• The RSPB is looking at how licensing of the grouse moor management industry must implement following the charity's withdrawal from Defra's Hen Harrier Action Plan
• Illegal shooting and trapping of hen harriers has left just three active nests in England, driving the bird towards extinction as an English breeding species
• The RSPB is calling for a licensing scheme to improve standards in grouse moor management, compliance with the law and encouragement for existing good practice, which should become the norm for all moors in England
Europe's biggest conservation charity is warning that reform is the only way grouse shooting can save itself in England. This follows the RSPB withdrawing support for Defra's Hen Harrier Action Plan as it failed to deliver the urgent action and change in behaviour needed to prevent Britain's rarest bird of prey being pushed closer to extinction as a breeding bird in England.
Jeff Knott, RSPB's head of nature policy said: "Today, Friday 12 August 2016, is the start of the red grouse shooting season, a sport that is coming under close scrutiny as more and more people look at some of the practices that support intensive driven grouse moors in England and parts of Scotland.
"The illegal killing of hen harriers has left just three nesting pairs in England, a country that could be home to over 300 pairs.
"This is starting to raise the question over whether there is a sustainable future for driven grouse shooting. The simple answer is that it doesn't have a future unless it changes and adopts best practise. The illegal killing of birds of prey like the hen harrier must end, and sadly this tars the reputation of every grouse moor estate and every shooter.
"There are also serious concerns about the environmental damage caused by other management practices these moorsincreasingly rely on, such as the draining and vegetation burning of the natural landscape, and the large scale killing of mountain hares.
The RSPB has concerns with the increasingly intensive and questionable management associated with driven grouse shooting including the killing of birds of prey, burning and drainage of wildlife rich peatlands, tracks and the use of veterinary medicines and killing of mountain hares to reduce the incidence of disease in grouse.
Jeff Knott added: "We have seen how licensing can work in countries like the United States of America, and believe lessons can be learnt and applied to England.
"It is in the interests of those good, law-abiding estates to stand up and embrace licensing as a means for driving up standards, building public trust and removing the bad apples. The longer the current denial and spin from the driven grouse moors and their representatives continues, the stronger public opposition to intensive grouse shooting will become, jeopardising the future of driven grouse shooting."
The RSPB is calling for a licensing system for grouse moors. This system would recognise high standards where they exist and would allow a focus on driving up standards of landscape management, and predator control across the industry. Breaches of the conditions would be subject to penalties, which could ultimately lead to the withdrawal of the license to run a shoot for a period of years.