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Peak Persecution: The Dark Side of the Dark Peak

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A snare found at Wyming Brook boundary.

The iconic gritstone edges of the Dark Peak moors are a treasured hub for climbers, cyclists, runners, walkers, tourists and outdoors enthusiasts alike, providing a wild but accessible antidote to city life. Yet few know the darker side of this popular area. The Dark Peak moors have become a deadly place for wildlife which should flourish here and the hills are the scene of widespread environmental destruction.

Much of the Dark Peak moorland, including Stanage, Bamford, Strines and Langsett, is managed for driven grouse shooting (DGS). DGS is a blood sport in which huge numbers of Red Grouse are reared on the moors to be shot dead between August and December. Shooters pay thousands of pounds each for a day's shooting.

Rearing profitable numbers of grouse requires intensive land management. Gamekeepers are therefore employed to control the habitat and eliminate predators in order to maximise grouse stocks. This process has intensified over time and the management regime now amounts to a scandal for our local moors, which are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest within a National Park.

Securing evidence which can lead to prosecutions is notoriously difficult

In 2016, the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) conducted an undercover operation to expose the bloody truth of gamekeeping on the Moscar Estate, near Ladybower Reservoir. Moscar gamekeepers were filmed patrolling the moors daily, in full face masks, armed with military-grade firearms, shooting dead any wildlife which may compromise their grouse stocks. The gamekeepers set over 400 snares and thousands of barbaric traps, which caught and killed badgers, foxes, mountain hares, stoats and corvids. One gamekeeper was arrested on animal cruelty offences after allegedly snaring a badger, but the CPS dropped the case. Subsequently, an active local campaign group formed. Moorland Monitors now sustains a vigilant presence on the moors to identify further wildlife cruelty and crime.

The RSPB has secured evidence and convictions for illegal raptor persecution here and have highlighted many other suspicious incidents which did not lead to prosecutions. Hen harriers, goshawks, peregrine falcons and short-eared owls should all thrive in our uplands but are missing here. This is especially stark when compared with healthy populations in the nearby White Peak, which is not managed for DGS. Raptors and owls naturally predate on grouse, so they are not tolerated by gamekeepers. They are eliminated through trapping, poisoning, shooting and nest disruption. Securing evidence which can lead to prosecutions is notoriously difficult, which means it's essential that visitors know what to look out for and how to respond.

The upland habitat and ecology are also (mis)managed to support shooting interests. The vivid purple heather is a striking feature, but this virtual monoculture is damaging the hills. Heather is grown and burnt on a rotation cycle, because grouse prefer to feed on younger shoots and shelter in the older shrubs. Burning releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide, as it disturbs peat bogs which have formed over centuries, storing CO2. Releasing CO2 so rapidly is environmentally reckless.

Burning also destroys fragile moorland species such as sphagnum moss, which is critical for water storage. Moorland should retain water to prevent flooding in lowland communities. When gamekeepers burn the sphagnum and drain the bog to promote heather growth, residents downstream face increased flood risk. Burning also kills wildlife. A badger cub was found dead as a result of moorland burning this spring and basking adders are also killed in this way.

What makes the situation even more shocking is that grouse estates receive huge taxpayer-funded environmental subsidies. We prop up this system of mismanagement for private shooting profits, as well as subsidising gun licenses for keepers and shooting parties. This makes a mockery of the argument that DGS brings economic benefits to rural communities. At a time of continued austerity and climate emergency, these subsidies are a disgraceful misuse of public money.

The shooting lobby presents gamekeeping as responsible conservation

The shooting lobby presents gamekeeping as responsible conservation, claiming credit for the protection of a small number of ground nesting species and lauding this as biodiversity. This is selective conservation at best, a distraction from the mass persecution of other species. Grouse estates take advantage of the few species which can share the moors without compromising grouse stocks and cite their existence as conservation achievements. The decline of birds such as curlews and lapwings must be acknowledged, and the primary causes - bad farming practices - must be urgently addressed at source.

Locally and nationally, a fight back is now underway and many groups are rising up to protect the moors. Blood sport crime and cruelty will not be tolerated in this country and everybody can play a part in defending wildlife and habitat from DGS destruction.

We urge people to get involved. Get informed, get out there and get active for wildlife.

Hunt Investigation Team

Find out more about DGS and its impact on wildlife at Hen Harrier Day, Sunday 11 August, 12-5pm at Carsington Water Visitor Centre, DE6 1ST. Speakers include Chris Packham and Iolo Williams.

More information on the HIT website

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Moorland Monitors on Twitter

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