The Controversy of Langholm Moor

To broaden my understanding of the conservation work that is going on around me, I visited Langholm Moor in Dumfries and Galloway. The moor is a man-made habitat and has been completely deforested. It is home to an ongoing project to resolve the controversy regarding raptors and grouse. Grouse shooting is the main source of income for the site, and raptors such as the Red-listed Hen Harrier are being persecuted for predating on multiple grouse species. I got to meet Simon Lester, one of the site’s gamekeepers until his recent retirement. He showed me round the site and explained some of the problems the moor is experiencing.

Langholm Moor by day
Gamekeeper Simon Lester

The Demonstration Project on the moor aims to restore “grouse moor management… as a way of meeting the conservation objectives of the site” (Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, 2010). There are several elements to the programme:

The habitat will be controlled using measures such as heather burning, heather restoration and control of livestock and feral goats. The heather is burnt down for several reasons. Simon explained that the grouse can only feed on heather when it is cut short. Also, heavy grazing from livestock in past years has severely reduced the quality of the heather that grows on the moor, so it is regularly reseeded and sprayed with fertiliser. I asked Simon how he controls the burning process, as it seems an extreme way to manage heather growth. In response, he said burning is a lot easier than cutting, but occasionally they do lose control of the flames. The process needs to be carefully planned and carried out over time in a mosaic pattern, so as to keep a variety of heather plots of different ages.

There are now no sheep present on the moor, but a small population of feral goats remains. In past years a mass culling of some four hundred individuals was carried out, leaving two hundred goats remaining. While the population size has now undoubtedly increased since then, goats are a lot less damaging to vegetation than sheep who, to quote George Monbiot, leave the habitat “sheep-wrecked” (Monbiot, G., 2013).

Another part of the project involves controlling populations of predators that prey on the grouse. While common species such as foxes, crows and stoats are culled on site, protected species such as the hen harrier are unaffected. Simon showed me a snare used to trap foxes. By law, the snares need to have stops fitted, which lock the snare mechanism and avoid strangling the animal. Simon makes a daily round of some three hundred snares, and shoots any trapped foxes he finds. This is a more humane approach to dealing with the problem, a combination of the stop-fitted snares and a quick death.

Trap used for mustelids (weasels and stoats)

Measures to control disease amongst grouse have been put into place on the moor. Simon explained how birds such as grouse digest the fibrous food they eat by swallowing grit found naturally on moorland. To combat the nematode worm Trichostrongylus, which has a devastating effect on grouse numbers, gamekeepers provide the birds with medicated grit, which protects them against infection and prevents crashes in populations. However, as stated on the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog (2015), grouse often deposit faecal matter in the grit boxes, which can result in the spreading of disease. When I visited Langholm Moor, there was faeces present in the box Simon showed us, suggesting perhaps that there are flaws to the plan and in fact disease can still be spread even with the medicated grit.

Box of medicated grit

Another measure to conserve the grouse on the moor is diversionary feeding. This involves providing food for nesting hen harriers to deter them from predating on grouse chicks. For the first two to three months of the breeding period, gamekeepers provide carrion – namely rats and cockerel chicks from nearby farms – for the harriers to lessen grouse predation. This seems effective, but Simon told us the technique doesn’t actually affect grouse numbers, as the population tends to decrease in winter not summer. Therefore, the expense required to feed the harriers seems largely wasteful, if there is no measured improvement in grouse stock.

Post upon which carrion is placed, white post in background indicates hen harrier nest
Bonus find: vole skull

So where does Simon want the project to go? He wants to see all buzzards killed, as the species is so abundant. The priority on the moor is grouse, and any species that threatens its wellbeing is either culled or, in the case of the protected hen harrier, discouraged from including grouse in their diet.

The sun sets over the moor

After visiting Langholm Moor, I am left with mixed feelings. Simon seemed such a passionate naturalist with knowledge of a broad range of species, yet he supports the death of a native British species for sport. The grouse that are shot on the moor are left where they fall, not even eaten. I am not a vegetarian, and believe that we as a race were designed to eat meat, but killing animals for the pleasure alone is a travesty. How different is this to poaching lions? Money changes hands, a bullet is fired. Perhaps I have not yet grasped the full intentions of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, but from what I have learnt on the trip and during my research for this post, I have come to the conclusion that sustaining an area of upland moor by shooting a species that lives in it, seems a very sad way to maintain our country’s biodiversity. It just goes to show how little our government cares for wildlife, when grouse shooting is the only source of income for a site of nature.


5 thoughts on “The Controversy of Langholm Moor

  1. You claims to love animals but you literally EAT them. It doesn’t matter if we were designed to eat meat, we can survive without it. The meat industry is destroying this planet and by supporting them you’re helping. But I’m sure its all worth it for some bacon right? There’s no difference in sports hunting and aiding towards the torture and suffering of millions of animals because they taste good. The article was a good read but i cant stand your hypocrisy.


    1. Thank you for commenting! I believe it’s the quantity of meat we eat that’s the problem, not the fact that we eat it in the first place. If we farmed sustainably there would be much less of an issue. I also believe there is a massive difference between killing animals to eat and killing them for one moment’s adrenaline rush. I’m sorry to have upset you but I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that people who can’t grow their food and have to hunt to survive should. But in the western world we’ve grown past that. And by supporting people who torture animals so we can have a MacDonalds or sunday roast, aren’t going to change their farming techniques while people still support them. They’re ruining the homes of all the wild animals so we can breed more and more pigs and cows that will be raised in cruel conditions, all for our pleasure. I think to start farming sustainably, we need to boycott anything that’s helping towards the destruction of the earth and animal cruelty. I know people say it’s their choice to eat meat, but the animals have no choice in keeping their lives. Just how the grouse and other predators no longer have a choice, all in the name of sport. It’s really not that different. Its all killing for human greed. By not supporting the slaughtering of animals you’re helping the earth and you’re also helping end the suffering of wild and farmed animals too. There really is no con to it.


    1. You say ‘by supporting people who torture animals so we can have a MacDonalds or sunday roast, aren’t going to change their farming techniques while people still support them.’ And I agree. But there are hundreds and thousands and people who don’t care about animals and will never be vegetarian, so there will always be demand for meat. I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think the problem will ever be eradicated.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, there are people that will never be vegetarian. But that doesn’t stop the ones who know the damage being caused by factory farming from doing something about it, and whether that’s activism or just stopping supporting those companies, it will make a difference. You’re not contributing towards the destruction of earth and animals. I’d find it hard to be angry and people who kill animals for sports, if I was indirectly helping towards the slaughter of millions of animals a year. The difference is we just don’t see it happening, so as a society we’ve become desensitized to it. As a person who loves this planet and loves all animals equally, i feel its worse to know whats going on and doing absolutely nothing to change it or yourself, than to be ignorant to the situation. We should show compassion to all animals and people, because compassion is the only thing that will ultimately save the earth and stop the slaughter.

        Liked by 1 person

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