she has the power to – and in likelihood, does – influence a large number of young people who eagerly follow her moves through reading the press and social media. Through her actions, Kate is sending a clear message to the world that she condones the shooting of birds, that wielding a shotgun is completely normal, and that her bloodlust is just a bit of fun. Kate has the power to change her actions and also the narrative around the shooting industry – if she so wishes.

As for William, he is, ironically, the patron of the British Trust for Ornithology (taking over from his trigger-happy grandfather Philip). Yet William and his wife introduced their small son George to grouse shooting from an early age, ensuring that the little prince was brainwashed into supporting their murderous ways. It is beyond belief that, though this patronage, the prince purports to care for birds, yet guns down grouse (as well as other birds). William would likely make the claim that grouse shooting helps with conservation on the moors, that he is helping to keep a balance in the ecosystem. But there is nothing noble about an industry that meddles with said ecosystem by keeping a native population of birds artificially high, just so that they can be murdered for profit and kicks.

Harry and Meghan

Currently the most famous (ex) royal couple are Harry and Meghan. Harry is well known for his hunting and shooting past, having made headlines when he posed for a photo next to a water buffalo he had murdered in Argentina in 2004.

When it was released earlier in 2023, Harry’s memoir, Spare, broke the world record for the fastest-selling non-fiction book of all time. 3.2 million copies were sold worldwide in the first week alone. In the UK, 400,000 copies (in both hardback and digital format) were sold on its first day. The British public relishes celebrities, and Harry and Meghan’s lives in particular are obsessively followed.

While making his memoir, Harry will have been aware that his words would have an impact on those who read them. The book makes references about attending a partridge shoot in Spain, and about hunting weekends in England. And as Protect the Wild previously reported, Harry devoted space in the book to talk about how, as a teenager, he stalked and then murdered a stag on the grounds of Balmoral. You might be forgiven for thinking that Harry, who has distanced himself from his family since marrying Meghan, might be remorseful about his hunting and shooting past. But nothing could be further from the truth. He wrote that he had a “swelling pride” for killing the stag with a single shot through the heart.

 

Harry then said that his stalking guide:

“placed a hand gently behind my neck, and… pushed my head inside the carcass. I tried to pull away, but Sandy pushed me deeper. I was shocked by his insane strength. And by the infernal smell. My breakfast jumped up from my stomach. After a minute I couldn’t smell anything, because I couldn’t breathe. My nose and mouth were full of blood, guts and a deep, upsetting warmth.”

Protect the Wild’s Glen Black reported on the revelation, and said at the time:

What Harry experienced is a ‘bloodsport’ tradition known as blooding. And it’s not limited to deer stalking.

Blooding is a tradition in ‘blood sports’ extending back centuries. In shooting and stalking, a person’s face is smeared with the blood of the first animal they kill. In hunting with hounds, a person is blooded by the first kill they are present for. It is, in essence, a gruesome coming of age ritual.”

By describing in his book how he had a “swelling pride” when murdering the stag, Harry is effectively normalising a very brutal act. Rather than admitting that he murdered for kicks, Harry went on to try to justify his actions by saying that he was, in fact, single-handedly conserving the deer species. He said:

I’d also been good to Nature. Managing their numbers meant saving the deer population as a whole, ensuring they’d have enough food for winter. Finally, I’d been good to the community. A big stag in the larder meant plenty of good meat for those living around Balmoral.”

Of course, anyone who is anti-hunting will know that every single blood sports enthusiast in the UK attempts to hoodwink the public with this same lie – that they are actually hunting for the greater good of the species.

Since marrying Meghan, it’s been reported that Harry has sold his hunting rifles after she encouraged him to stop hunting. Protect the Wild argues that he is in a position to go a step further and denounce hunting and shooting altogether: after all, he has been outspoken in speaking out against many other habits of the Royal Family. With their huge following, Harry and Meghan have the power – and, we would argue, a responsibility – to open the world’s eyes to how outdated and barbaric shooting and hunting really are.

As for Meghan, she is largely seen as a decent role model who’s had a positive influence on her husband. She has been dubbed an intersectional feminist by a number of fans (intersectionality is where different forms of oppression overlap). Yet if Meghan were truly intersectional, she would include speciesism as a struggle to fight against, too. Meghan clearly cares – at least about some animals. She was previously patron of the Mayhew animal welfare charity, which works “to improve the lives of dogs, cats and the people in our communities…” We’d urge her to use her platform to speak out against all animal abuse: including grouse and pheasant shooting and fox hunting.

 

Charles

We now have a king who argues vehemently for “conservation”, and has even been called an “environment radical” by National Geographic. Yet he is a fervent supporter of hunting and shooting. Back in the early 2000s, King Charles was among those who lobbied Tony Blair not to ban fox hunting, calling the blood sport a “romantic relationship with dogs and horses”. The then-prince argued that “class war” was at play, in an attempt to change the narrative from being about animal cruelty. Charles also allegedly said to friends:

“If the Labour Government ever gets around to banning fox hunting, I might as well leave this country and spend the rest of my life skiing.”

Some might argue that it’s a shame that he didn’t.

Whilst being outspoken about saving the environment, Charles should reflect closer to home. He has inherited a number of grouse moors, including the Whitewell Estate in the Forest of Bowland, as well as land on the North York Moors.

It is now common knowledge that the practice of burning of peat moorland is extremely damaging to the environment. Protect the Wild’s Charlie Moores previously wrote:

“Blanket bogs (extensive flat peat bogs) on upland moors are not only biologically-rich landscapes – many of these areas contain Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – but they can hold enormous stores of carbon. In England, it is estimated that each year damaged upland peat bogs release the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere as 140,000 cars and in Scotland, peatlands are responsible for 13% of all emissions.”

We would urge Charles to ban the burning of moorland on his estates, which are not covered by the Heather & Grass Burning Regulations (England) 2021 legislation. The law has enforced a partial ban on heather burning, aimed at protecting some of the nation’s most sensitive peatland sites from being damaged for grouse shooting. The king has enormous power to truly act on behalf of the environment. If he banned burning on his grouse moors, there’s no doubt that other land owners would follow suit. Of course, the king could go a step further and ban grouse shooting completely, but as he is a keen shooter of birds himself, this seems like an unlikely outcome.

 

All is not lost

If the king and his family truly cared about conservation,  they would show this by taking concrete steps to end shooting and hunting on their estates, and – like a number of Scottish land owners – begin to rewild their land. Their actions would likely create a trickle-down effect across the country.

Grouse shooting in particular is being seen for what it truly is by more and more people: a horrific blood sport, creating untold suffering for birds, that wrecks the environment. The younger royals, at least, should recognise that there’s no space in modern society for an outdated and cruel industry. As Protect the Wild has pointed out:

“The modern bird shooting industry is no more about ‘tradition’‘ or ‘sport’ than is foxhunting. Similarly, it is, though, about violence, cruelty, and an unmerited sense of entitlement.”

It seems like an uphill battle to campaign for these elites, with said sense of entitlement, to change their ways. But in the meantime, we can rejoice that the new land owner of the Abergeldie estate, near Balmoral, has just banned the royals from shooting, hunting and fishing on his 11,500 acre land.