The start of the grouse shooting seasons begins tomorrow (Tues), with gamekeepers reporting excellent prospects for both grouse and fragile bird species.
Shooting parties will take to the heather moors for the Glorious Twelfth, with sport letting agents predicting a boost to rural communities in excess of £32 million.
However, while the health of the iconic quarry will be uppermost in shooters’ minds, gamekeepers are reporting excellent prospects for threatened Curlew and Lapwing; statistics which are bucking national and UK trends.
Heather management and predator control by gamekeepers to produce a harvestable surplus of grouse for sport has been proven to provide benefits for ground-nesting wading species which have suffered alarming declines of 56 per cent in 17 years.
The Scottish Government’s Biodiversity Strategy, published last week, reported four out of five wading species showing ‘significant declines’.
However, maps and counts from grouse keepers across Scotland are showing cause for optimism for conservation-listed birds.
On one Highland Perthshire estate employing two full-time grouse keepers, Curlew numbers rose 360 per cent set against a regional rise of 54 per cent, reported in the Tayside Wader Survey.
Although Lapwing numbers declined 68 per cent across the region, the declines on the keepered ground were less at 6 per cent while Oystercatcher numbers soared 121 per cent against a regional drop of 8 per cent.
Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) Chairman Alex Hogg said: “The prospects for the grouse season look good. The mix of weather has been right for the birds, which have feathered up well, there’s been enough water and there has been a good insect hatch.
“It should secure a good season for sporting visitors which, in turn, helps the small rural communities; the tourism businesses, shops and retailers that require the cash injection as we head into the less seasonal months.
“The most pleasing things for us, though, is the fate of our fragile species. Through our 2014 SGA Year of the Wader project, we now have wader counts in from grouse moors in the Borders, Tayside, Speyside and Inverness-shire and the birds are faring well thanks to the work of the keepers who are putting the hard work in to help these threatened birds, which have no protection otherwise from the larger predators which dwarf them increasingly in number.
“Viable grouse shooting means estates can afford to pay keepers to do this vital conservation work without any need for public money.
“If you removed this model, the bill would have to come from the public purse and vast swathes of Scotland’s heather moorland, more endangered than the rainforest, would be increasingly under threat from afforestation.”
Grouse shooting has often been painted as sport for the rich and landed gentry, with shooters paying between £100 and £150 per brace.
However, sporting lets agencies are reporting more days being taken by groups of working businesspeople, particularly in the later days of the season.
Grouse keeper Allan Hodgson of The SGA said: “We are even seeing groups of gamekeepers taking shooting towards the end of the season and, while many wealthy people shoot in Scotland, the idea that this is solely for the rich went out years ago.”
A new report, ‘The Value of Shooting’ from Cambridge-based Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC), released last week, showed that 97 per cent of edible quarry shot in the UK, including grouse, is destined for human consumption.
Of that, 62 per cent is consumed by those attending shoots, with 35 per cent likely to go to game dealers or local restaurants.
“Game is becoming more and more recognised again as quality, lean produce with little or no air miles.
“It’s organic, people know where it has come from and there is traceability right back to the moor.
“There will always be some who are critical of grouse shooting but the benefits of grouse and other forms of shooting are real and quantifiable,” added SGA Chairman, Alex Hogg.
The Grouse Season in Numbers:
- The Grouse Seasons lasts from August 12th to December 10th.
- The Grouse season brought £32 million to the Scottish economy in 2013.
- Grouse keepers manage a heather resource of global importance. Mountain hare are almost entirely dependent on this habitat while Ptarmigan, red grouse and Golden Plover rely heavily on this source of food and breeding cover.
- 20 per cent of heather moorland was lost in Scotland between 1940 and 1970, through conversion to forestry or grass.
- Grouse shooting is part of a country sports product worth £313 million to the Scottish economy and £2 billion to the UK economy.
- Shooting providers in the UK (including grouse shoots) spend nearly £250 million a year on conservation work, more than eight times the amount the RSPB spent on its reserves in 2013 (£29.6m). Source: The Value of Shooting, PACEC, 2014.