Longshaw Hall, Peak District and ‘The Glorious Twelfth’ in Derbyshire

Once the Peak District was ringed with buildings such as Longshaw Hall. Isolated, surrounded by rough sheep pasture and deep woods, and dominated by the high moorland country, it is hard to fathom at first, the reason for such a building in such a place. Then you hear it – ‘Goback, goback, goback, goback!’ -the cry of Lagopus lagopus scotia, the Red Grouse.

Longshaw Estate in the Derbyshire Peak District is a very beautiful area of moorland and heavily wooded gorges – the name Longshaw means ‘long wood’. The Shooting Lodge at the heart of the estate was built in 1827 by the then landowner, John Henry Manners, KG, 5th Duke of Rutland (1778 – 1857). In Victorian times, the definition of a ‘shooting lodge’ was, really, an expansive country house, surrounded by its own estate, where many types of game were ‘preserved’ for shooting parties. The estate is littered with prehistoric burials, and other signs of previous human habitation. These include 17th century plague graves, traces of Bronze Age and Viking settlements, abandoned Mediaeval houses, prehistoric burial cairns, a stone circle in the north west corner of the estate, and evidence of the trading routes which were used to move silk, salt, wool and lead through the area.

In 1894, ‘The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty’ came into being in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (there is a separate National Trust for Scotland, due to that country having a completely different legal system to the other member nations of the United Kingdom). The National Trust was formed by a few well-intentioned individuals, who appealed for funds and bequests of land and property for their newly created body; The National Trust Act of 1907 and several other Acts of Parliament regularized the position and activities of the Trust, and it began to acquire land holdings and properties throughout the three countries. Eventually, the Trust acquired 3,000 acres of the estate from Sheffield City Council (who had purchased it in 1927 from John Henry Montagu Manners, 9th Duke of Rutland), and today, this land forms the modern-day Longshaw Estate. The Lodge is in private hands, however, although parts of it may be rented out for conferences, under the management of the National Trust.

This pattern of landowners – almost invariably titled – acquiring over the centuries thousands of acres of land, which, if suitable, would have been stocked with various types of game was repeated all over the British Isles. In the South of England, gamekeepers would have raised thousands of non-native Pheasants – first thought to be have introduced to Britain by the Romans – whereas on upland estates in the North, from Wales, across to Derbyshire and into Scotland, there were moors with large areas of Heather (Calluna vulgaris), and the Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) was king. The Red Grouse is a sub species, it is thought, of the Willow Grouse, which is found in many areas of the world. The Red Grouse needs no special breeding programmes, as the Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) does, just careful preservation and management of its food plant, the Heather, and the environment which it thrives in; 75% of all heather moorlands in the world are in the British Isles. The Red Grouse hen lays between 6 to 14 eggs in a ‘scrape’ under some old-growth heather, and the chicks are independent almost from hatching. They feed on small insects, particularly immature Crane Flies (usually Tipula paludosa in Derbyshire), until they graduate to young heather shoots, the food of the adult birds. Most of the adult birds rarely live more than two years, although the life of many of them is dramatically cut short, on, or shortly after the twelfth of August.

The plump gamebird has been prized for centuries, and since Victorian times has been subject to a strictly controlled and very expensive shooting season. This is why aristocrats acquired huge tracts of the heather moorland, so that they could hold lavish shooting parties. The season starts on ‘The Glorious Twelfth’ (12th August) and runs through 10th December, and the first birds to fall to the guns are rushed to fashionable restaurants in London. The modern ‘industry’ can be immensely profitable to a landowner if the estate is managed correctly, and the climate is advantageous. Foreign hunters pay enormous prices for a single day’s shooting where the wild birds are driven by ‘beaters’ towards an individual’s hide (the correct term for this a ‘butt’ – yes, yes, I know!). Since the grouse is moving at up to 90 mph, this makes for a difficult shot. Recent moves against lead shot being used in shotguns have started to minimize contamination, although in Derbyshire, this was always moot, as veins of lead regularly break through to the surface in the Peak District! It is estimated by the Moorland Association that grouse shooting generates more than £67 million per year to the economy (£30 million in Scotland, alone) and over 42,000 ‘days of work’ a year, directly, with many other local jobs such as hotels, restaurants and garages being supported.

Whatever your views on hunting birds, there is little doubt that grouse shooting has caused major social upheaval and environmental changes in the U.K. Because the young chicks are directly predated by Stoats (Mustela erminea), Weasels (Mustela nivalis), Foxes (Vulpes vulpes crucigera), Carrion Crows (Corvus corone) and other birds, these were (and it is thought, still are) shot by gamekeepers and other estate staff to increase the number of grouse. However, when one door closes, another opens, and a rare raptor, the Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) has been culling grouse chicks at an impressive rate, recently. What that has given rise to, is a policy on quite a few estates to cut back on the fox and crow cull, which, in turn, means that these will take Hen Harrier chicks! So ‘successful’ has this policy been that not ONE Hen Harrier pair has raised a chick this season in England! This has pushed this beautiful bird to the edge of extinction, and urgent talks are underway to think of ways to bring it back from the brink. It is thought that ‘diversionary feeding’ using dead rats might help the Hen Harriers, and prevent, or minimize attacks on grouse chicks.

The Red Grouse is also proving a solid indicator of climate change. Research recently published in the scientific journal Ibis, by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (an industry-sponsored body) which was undertaken over a 20 year period in Strathspey, Scotland, indicates that the laying of grouse eggs is taking place earlier, by 0.5 days/year. There are also changes in weather patterns, with a warmer month of April (good for egg production), a warmer May (meaning insect hatching peaks too early for chicks) and a warmer August (which mean too few Crane Flies – a main chick food). The controlled burning of areas of heather is also undertaken by estates (mimicking the initiation of natural fires by lightning strikes) so as to generate new heather growth, and therefore, lots of new shoots as food for the grouse.

The accumulation of huge areas of beautiful moorland by aristocrats, immediately adjacent to the big industrial cities of Sheffield, Manchester and Salford gave rise to social conflict and direct action in the early part of the 20th century. It all came to a head when, frustrated by their inability to roam over open land, hundreds of workers from the mill towns of Lancashire, and steel workers from Sheffield (many organized by the Communist-inspired British Workers’ Sport Federation) undertook a ‘mass trespass’ on 24th, April 1932, starting from a quarry in Hayfield, Derbyshire on to high moorland on the Kinder Plateau, in the Peak District. After fighting (instigated by gamekeepers), six men were arrested, and subsequently jailed for six months each at Derby Crown Court. The pressure was unrelenting, however, and eventually, a post WW2 Labour Government passed legislation which gave rise to the National Parks in Britain. Quite rightly, the first one (created in 1951) was the Peak District National Park.

The relationship between the Red Grouse, landowners, other wildlife and the general public is complex and, at times daunting. It is only hoped that as climate change accelerates, we can preserve as much of the existing environment as possible.





One comment on “Longshaw Hall, Peak District and ‘The Glorious Twelfth’ in Derbyshire”

  1. Bravo Ross, and I second the last paragraph. Quite nice how you’ve illustrated the complex interweaving of the ecological web there as well as human development — quite nice indeed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: