Bolton Abbey is paying attention to criticism of grouse shooting, but now it needs to act

As the UK takes the first steps out of lockdown and people begin to book a day out or a staycation, Bolton Abbey, nestled in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, is off the cards for many.

The top visitor destination is facing a growing public boycott after it admitted to performing a cruel cull of cats and other animals, to ‘protect’ game birds being reared for shooting on its 13,500-acre grouse moor. The outcry follows a visitor to Bolton Abbey being left distressed after becoming entangled in a snare, an anchored wire noose used by grouse moors to catch and later kill animals considered a threat to game birds.

It’s not only human visitors to grouse moors who inadvertently become caught in snares. According to a UK government study, 75 per cent of ensnared animals are not the intended target, with badgers, hares, pet dogs and cats falling foul of the crude wire nooses. The same research shows that captured animals suffer exhaustion and painful injuries such as bruising, wounding and even death.

Following a wave of public concern, including extensive coverage in national and regional media, Bolton Abbey has indicated that it is considering the use of live capture cages for cats which venture onto its land. This is a small step in the right direction, but Bolton Abbey will use these alongside and not instead of snares, meaning cats and other animals will continue to be put at risk of serious harm.

Even as Bolton Abbey is in the public gaze over its environmental credentials, it has spent the last three days performing burning on its sensitive peat moors to provide younger, more nutritious shoots for red grouse to eat. Experts warn that burning is damaging to peatland formation and makes it more difficult or impossible to restore these carbon-rich habitats to their natural state, something crucial for helping to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and flooding.

What’s more, Bolton Abbey is setting fire to its moors at a time when near-threatened ground-nesting birds, such as curlew, have recently migrated back to the hills to begin the breeding season. The estate claims to recognise its role in addressing biodiversity loss, yet there have been very few, if any, hen harriers, peregrine falcons or goshawk nesting on the estate in recent years, despite swathes of available space.

Bolton Abbey touts itself as a champion of Green Tourism, but by handing over a huge part of the estate to grouse shooting it shows that it is anything but. It must now give careful consideration to the growing calls for it to shift away from unsustainable practices and towards an environmentally-focused business model.

With public sentiment strongly opposed to the practices involved in grouse shooting, it is clear that visitors to Bolton Abbey expect nothing less.