Pathfinders – They shoot grouse, don’t they?

Sometimes, when you’ve had all you can take of class war and capitalist bullshit, it’s great to escape to the great outdoors and walk around in the countryside. Although relatively small, the UK has a lot of large empty spaces, from rolling southern downs to immense glaciated northern landscapes, where there’s hardly a soul or a sign of habitation. You can almost imagine you’re in a different country, a different era, even a different social system. In places like that, the frantic pettifogging trivia of modern capitalist life look small indeed.

If you’re doing it properly, like a seasoned all-weather pro, you’ll get rigged out with the right boots, clothing, backpacks and accessories, and be willing to devote years to acquiring an impressive knowledge of local geography, geology, social history, botany and zoology.

But you can also cheat, using your smartphone to find your position and display a route, check the weather, find the nearest open pub, book a campsite, or phone for a helicopter rescue. Best of all, instead of saying ‘Oh look, some interesting flora and fauna, I wonder what that is?’, you can Shazam it.

Music fans will know Shazam, a free phone app that identifies that cool tune you’re listening to in the boozer. You point your phone at the sound source, the app records it, and then matches it against its billion-song database in order to tell you what the song is and who it’s by. Shazam has been around for years, but is still a living demonstration of that Arthur C Clarke remark about any sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic.

Most people understand how to use search engines, but this is an example of a ‘reverse search’. Instead of entering a song title to get the song, you ‘enter’ the song to get the title. You can do this with images too. On a desktop, to identify a picture, painting or whatever, you would drag it into Google Images, which will compare it to its own databank of uploaded images, and hopefully give you the title and artist.

Now, with phone apps like Google Lens, CamFind or Veracity, you can simply point the phone at an unknown plant or crawling insect, take a snap, and let the AI figure out what it is, and then point you to a dozen botanical websites or a Wikipedia page about it. The accuracy is somewhat variable, because not all plants and species are photographed and uploaded equally by users, so there is a built-in AI bias. But it’s still pretty good, and of course there are Shazam-like recognition apps for bird calls too.

All this modern AI technology is great fun for us ignorant townies discovering the wilds and learning titbits and vocabulary terms for the first time, while perhaps reflecting philosophically on that vast and ancient lore known to generations of our forebears and now forgotten by most of us.

The trouble is, you almost can’t avoid diving a little too deep into the AI well of infinity, and discovering things you probably didn’t want to know, that cast something of a black cloud over your fine day out.

For instance, the fact that you are hiking ‘over mountains, moorland, heath, downland and common land, without having to stay on the paths’ is not some de-facto given, as it would be in socialism, it’s a legal concession that was only established in 2000, after extended legal battles dating from 1884 over the ‘right to roam’, which involved mass trespasses and mass arrests. Suddenly the world of private property rears its ugly head. Even when you can’t see a single road or farm building, you know that somebody owns all this land, and once fought like hell to keep the likes of you off it (more details here).

The fact that, in the UK, there is an unusual degree of freedom to roam is testament to generations of workers who simply refused to take no for an answer, facing off against landowners who gradually caved in under the pressure. It’s not socialism but it is the way socialism will be won.

Then there’s the vanishing bird problem. With capitalist profit as the goal, pesticide-rich intensive farming displaced traditional mixed farming, and in the process destroyed hedgerows and habitats, leading to a drop in bird populations of 38 million in the last 50 years. Meanwhile intensive battery farming has generated bird flu epidemics, most recently leading to 50,000 UK bird deaths since 2021 (

But accidents like these are part of the law of unintended capitalist consequences. It’s even harder to take when you know it’s deliberate.

Take grouse moors. Why do they shoot grouse? Because you can eat them, and because skylarks are small, fast and bloody hard to hit. Grouse are big, slow and lumbering birds which the idle fox-hunting rich love to massacre from every Glorious Twelfth of August. Know what else eats grouse? Raptors, like hen harriers and falcons. So, to protect the supply of fat grouse for the weekend Bertie Wooster set, the groundskeepers regularly shoot all the raptors out of the sky, even though all raptor species are ‘protected’. Because this is illegal, they typically hide the evidence from investigators (

Raptors have been persecuted for centuries, but capitalism adds its own extinction accelerator effect. The rarer the birds get, the more their eggs are worth to collectors, thus speeding them over the edge. 5 raptor species were wiped out this way, and all the rest are endangered or critically endangered.

All this just for the amusement of a few self-indulgent rich slobs on their weekends away from exploiting the rest of us. And to make matters worse, grouse moors are regularly burned of old growth, destroying ground-nesting fauna and degrading the underlying carbon-storing peat, to make way for new heather shoots which grouse prefer to eat. So, species depletion and carbon release in one glorious double whammy.

The upshot is, even in the wilds of nature, you can never really escape the class war and capitalist bullshit, because it’s everywhere, in the air and water and land and inside your head, cascading like an invisible neutrino storm through all time and space. And it always will be until we collectively abolish it, and extend the ‘right to roam’ to the more general principle of global common ownership and democratic control, with no idle rich calling the shots.


Next article: Wild Isles ⮞

Leave a Reply