Acting upon reports of illegal badger persecution in the Peak District National Park, the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) launched an operation on the Moscar Estate, a driven grouse shooting estate owned by the Duke of Rutland.
The HIT conducted covert surveillance throughout spring 2017, monitoring the Estate’s snare and trap sites. This revealed systematic programme of wildlife persecution, which intentionally targeted iconic species on popular open access moorland and in the vicinity of celebrated nature reserves. The whole regime is conducted to ensure artificially high numbers of grouse are available to be shot for “sport” during the autumn months.
Video: Summary of our findings. Warning: contains distressing images
An estimated 400 wire snares are set across the estate, in addition to a variety of traps to catch mammals and birds. These were found close to Stanage and Bamford Edges, Ladybower and Redmires Reservoirs and on the boundaries of Wyming Brook SSSI and Fox Hagg Nature Reserve. Masked gunmen – the Estate’s gamekeepers – were filmed patrolling the sites daily, eliminating wildlife. The area is active badger and mountain hare territory: many fall victim to the regime. The area is also immensely popular with visitors: most are unaware of the devastation. Numerous unregulated bird and mammal traps are placed on the immediate boundaries of nature reserves: calculated to attract the many species concentrated in these supposedly protected areas.
One snare site – directly below Bamford Edge – was monitored closely over a four week period. This was just one of the many snare sites, on one of the many grouse moors, within the National Park. It offers a snapshot of snare site activity: the scenes filmed by the HIT are no doubt replicated on similar sites throughout the Estate and on grouse moors elsewhere. During the four weeks, two badgers, one mountain hare, one fox and three lambs were found caught. Wildlife endured terrible physical and mental suffering in snares.
One badger was shot and hastily dragged off to be buried in a nearby wood. A second badger was caught overnight and endured a prolonged capture and botched release, which resulted in being snared a second time and finally escaping wounded and with snares apparently still around her neck. Her injuries and stress mean that she most likely died afterwards. A female mountain hare was found prone, wailing and dying in a snare. A veterinary post mortem found that she died from internal bleeding and stress. A fox struggled frantically to free itself before being shot three times upon the gamekeeper’s eventual arrival. If these animals had dependent young, they will probably have died of starvation.
The indiscriminate snares caught 71% non-target species (excluding the pet dogs). This mirrors DEFRA’s own findings in 2012 – of a 73% non-target species species captures. The HIT monitored numerous snare sites on the Estate and found breaches of legislation and guidance at each. This again mirrors DEFRA’s own findings. Snares were repeatedly set on active badger land where the gamekeepers knew they were likely to be caught. They were set low to the ground, in a manner likely to catch non-target species. They were set into steep stink pits, where animals could be strangled. They were set amongst branches, which entangled captured animals.
Many other traps were also set. Large mammal traps were placed in the immediate vicinity of active badger setts, and one is known to have caught a badger overnight. A spent cartridge was found beside the trap the next morning. These traps are placed on the land of complicit farmers around the moor, dispelling the myth that bad practices are those of rogue individuals: they are facilitated by others in the know.
Fenn traps – which were internationally condemned in 2016 – litter the gullies and dry stone walls of the upper moorland, killing stoats, weasels and other small mammals. Many are just meters from public footpaths on the most iconic moors including Bamford and Stanage Edges.
Bird traps were also placed across the moorland and close to nature reserves. Some were baited with carrion, which is a clear suggestion that the gamekeepers intended to catch raptors, which is illegal. Jays, magpies and crows suffered terribly in the traps throughout the spring, and any nesting young are likely to have died.
Carcasses were thrown into “stink pits” filmed at other snare sites, to draw in other wildlife to suffer the same fate. The gunmen continue to set snares on areas with a high rate of badger capture. There is evidence of five badger captures on the Bamford site.
There is no independent monitoring or regulation of the use of traps and snares by gamekeepers, which means that terrible wildlife crime and suffering has gone on completely unchallenged for decades. The HIT has now revealed the truth for all to see.
Tax payers subsidise the industry: through substantial agricultural payments made to the wealthy Moscar Estate owners (thought to be over £2 million being paid over 10 years); contributing to the cost of gun licences (£120 of the total £200 cost of each application); and bearing the expense of additional water filtration caused by ecological damage to the moorland.
Gamekeepers present their activity as responsible custodianship of the coutryside. The shooting lobby takes credit for the conservation of a small number of ground nesting species such as lapwings and curlews and lauds this as biodiversity.
This is selective conservation at best, and a distraction from the mass persecution of other species. The draining and burning of the moors is to sustain a heather-based habitat to accommodate primarily grouse and consequently birds such as curlews comes at the cost of numerous other species which cannot thrive in such a sterile environment.
Whilst the decline of birds such as curlews, lapwings and golden plover is acknowledged, the primary cause is bad farming practices. The solution is to address these damaging practices, not to strip the uplands of other native wildlife in order to facilitate birds which do not threaten grouse moor profits.
The scale of persecution in the Peak District National Park has never before been revealed. The driven grouse shooting season will commence on August 12th and the persecution continues year round. Conservationists and the general public have already condemned driven grouse shooting’s cruel and destructive practices.
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