THE KILLING FIELDS
The further you walk east on the TGO Challenge, the more you come face to face with murder, on an industrial scale. There's nothing new about shooting estates in Scotland; Game shoots have been an established part of Scottish life for over a hundred years. However, recently I've noticed a dramatic change.
The hills in the east have been transformed from the rolling brown loveliness of the heather, to a dramatic chequerboard of muirburn. Game birds, usually grouse in this part of the world, feed on the young, more tender shoots of heather and so the estates regularly burn the heather in a patchwork to promote new growth.
The extent of muirburn is an indicator of how intensively the grouse moors are worked. The first picture, below, is how Glen Lee looked, in 2002. Mick Coady is cluttering up the foreground, descending from Muckle Cairn. You'll notice that there are one or two patches of muirburn.
|2002, WITH MICK COADY|
The next picture was taken a year later. My son Oli is standing in a patch of young heather that was probably burned back a couple of years previously. You'll note that the muirburn is substantially the same; I can't see any new areas.
|2003, WITH OLI SLOMAN. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
Fast forward ten years, to the picture below. That's some change, eh? All the hillsides are plastered with muirburn.
So why am I bothered about this? Surely it means that the Estate is making best use of the land to maximise the economic benefit of landownership, and providing employment. Yes. It does mean that.
|2013, WITH ANDY WALKER. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
Let me refer you back to the title of this piece: "A Murdering Monoculture." I'm not referring here to the chinless wankers who come up to the estates to murder birds for fun, as sickening and despicable as I find their behaviour. No. I'm talking about the Estates' murder, on an industrial scale, of the creatures who threaten the survival, in any way, of the grouse. Be they weasels, stoats, crows, or mountain hares (they can carry ticks which can reduce grouse populations), rest assured the Estates' employees are tasked to wipe them out.
This is carried out with a Holocaust-like fanaticism. They work only with the most cost effective ways of murdering the little creatures. For the birds, it's most often with Larsen traps. Once caught, the birds are beaten to death by the keeper - all quite legally. You can find out more about the many and various legal, and illegal, traps that are used regularly by shooting estates by clicking the link below:
However, you'll also note that many tagged raptors (eagles, buzzards, kites etc) seem to go "missing" around this part of Scotland, occasionally turning up dead somewhere miles away, dumped in a layby. You can read more about this by clicking the link below:
For an accurate take on Scottish shooting estates behaviour, I suggest you subscribe to the excellent site below:
All in all, it's a pretty sick industry, and one that, like Bear Baiting and sticking children up chimneys, should be abolished.
And now, for the last picture:
|2015 WITH PHIL LAMBERT [PHIL'S PICTURE] CLICK TO ENLARGE|
Please click on the picture to blow it up to a larger size. You'll note that climbing every hillside and along the top of every hill there are unsurfaced roads. The estates like to call them 'hill tracks'. But they are roads. You could quite easily drive your family car up these. They have all been built, or in some cases, rebuilt, in the last ten years or so. They stick out like sore thumbs.
They are only there so people who want to go about murdering birds with shotguns for fun, can be driven up the hill in a rather nice Range Rover. These roads do not need any planning permission, as they are there for "agricultural purposes."
When you are next approaching these areas this is what you will be faced with. The Killing Fields.
Suggested further reading on the subject:
EDIT 15th February 2016
EDIT: 13th March 2016
More mountain hares massacred in Cairngorm National Park