I understand that Mummy took you along to a grouse shoot in Scotland a few days, so that you could watch Daddy killing lots of birds which were flying up into the sky.
He was shooting them dead, along with lots of other people. These people say that shooting birds in this way is sport, so I took a look in my dictionary (it’s a bit like the first dictionary you will have at school, but without the pictures) to find the definition of “sport”.
It says Sport: A game or competitive activity, esp. an outdoor one involving physical exertion, e.g. cricket, football, racing, hunting. (Concise Oxford Dictionary).
Two words jump out when I think of the grouse shooting you went to see Daddy taking part in. One of them is competitive, the other, hunting.
If something is competitive it usually means there is a contest between two people, or two teams, usually equally matched, with one side or one person pitting their wits and skill against each other. Daddy is keen on football. That is competitive. Shooting birds which fly up into the air, frightened and scared by people called beaters, so they can be shot and killed is not a competitive sport, is it? How can innocent birds be equally matched against people with guns? Does that seem fair?
So what about hunting? This is different from driven grouse shooting. The shooter might still want to kill grouse, but instead of standing inside a bunker waiting for the birds to be scared into flying upwards so they can be shot and killed, the hunter will have to engage with certain skills, such as walking quietly in the countryside, reading the signs and listening to the sounds of nature to find the bird of animal he or she is trying to shoot and kill.
Why might the hunter want to shoot and kill birds or animals? Good question. If someone is hungry, or depends on living on the land in the wild, then they need to eat. Not many people live like this. Mummy and Daddy certainly don’t. But some people, who do not have a lot of money for food, or who live off the land, might need to shoot birds and animals sometimes, so they have food to eat.
Hunting for grouse like this is different from the driven grouse shooting Mummy took you to see. There is a fair chance the hunter will not be successful in shooting and killing anything, so it seems a bit fairer and more competitive; the grouse stands a good chance of getting away.
I wonder, George, if Mummy and Daddy told you that lots of other wildlife is put to death to make sure that the grouse that are killed are kept healthy before they are shot. If you like the bunnies and hares you see in your story books, and the foxes and big powerful exciting birds, like eagles and harriers, and swift-of-speed peregrines, these are often culled (that’s a grown up word for “kill”) so that they won’t get hold of any grouse chicks and eat them for food before they’re old enough to scared into the sky so they can be shot.
Funny old world isn’t it?
I’ve put a picture into this letter for you. It’s of a bird called a Hen Harrier. They are hunters and kill other small birds and animals for food. It’s their nature to do this. But some of the gamekeepers, and some people who work on the shooting estates you’ve been to, do nasty things to Hen Harriers and their chicks, even though it’s against the law to harm them. They trap them, kill them, poison them, shoot them and generally do away with them.
Crazy old world.
Maybe Mummy and Daddy will take you birdwatching one day and you’ll be able to enjoy the magnificence of these birds (they’re called raptors) for yourself. There is a place for everything in nature, especially if it’s allowed to be how and what it’s meant to be.
Nannybirds (my grandchildren made this name up for me as they know I like birds)