Yesterday afternoon was unseasonably glorious, so I decided to head up to the Moor.
There wasn't an awful lot going on, but that's not why I go up to the Moor.
On my way down from the edge, a chap with a spade and sack spotted me and my camera: “Landscape or wildlife?” he called. Both, I said.
It turned out he was the local gamekeeper, laying out grit for the grouse. We chatted for about 15 minutes. He is clearly trying to engage in outreach, to win over the hearts and minds of the locals. He explained that the people who shoot on the Moor aren't a bunch of toffs, but a local group of hard-working enthusiasts; how they only shoot for six days a year; how they only took over the care of the Moor a few years back, and how he reckons the place is a lot better maintained these days. I agreed: it is. He then asked me for any feedback or ideas.
I suggested that a few more boggy patches and pools might be in order (he told me they're working on this), and that the best way to combat the boom-bust predator-prey population cycles of the grouse-parasite and grouse would be to throw a few more predators into the mix. I don't think he was quite with me on this one. I pointed out that, in the 20+ years I've been walking on the Moor, I've only ever seen two buzzards, one peregrine, and not a single hen harrier. The northern moorland, I said, should be practically swarming with raptors.
“Hen harriers numbers have plummeted drastically in recent years,” he agreed. “Nobody's been able to work out why,” he added.
“It's because game-keepers keep shooting them,” I said, calling a spade a spade.
He explained that he had seen a hen harrier on the Moor last summer, and had nearly shot it by accident. He was about to shoot some crows, when he realised they were mobbing a harrier.
He asked me if I'd ever eaten grouse. I said I had, but that I thought it was overrated, and much preferred duck. He confessed that he didn't like the taste of grouse at all—far too strong—but assured me that all the grouse which are shot on the Moor do get eaten.
He seemed like a nice chap, but I'll never understand the mentality of people who enjoy blasting wild birds out of the sky for fun.
Much better to bag wild birds with cameras than shotguns, I reckon.