By a Newsnet reporter
The 2012-13 shooting season will get underway in Scotland on Monday when guns, beaters, gamekeepers and their dogs will take to the moors in search of grouse. Game laws and Godly adherence prohibit the shooting of grouse on the Sabbath, meaning no ‘Glorious 12th’ this year.
The start date may have slipped by 24 hours to the slightly less glorious sounding 13th, but for economic reasons, there will still be much to celebrate about the start of the new shooting season.
Independent research back in 2006 reported that Scotland’s economy benefits to the tune of £240m annually from game shooting. This cash boost comes in the form of wages to gamekeepers and beaters, hotel accommodation for visiting guns and spend within the wider rural economy on everything from landrover repairs to wellies.
The Centre for Mountain Studies at Perth College UHI, has drilled further into the economic benefits brought by grouse shooting and moorland management in a research project at Tomintoul, Speyside. The Centre reported that 81% of the Tomintoul community felt that their area benefited from grouse shooting on the surrounding moorland, with 63% stating that working with grouse helped to keep young people in their sparsely populated area.
Economics aside, for some, the start of the shooting season is not such good news. Animal rights organisations, such as the League Against Cruel Sports and Edinburgh based charity Onekind, actively call for grouse shooting to be banned. The campaigners cite not only cruelty in the actual shooting of live game, but also in associated management practices such as snaring of grouse predators.
Snaring is a predator control tool seen as vital by many gamekeepers working on grouse moors. There have been many long debates on the subject in the Scottish Parliament, the most recent of which, in 2011 resulted in new laws to ensure that only those trained to set snares can legally do so.
The charge of cruelty in the actual shooting of the birds would appear to have been answered by the meat eating public. Influenced by celebrity chefs and their use of game as a wild, healthy, natural and free-range alternative to intensive chicken, sales of game throughout Britain as a whole have increased 92% in the ten years since 2002.
Controversy around grouse shooting has also centred on the accusation, leveled by the Scottish Raptor Groups, RSPB and others, that it is grouse moor managers who are responsible for persecution of birds of prey such as the Golden Eagle and Hen Harrier. Efforts by gamekeepers, land managers and their organisations to work together with the police to stamp out raptor persecution have helped to dispel such accusations and have also, in the past two years, led to a welcome drop in the numbers of birds of prey being poisoned and shot in Scotland.
Why then does a truly wild bird, such as Scotland’s iconic Red Grouse, require ‘management’, especially if the management and the managers can attract such controversy?
The answer lies in the need to achieve a ‘shootable surplus’, i.e. to ensure that the grouse population is at a level to allow shooting and to leave a sustainable breeding population on the ground. This requires habitat management to achieve the required balance of heather and legal predator control to reduce predation pressure, especially from opportunists such as foxes and crows.
Many thousands of hours are therefore invested by gamekeepers and land managers working to achieve perfect conditions in which the grouse can thrive. A spin off from management of grouse moors is that, other, less iconic but certainly more scarce species benefit hugely.
The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has found that threatened wading bird species such as Golden Plover and Snipe are up to six times more likely to breed successfully on heather moorland managed by grouse keepers. Scotland’s rolling moorland, covered in August full bloom purple heather is another world renowned iconic spin-off of the grouse shooting sector.
With economic benefits documented, community support, other species flourishing and some controversy countered, what then of the grouse themselves and the prospects for the season?
Collin Shedden of the BASC Scotland (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) states that the weather has had an impact: “We entered the winter with a good stock (of grouse), it was a benign, soft, mild winter and then what happened was heavy rain came in April, May and June as well. So the impact of the rain has been felt by a number of estates.
“This has impacted on the breeding success of the grouse but there are a number of areas where prospects are still looking good and we are mainly talking about the east of the country, slightly drier than the West. We are also looking at the higher ground, usually above 1500 feet, where the effect of tick on the young grouse has been much less.”
“So in some areas where there has been good management, good stock of healthy birds, they have survived the atrocious weather. In other areas the weather and other compounding factors have led to loss of young grouse. Again, a mixed bag. Some areas will do OK, others will have suffered, primarily because of the rain.”
It would seem that it is not just the gamekeepers that have been in need of the wellies and waterproofs this year!