Monday, 11 March 2019

NEW REPORT A 'REALITY CHECK' ON ALTERNATIVES TO GROUSE MOORS

More headlines from today's press at the foot of this story.

The review, commissioned by Scottish Government and authored by James Hutton Institute and Scotland’s Rural College, looked at the economic and biodiversity impacts of grouse shooting.
Authors acknowledged data limitations regarding both the grouse sector and possible alternatives, but acknowledged the importance of grouse shooting to local economies, jobs and in retaining populations.
The biggest beneficiary regions were Aberdeenshire, Highland and Perth and Kinross.
Grouse shooting is responsible for 2500 full time equivalent jobs with estates spending averagely £212 000 a year in wages and £515 0000 on suppliers per annum, reported the study authors.
According to the report, most expenditure remains in Scotland; a study in the Cairngorms National Park showing that 89 percent of staffing costs and 77percent of management spend occurred locally.
One survey in the Angus Glens and Monadhliaths, referenced in the new report, stated that over a quarter of respondents in these two areas said their livelihoods were linked to grouse shooting.
The report acknowledged that all of Scotland’s grouse moors are sited on areas of very poor agricultural ground, classified by the EU as being Less Favoured.
“There are clearly some knowledge gaps to be filled by Government before we get the full picture of upland land uses, and we are willing to help the process, but we welcome the work done so far,” said Alex Hogg, Chairman of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association.
“The jobs created by grouse shooting, like gamekeepers’ roles, are important because they keep people in some of the most fragile and remote parts of Scotland where opportunities can be very hard to come by. There has been a lot of talk recently about converting grouse moors to other uses. This report brings a bit of reality regarding the constraints, one of the biggest being finance, although there are many others.
“In poor years like the 2018 grouse season, profits are hit but the grouse sector fills the gap through owners financing the shortfall from other areas of their business, sometimes up to £40 a hectare. All in all, the grouse industry delivers a lot on very, very poor land in Scotland with no government subsidy from tax payers.”
According to the report’s authors, there is currently no direct government subsidy support for grouse shooting in Scotland although some moors can receive the same grazing payment as sheep farmers, if livestock are grazed on the hills.
Many grouse estates today are integrated, with income also being derived from stalking, fishing, in-hand agriculture and renewables on the same ground, making it impossible to calculate how much of Scotland’s uplands are used solely for grouse shooting.
The report considered alternative uses of upland marginal lands such as hill sheep farming, forestry, windfarms, rewilding and nature conservation.
However, authors acknowledged that, whilst possible in certain circumstances, alternatives were constrained by regulations, geography and climate and a heavy reliance on tax payer subsidy.
“Some alternatives (eg. farming, forestry and renewables) are heavily reliant on public payments to justify the activity economically, with others (eg: rewilding, conservation) more reliant on the benevolence of owners of members,” the report stated. 
According to their 2018 accounts, RSPB received £19.8m of tax payer funding in the UK, equating to over half of the £38.2 sum it spent managing its nature reserves.

Other headline statements from the report. 

Knowledge Gaps and the need for longer term studies: The narrow evidence base and inconsistency in data collection approaches mean that evidence on socio-economic impacts is open to criticism. Some of the methodological criticisms are not unique to grouse studies and indeed often apply to sectoral economic impact study approaches.
“However, despite the limitations, the existing evidence base does provide some context relating to the social and economic contributions of grouse moor management.”
“There is limited evidence on the socio economic impacts of alternative land uses on moorland areas, particularly of the emerging rewilding and conservation approaches being taken on some private estates."
There is a paucity of evidence to say that negatives from grouse moors impacts on the £187 m brought in from bird watching and wildlife tourism country-wide. Similarly there is little reported on the social or cultural aspects of alternative land uses."

Is forestry an alternative to grouse moors? “Indeed GFA-RACE and Macaulay (2003) suggested that “the financial viability of afforestation of moorland and moorland fringe areas, even with existing public financial support, is doubtful. The pressure of greater environmental constraints has increased this position, and therefore this option has not been revisited in any depth. Whilst the economics of forestry and woodlands have improved significantly since 2003 the hard fact remains that there is limited scope to plant grouse moors due to regulations and poor quality of land. There are limited published details of the costs and returns of planting moorland areas."
Land Capability for Forestry is also typically low, for the holdings with grouse butts present. "Indeed, the areas considered unsuitable for trees with any expectation of delivering harvestable timber are substantially greater than the areas considered as having very little agricultural value." 

Is hill sheep farming a viable alternative to grouse moors?"While change to an exclusive use of this land as unimproved pastures could be feasible it seems unlikely to be viable given reduction in stocking of hill land since decoupling of CAP payments in 2003. Creation of permanent pastures is likely to be prohibitively costly and may conflict with the desires of the proprietors and with designations."
“The quality of the grouse moor land is generally very poor in agricultural terms, comprising mainly rough grazing. The current quality of the grazing is likely enhanced from regular muirburn that grouse moor management entails and would likely deteriorate over time without active heather management. Indeed, many hill farms no longer fully utilise or manage their high hill ground as a response to lower stocking densities, driven largely by changes to the CAP support regime in 2005 (Thomson et al. 2011).”

What about rewilding and conservation? “Recognising that the socio-economic impacts of alternative land use are not comparing like with like, and there are biophysical, landscape, or designations restrictions of replicating them across all Scottish moors. It should be noted that each of these land uses is dependent to varying degrees on the public purse, with for example renewable energy, farming and forestry being heavily supported by the Government, whereas conservation / NGO land management often receives Government support as well as private membership support.
"Private estates engaged in rewilding in Scotland receive significant levels of support (with one rewilding estate getting an average of £205,000 direct support and £170,000 rural development support in 2016 and 2017). Trees for Life’s annual report reveals that amongst £1 million expenditure in 2017 they spent: £240,000 rewilding the 10,000 Dundreggan Estate; £243,000 on forest restoration projects across the Highlands; £208,000 propagating trees. £500,000 was supported through grant aid and trusts, £110,000 through companies and about £230,000 each by members and donations; products and; other sources such as gift aid.”
As this review process finalised the Revive campaign group published “Back to life: Visions for Alternative Futures for Scotland’s Grouse Moors” (Common Weal and Lateral North, 2018). This is a useful addition to the debate, although there is a lack of consideration over the practicalities of some of the alternatives suggested in the discourse (e.g. landscape, species and habitat protection; inadequate infrastructure; land-use planning regulations; biophysical challenges) or the reliance on public expenditure to provide positive returns.”

What about Staff Wages and Management Costs?: "Park (2008) reported costs of £99,500 for maintaining the grouse moor at Langholm in 1996 (with very limited income from grouse over the same time period). Savills (2013) estimated the cost of employing a gamekeeper at £45,000 per annum (including housing, vehicle, salary and equipment) and the cost of running a day of driven grouse at approximately £2,500 (including staff time, catering, pickers-up and beaters’ costs and transport) – although this does not include capital costs of the supporting infrastructure, which is often considerable." 

Are there benefits for non-shooters in managed moorlands? “Whilst tourism often benefits from managed moorland (whether that management is for deer, grouse, woodlands or farming), it rarely contributes to the maintenance costs of Scotland’s rich landscape which people come from around the globe to visit. Grouse moors have been used as recreation areas in Scotland for decades, mainly for walking, but also to access mountains, and more recently for mountain biking."
"In the surveys of the Tomintoul community (Mc Morran 2009) and Angus and Monadhliath communities (Mc Morran et al. 2015), a majority of community respondents used grouse moors for recreational or other purposes (e.g. work). A majority of community respondents also viewed grouse moors as attractive or extremely attractive in Angus (75%) and in the Monadhliath (60%)."

 Link to report, here: https://sefari.scot/research/socioeconomic-and-biodiversity-impacts-of-driven-grouse-moors-in-scotland