The word glorious is defined as ‘having, worthy of, or bringing fame or admiration‘ or ‘having a striking beauty or splendour‘. The ‘glorious’ 12th, on the other hand, marks the start of the slaughter of thousands of wild Red Grouse on moorlands across the UK. It is the date that the shooting industry has chosen to see a return for its investment in the ‘discouragement’ of Hen Harriers and other natural predators (not a single Hen Harrier chick was raised in England this year), its investment in the employment of cap-doffing gamekeepers, its investment in advertising killing sprees as eg suitable for a ‘stag do’ (ie as a good way to start married life). Its investment in selling the killing of wild birds as ‘normal’.
A Red Grouse, on the other hand, IS a glorious bird. It survives in an environment humans struggle to live in, its feathers blaze, and it is superbly adapted to escape aerial predation or out run four-footed mammalian predators on the ground. They are hard to see, hard to get close to, and beautiful, beautiful birds.
They are not hard to see or hard to get close to if you stand in a butt or in a dip in the land and wait while several lines of beaters repeatedly frighten the birds into flight straight towards you. This is not ‘glorious’. Grouse shooting is instead almost the definition of ‘industry making money from using sentient animals as live targets’. It is not sport either. The grouse doesn’t know it’s ‘playing’. The grouse can’t win anything. The rules are stacked against the grouse entirely in favour of the shooter. There is nothing glorious or sporting about an industry selling such one-sided killing for pleasure.
Why line up to massacre grouse? A grouse is not in any way a threat. It won’t attack you or pressure you into a reaction. No-one is intimidated by a grouse. It won’t shout at you for not completing work on time, cut you up at a roundabout, make your life more difficult, or insult your country or school. Shooters line up because it is harmless, beautiful, fast, and is intelligent enough to try to avoid predation. It is a glorious bird. These are reasons for admiration, not for using grouse as target practice.
The shooters I’ve met are sometimes charming, sometimes intelligent people. I suspect we might share an interest in the Ashes cricket tests and agree that Joanna Lumley is a national treasure. We might in fact share a hundred things, but I see a bird as something alive, not a target. I don’t view killing them enjoyable, fun, sport, or glorious. There are areas where our paths perhaps cross, but we are on very different roads in other words.
And I will never be persuaded to move towards their point of view. I won’t budge, compromise, make concessions, or agree that ‘cutting down’ on animal cruelty is good. ‘A little bit of cruelty’ is not better than ‘a lot of cruelty’. It is either cruel to blast shot into a living bird or it is not. It clearly is, and empathetic, caring, charming, and intelligent people I admire and want to spend time with think it is as well.
There are numerous studies linking animal abuse and cruelty to animals with domestic and child abuse. Shooters don’t recognise that their ‘sport’ is cruel or is a form of abuse. They disconnect from the killing. They lack empathy with the live target. They blur the lines, talking instead about numbers, quotas, and bags, about culture, tradition, and history. What would happen if they started to think of a grouse as a living, intelligent animal? Could they still then line up to kill them? And if they can, as they claim, empathise with the grouse yet still kill it for fun what does that say about shooting?
It would be hyperbolic and unjustified to describe all shooters as psycopaths. Interestingly though an online definition of psycopathy is as follows: ‘Psychopathy is among the most difficult disorders to spot. The psychopath can appear normal, even charming. Underneath, they lack conscience and empathy, making them manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) criminal…psychopathy is largely impervious to treatment.”
While I’m not going to label shooters, it’s ironic (but deliberate) that the shooting industry labels people like me who care about wildlife as ‘extremists’. It makes it far easier to sell the idea that we ‘don’t understand’ or are simply wrong. We do understand, and we are not wrong. It is not extreme to view killing wild birds for sport and profit as unjustifiable, unnecessary, or inglorious.
Most individual shooters won’t care what I think of course. They don’t seem to care about the birds they kill, so why would they care about someone discussing their apparent inability to relate to them? Most of them will never read this. That’s not a problem in any way because I’m not writing for them. As well as being an ‘extremist’ who cares about wildlife, I’m a birder. I would like other anti-shooting birders to know that there are other birders who feel as strongly about the killing taking place in the countryside as they do.
I also think that we birders have stood by and put up with this slaughter for far too long. The industry that normalises the killing of hundreds of thousands of birds by calling it ‘glorious’ or ‘sport’ has gone largely unchallenged by birders for many years. We should come together and challenge them. And if our favourite conservation organisations won’t (or can’t) stand shoulder to shoulder with us in challenging them too, then we should find individuals, groups, or organisations that will.
In a few days birds will start dying in huge numbers. If the media does report it they will largely follow the industry line. Gamekeepers will pat themselves on the back for helping their wealthy employers recoup their investment. Local hotel-owners will rejoice at the blip in trade. A few chefs will submerge the killing in a line of new recipes, and a few dull-thinking food critics will disregard the cruelty involved in bringing this ‘food’ to the table. And a few people who have never thought about killing a bird before will buy into industry advertising and be persuaded to contemplate a day spent surrounded by noise, alcohol, and death.
None of this will make the premeditated, industrial-scale, unbalanced, unfair, and unsporting slaughter of thousands of birds ‘glorious’. It is what it is and what it will always be until it’s stopped: a way for a few people to profit from slaughter. Such mass killing of wild birds is not acceptable in any other area of our lives. It’s not acceptable when it’s done in the mountains of Italy, with lime-sticks in Cyprus, with mist nets in Egypt, or with stone-traps in southern France. It is just abuse, depressing cruelty that belongs to an earlier equally inglorious age.
The ‘glorious’ twelfth? It’s not going to be glorious this year, wasn’t in any past year, and won’t be in any of the remaining years that the shooting industry continues to promote it. No matter how they try to wrap it up it and sell it, and no matter what they call it…