We recently spent a few days in the North Pennines and we stopped in a wonderful holiday cottage on the edge of moorland with the magnificent Hamsterly Forest bordering the other side of the moorland. Of course as a landscape and wildlife photographer I was expecting some great things from this few days away. Sadly I was to find that all was not as it seemed.
Hamsterley Forest is managed by Forestry England who actively encourage wildlife and from our position so close to this we where expecting a huge range of species. Over the three days we spent here we walked eight miles every day and where able to get a really good feel for the area. On the drive to the cottage on a single track road the first interesting point to note was the number of baby rabbits both alive and killed on the road. Immediately, at this early stage my eyes where drawn to the electricity/communications poles that bordered the road expecting to see the familiar site of a buzzard perched on every other pole. Strange, not one was spotted on the two miles of single track. Still it was early days.
We took our first walk that afternoon, an out and back route that took us over the moorland. There where grouse a plenty and also a high number of Curlew, Plover and Lapwing. Oh, and of course the rabbits. On top of the moor I had hoped to see a short eared owl or perhaps a hen harrier. Sadly there was nothing not even a Kestrel.
This same story was played out on the next two walks we did all had some moorland, farmland and woodland. Over three walks I counted not one bird of prey. On our second walk we also bumped into the estates female gamekeeper. She topped the rise on her quad bike and could be seen hastily sheathing her gun before approaching us down the hill. She seemed nice enough although there appeared to be a veiled warning about keeping to the paths and being extra careful with our dog as there where grouse chicks everywhere. We advised her that our dog does not come off the lead as she is a rescue dog. I had my camera and told her I was a wildlife photographer. She wasn’t very helpful on wildlife and it soon became clear to me there was little I could learn from her. I wondered later if keeping to the paths might also keep us from seeing something else that may be going on?
Every evening we where treated to the site of her tweed clad husband slowly emerging from his back door with his gun and walking to a pile of wood before shooting into the ground presumably shooting rabbits. He did this every ten minutes for a couple of hours.
Killing in the Name of
The moorland itself, as the title of this blog infers was not too far away from the moons surface. The heather has been regularly burnt and cut, presumably to allow a few over privileged pricks to descend on the place and shoot anything that moves during the grouse shooting season. We took macro lenses in the hope of some moorland mini beasts but apart from a few green tiger beetles it was largely sterile. The shots we did get where from the Hamsterly Forest. I have witnessed similar things in Derbyshire but I have to say they look positively flourishing compared to this ecological disaster.
Now I have to say I have no firm proof of what is going on here , but laying my cards on the table I am 90% certain that the management of the grouse moor can explain everything that is happening here. A plague of rabbits, why because these grouse moor guardians of the environment have annihilated every apex predator to protect the grouse. Not a fox, stoat or bird of prey is allowed to live in this sterile moonscape. So you have to spend your time wasting shot on the rabbit plague. I know what they will then say to defend themselves, but what about the waders we provide a habitat for? This I’m afraid is inconsequential. I would bet large sums of money that if curlew started to down grouse chicks they would soon mysteriously disappear.
A Non-Grouse eater!
Despite the wonderful cottage we will not be going back here. It is such a shame that what could be a wonderful haven for wildlife has been spoilt to provide a part time playground for a privileged few. At time in the past I had found myself falling for the rhetoric of these grouse moor custodians, that they where really protectors and enhances of the environment. The evidence here was stark and this behaviour really does have to stop. The sad thing is that this area could make far more money from its landscape by actually working to protect the environment for its wildlife. How much money do the white-tailed sea eagles bring to the Isle of Mull?
Anyway, here are a few images I did get and I will leave you with this. I happened to mention to the female gamekeeper that I had just seen a roe deer heading off the moorland and into a small wood. Presumably it had cut across the moor from Hamsterley Forest. She could not hide a tut and exclaimed they cause us problems as well. I could also see her itching to reach for the gun!
Until next time.