The Gift of Grouse, a lobby group for the blood sports industry in Scotland, have issued a press release in which they seek to reassure us that it’s good to burn vast strips of our countryside, they laughingly call it Heather on FireOK! They even have a Twitter hashtag for it #hetheronfireok!, although if they were truly understood Twitter they would know that hashtags don’t use punctuation marks. Muirburn is the name that is used for burning the heather, it is used in order to control scrub and to re-generate the heather. This then provides food for grouse.
The whole purpose of this group is to portray the blood sports estates in a benign light, like they are really managing the landscape for the benefit of all. But this is not the case, the continued burning of the heather prevents the land from regenerating naturally and produces a variegated landscape with which we have become all to familiar. Have a look at this picture from Google Maps, it shows the area around Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire. It could be a photo from any upland area in Scotland.
Balmoral courtesy of Google Maps
There can be no doubt that the landscape is being intensively managed, each one of those strips is the result of burning. Muirburn is governed by the Muirburn Code, regular readers of this site will know that when something is governed by a code there are vested interests at play.
Muirburn is not a harmless thing, it is not some necessary evil which we should accept. It is the wanton destruction of our native environment for the purpose of providing “sport” to the select few who can afford to pay upwards £140 for the privilege of killing a brace of black grouse. When the heather is set alight most larger mammals and birds will get away, but lots of smaller animals, reptiles and invertebrates will be killed since they are just too slow to get away.
Muirburn significantly lowers the water table in the burnt areas, this results in the drying out of the peat which releases carbon into the atmosphere. It also affects the amount of water which the peat can store, combine this with the draining of the peat bogs on the grouse moors and any excessive rainfall is going to rush into the rivers and produce flooding downstream, as happened in Ballater, just downriver of the above photo, last winter. These floods are the tears of our land.
Flooding endangers lives and property, it results in increases in insurance premiums for everyone. In effect all of us are paying for the effects of this poor land management, witness the announcement of the Flood Re scheme yesterday. At least it will help some homeowners to insure their properties, but this will be achieved by foisting a levy onto all insurers, who will pass the cost on to everyone. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be happy because he has just increased the Insurance Premium Tax by 0.5% to 10%, this is after a rise of 3.5% last November.
The same lobby group also released a PR piece about the culling of mountain hares, they place the usual spin on it about protection of the environment blah, blah, blah. But the harsh reality is this (photo courtesy of Raptor Persecution Scotland):
Angus Glens mountain hare slaughter. Courtesy of Raptor Persecution Scotland
You see, mountain hares get in the way of grouse shooting. The reason for this slaughter, which repeats itself across Scotland, is cited that the hares spread ticks. That is why they must be butchered annually. And all because the the rich folk want to pursue “the sport of kings.”
These shooting estates are very often owned through offshore tax havens so it is almost impossible to find out who the beneficial owners are, perhaps the Panama Papers may throw some light on some of them. But you ca be sure that every one of the blood sports estates will be receiving a hefty subsidy from the EU. That’s more of our money going to them, but we can’t find out how much or to whom. Most of the blood sports estates are run at a loss, which helps to minimise the owners’ tax liabilities elsewhere. Leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab once more.
To my mind the only way to really get a grip on these blood sports estates, and to find out who the beneficial owners are, is to make them all apply for a licence. We could call it the “blood sports licensing scheme”. We could then ensure that the land is being managed in a manner which befits the many, not the rich few.
The Scottish Government needs to be much bolder in its next term. To that end we cannot allow the pressure groups like The Gift of Grouse and Scottish Land & Estates to dominate the debate. The land belongs to all of us, it is merely being (mis)managed by these people. If this is an issue which you feel strongly about, make your voice heard. After all there are elections soon, don’t let the entirety of the debate be about tax. It’s our land after all.