ROD & GUN: The old days were best on the moors and the rivers

Horseupcleugh estate in the Lammermuir Hills in the Borders  HEATHER COMES INTO BLOOM ON THE MOORS NEAR Longformacus , IN THE SCOTTISH BORDERS. STAND ALONE , CALENDAR PIC. pic phil wilkinson / tspl 10/08/2007
Horseupcleugh estate in the Lammermuir Hills in the Borders HEATHER COMES INTO BLOOM ON THE MOORS NEAR Longformacus , IN THE SCOTTISH BORDERS. STAND ALONE , CALENDAR PIC. pic phil wilkinson / tspl 10/08/2007

People living in the countryside who seek to protect vulnerable, indigenous wildlife by legal means are being treated with contempt by government departments, especially Environment and DCAL.

Read through today’s article and you will see how communities in heather clad areas could be immeasurably better off if old ways could be revisited and of how DCAL is suffocating the sport of angling.

I am old enough to remember a time when knowledgeable visitors paid handsomely to enjoy a few days on the moors. But, sadly, those visitors have been replaced by a cohort of furtive, long haired misfits who are accused of constantly spying on men and women on hill farms who never thought of lifting a finger against raptors or predators, even the most harmful kind. And I have got a hint of serious environmental abuse in Tyrone. But more of that next week.

Let me say straight away that I am going to take the lazy way out today and refer you to the fount of knowledge for your enlightenment rather than trying to get a veritable lagoon of facts and figures into one pint sized space.

What I propose to do is let moor owners, tenants and local communities know just how valuable an asset, environmentally and socially, a grouse moor could be if properly looked after.

I know that some good people in Northern Ireland are going the extra mile in an attempt to save grouse stocks from extinction but I won’t ask them how they are getting on lest it should attract the attention of such miscreants as those who specialised in lamping live adult grouse at night and passing them off as their own.

Among those who are doing great work in the Republic are the members of the Glenfarne Gun Club in Co Leitrim and their grouse project manager on Boleybrack mountain, John Carslake, who has had keepering experience on Scottish moors. An article by Marese McDonagh in the Irish Times last month showed that grouse numbers on Boleyhbroke had risen to 98 pairs from the four pairs counted there in 2007.

John Carslake started work on the moor in 2012 and has concentrated on habitat improvement and predator control.

True sportsmen will wish John all the luck in the world but he knows he has still a long way to go before he can rest easy; the more success he has the more he will draw in unwanted species from adjoining areas.

Sadly, I know from bitter experience how one jealous individual could destroy several moors after grouse stocks had been built up to something to be proud of. A man with lamp and net can do an awful lot of damage in one night.

So, what am I on about? Well, I have been studying a mountain of work by Dr Rob McMorran and Dr Ros Bryce on Community Perceptions and Socio Economic Impacts of Grouse Shooting and Moorland Management on the Mondhliath and Angus Glens in Scotland.

In Angus 35 per cent (of the local population) reported direct or indirect dependence on grouse shooting for their livelihoods compared with 24 per cent on the Mondhliath.

I found the results of their research most interesting but I will confine quotations to that part relating to the financial aspects of moorland management.

Dr McMorran and Dr Bryce say: “Estate survey findings demonstrate that sporting employment is higher in Angus than in the Mondhliath, linked to higher spend, larger grouse bags, larger areas of grouse moor and a higher number of estates.

“Gamekeeping staff totalled 64 in Angus and 28 in the Mondhliath, spending on average 53 per cent (of their time) on grouse related activities. There were 110 FTE estate employees in Angus and 44 in the Mondhliath with seasonal employment increasing these figures to 130 and 56 respectively.

“Total revenues from sporting activities in 2014 was £2.6 million (£2m of which related to grouse in Angus and to £545k (£207k of which related to grouse on the Mondhliath.

“Calculations suggested per hectare revenues of £76.59 in Angus and £15.63 in the Mondhliath. Total sporting expenditure in 2014 was £6m in Angus and £1.7m in the Mondhliath, an estimated 60 per cent of which was on grouse moor management in both areas. Calculations suggested per/ha expenditure of £108 in Angus and £61 in the Mondhliath.”

But be warned. The other side of the balance sheet showed that the level of expenditure when investment expenditure is included was considerably higher than revenue in both study areas, indicating that, across all years, that on average sporting land management in the case study areas was at a significant cost. This equated to a total net cost in 2014 of £3,458 in Angus and £1.231 in the Mondhliath.

But if you take an active part in management of a moor the cost can be lessened exponentially by the craic you can have if you are lucky enough to find an assistant like the one I had, Padraig Scally a Cushendun farmer. I can truthfully say I would prefer a day on the moor with good friends than even the costliest of holidays on the Continent or elsewhere.