First shots fired as grouse-hunting season opens amid debate by environmentalists

Factions claim grouse are being nurtured at their predators’ expense

A Grouse shooter near Forest Lodge, Blair Atholl on the Glorious Twelfth, which is the official start of the grouse shooting season.

A Grouse shooter near Forest Lodge, Blair Atholl on the Glorious Twelfth, which is the official start of the grouse shooting season.


For many, the Glorious Twelfth is a remnant of a bygone era: the call of beaters across the moors; the smell of damp tweed; and the yelping of excited dogs in chase of downed grouse.

This week, the Twelfth, the start of the grouse shooting season, passed successfully, according to landowners and gamekeepers. The mild spring and summer had boosted the grouse numbers and there was an increase in the number of shooters.

But all is not well in paradise. Marks & Spencer has refused to sell red grouse until it gets a guarantee that what it buys is “responsibly sourced”.

There have been allegations about the treatment of raptors. According to some environmentalists, estates poison, shoot or trap raptors, such as harriers, that prey on their stocks of valuable birds.

According to the detractors, grouse-shooting is the preserve of the rich, the idle or those chasing a new thrill for which they pay up to £3,000 a day.

Each pair of grouse forced to rise from the heather by “beaters” only to fall to earth to the sound of a gun blast costs the shooter approximately £150, plus VAT.

“Flying low at up to 80mph, red grouse present the most challenging form of game shooting in the world. The number that want to take part always outstrips availability,” says the Moorland Association.

For those who depend wholly or in part upon the season for their livelihood, it is a significant economic injection, and worth up to £32 million to some of the most remote parts of Scotland.

The fate of the harrier – one of the red grouse’s natural predators – is a source of conflict between the shooting lobby and environmentalists. There is hope of peace though if the harrier population can be managed and chicks removed where their numbers are rising too fast.

Cruel sports ban

Scotland’s League Against Cruel Sports wants the shooting banned, however, and opposes VisitScotland’s promotion of it internationally.

Tourists have an unending number of reasons to come to Scotland, such as outdoor pursuits like mountain biking, and sampling the local whisky, says the league’s Jennifer Dunn.

“We’re asking tourists to come here to experience the best of Scotland and keep bird shooting off their itineraries,” she says, adding that sports that harm “animals for fun” should not be promoted.

In England, where each year 200,000 grouse are shot between August and December, television wildlife presenter Chris Packham is pushing for a complete ban unless harriers are protected.

“There are no predators at all, no crows, raptors, foxes, no stoats, no weasels. They’ve even started killing mountain hares because they believe that the hares will spread a parasite and these affect the grouse,” he says.

Failure to nest

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds blames illegal killing for the failure last year of hen-harriers to nest successfully south of the border – the first time that has happened since the 1960s.

Scottish Land and Estates, which represents major landowners, and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, have repeatedly and publicly condemned the persecution of raptors by some landowners. Environmental groups argue, though, that talk is cheap and that both groups should do more to ostracise their members who break the rules.

Some of Scotland’s leading chefs defend the gamekeepers, with one, Paul Kitching, saying they would be disgraced if they were found illegally shooting harriers.

Nearly 300 grouse moors exist in Scotland, though the numbers of estates offering shooting has almost halved in the last 25 years, according to research from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.

Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners, takes a different view to the League Against Cruel Sports, pointing out that moorland must be managed.

Good for all

More than a quarter of Scotland’s heather moorland by acreage has been lost in the last 60 years, the organisation argues, but it has been looked after best in places where grouse-shooting is carried on.

Golden plovers are five times more common on managed moors, lapwings are twice more likely, and snipe, curlews and short-eared owls also benefit, the landowners argue.

Shooting foxes and crows protects not just the grouse, but also ground-nesting birds of prey – including merlins, but also the harriers themselves: “The red grouse is the UK’s only truly native bird and it is only found on moorlands; and unquestionably saved from extinction in many areas by the interest in shooting,” says Scottish Land & Estates.

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