The scenes found by the Hunt Investigation Team during the Moscar Estate Investigation are no doubt replicated on grouse moors across the country. Our findings mirrored DEFRA’s own 2012 report: 71% non-target species capture and breaches of legislation/guidance at every snare site visited. The scale of persecution is truly horrifying and yet has never been fully highlighted before.
In reponse to the many enquiries we have received from around the country, the following info may be of use to people keen to monitor their local estates. Please note this article is not exhaustive – there are many more websites with invaluable info too, not least the shooting industry’s own publications.
The grouse shooting season runs from August – December each year. However, there is a year-round programme of “land management” and preparation which accompanies this, in order to maximise the shooting season’s profits. This includes primarily heather burning and “predator control”. Much valuable and equally shocking info can be found elsewhere on environmental damage and raptor persecution. HIT will focus on the previously untold mammal persecution.
Gamekeepers exploit natural cycles to maximise their persecution efforts. Preparing a grouse moor for the season of shooting (responsible for the slaughter of millions of birds in its own right) also involves the systematic eradication of any other species deemed detrimental to the grouse population. Although grouse are a native species, their numbers are manipulated leading to a weakened genetic population and the decimation of many other moorland inhabitants. Foxes, badgers, stoats, weasels, hares, raptors and corvids are all eliminated through a range of crude killing techniques. Some species are natural predators of wild birds’ eggs – this is part of a balanced ecology which is essential for our native wildlife. However, when they predate upon the eggs of grouse intended for shooting, they become a threat to the shoot estate profits, and are therefore ruthlessly persecuted. Gamekeepers have a full time job removing any creature which might compromise the estate’s profits.
The late winter/early spring period is critical as this is when wild mammals are pregnant. If a gamekeepers can eliminate a pregnant female before she gives birth, an entire litter is wiped out. Therefore March – May are busy times on the moors and any time the public spend monitoring is valuable. Snares, Fenn traps, Larsen traps, pole traps and poisons are just some of the methods employed by gamekeepers to kill their prey. The legalities of these and how best to respond need consideration in their own right. Please see other websites for full details, as the laws are different in different parts of the UK. Many estates are on private land, but a surprising number are on open access moorland which the public has every right to visit. Thousands of animals are dying in barbaric traps meters from where the public walk, run, climb and cycle.
Gamekeepers are routinely found to break the law, setting traps illegally and killing protected species, safe in the knowledge that few people know what to look for. The HIT wants to public to be informed and empowered to challenge this. Some traps are set ostensibly legally but can be used to illegal ends, for example catching non-target species. This has historically had little attention, and more watching eyes are needed. Moors can seem like large and intimidating places, but in fact they are quite easy to understand from a gamekeeper’s perspective. Keepers do not want to traipse over vast areas of heather and bog, so use routine sites and methods generally close to the “moorland fringe” – the lower edges where moor meets roads and farmland. Identifying access points and often quad tracks leading from them can be a giveaway sign of a gamekeeper’s site. A gamekeeper will follow a set routine and often use the same sites over many years.
Key features which may indicate the presence of a snare site:
Snare sites may be used for a few months a year or for the whole year – sites may become inactive for a time, and it important to keep checking for changes. Key features which may indicate the presence of a snare site are listed below:
- Access points: Snare sites usually start within walking distance of a gate which is reached by vehicle, on the moorland/farmland fringe. They are rarely a long way onto the moor because the keeper needs to access them easily each day. Look for well defined vehicle tracks which come to a stop shortly into the moor.
- “Moorland fringe” – This is the rough boundary where the moor (heathery and often open access) meets farmland (often grassy and private). By controlling the fringe, the keepers act as “gatekeepers” to the moor, controlling who/what can live up there.
- Gullies and Scrub: Keepers will often use the cover of thin woodland to hide a snare site/stink pit, particularly where this features along with a brook, which is the mammals’ water supply. If the wood is fenced off, it is particularly likely. Look on an OS map where the gullies come down off the moor to the fringe. If there is access and any woodland, it is highly worth walking up both sides to check.
- Fencing: Snare sites will often be barbed-wire fenced, with channels opened up around the perimeter for animals to be drawn in (to the central stink bin). Any small fenced off area, particularly with the channels, is highly suspect.
- Rhodedendrons: Favoured by keepers since the Victorian times and a high chance of concealing snares. Often channelled out and lined with snares in a labyrinth towards the stink pit. Truly horrifying to follow round – there may be upto 50 snares in the circuit. Either within other woodland, or fenced off separately on the moor.
- Infrastructure: Snares are often held in by sturdy metal stakes which anchor them to the ground. Even when snares are inactive, the rusty stakes approx 30cm high are often left in along the pathway.
- Nature reserves: Keepers have been known to place snares, badger traps, corvid and raptor traps on the boundaries of nature reserves, as the high populations of wildlife may predate on grouse stocks.
- Stink pits/bins: A bin or bag full of rotting carcassess may remain, even when snares are inactive. Uncovered carcasses may also be strewn.
- Open channels through heather: Not all snare sites are enclosed. Some large sites run across the moorland, in clearly cut channels through the heather.
- Badger setts: Sadly, it is necessary to check the vicinity of badger setts because they are often targetted. Worth checking for snares and cage traps, which may be concealed along dry stone walls under scrub.
Keepers use any feature which naturally attracts or funnels animals as a way to trap them. Fenn traps are set along dry stone walls (often concealed in wooden boxes or under large stones), to catch small rodents running route down the walls. They are also placed on poles placed horizontally over water, so the animals will be caught as they try to cross a brook for example. Snares are often placed around a “stink pit” – a bin or pile of rotting carcasses which attracts foxes in to feed. Ladder and Larsen traps are placed on the high moors, often on the edge of woods, to capture birds. Pole traps are placed on top of tree stumps, poles or walls, again to catch birds. Eggs or carcasses may be laced with poison – beware.
Most keepers will do a morning round just after dawn – checking their snares and traps for nocturnal animals caught overnight. Some will also do an evening round. Keepers may also go “lamping” – late night shooting of animals using a bright lamp to startle them. They are very familiar with the moors and are generally employed by rich landowners. However, they are accountable to their employers and the law, so they cannot act with impunity, despite generations of exactly this. Reputation is everything to a grouse moor. Bad publicity and exposing the truth are highly effective in countering decades of hidden crime and persecution, and giving a voice to the countless animals who suffer and die for the estate’s profits.
In addition, gamekeepers are also known to catch foxes live and supply them to hunts! This was the case in our South Herefordshire Hunt Investigation. They may also dig with terriermen. Their dirty worlds are closely connected, so it’s well worth getting to know your local moors as well as traditional fox hunt territory.