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Red grouse are unique to the uplands of Britain and are closely associated with heather moorland. As the mascot of the Scottish rugby team and the emblem of a famous brand of whisky, the grouse might be thought to be a Scottish bird, but its natural range extends down to the south-west of England.
Although well adapted to surviving the winter in some of the bleakest parts of the country, the grouse does not have an easy life. It is predated by foxes, crows, stoats and birds of prey, and is prone to diseases such as Strongylosis and Louping Ill. Combined with loss of habitat, these are the main causes for declining grouse numbers over the last 50 years. Traditional management, combined with new techniques for the control of strongylosis, has done much to slow the decline in much of northern England and Scotland, but only token populations now remain in the Lake District, the southwest of England and parts of Wales.
Paradoxically, it is due to shooting that the red grouse itself is not on the endangered species list, and that many of the birds which share its habitat have not died out altogether. Where actively keepered, grouse numbers can be locally high giving enough for a shootable surplus in certain years without reducing the breeding population. Grouse are wild birds and are not artificially reared, so moorland keepers need long experience to manage effectively-often generations from the same family.
Grouse can fly at speeds of up to 80mph and require a high level of skill to shoot. They have been one of the most sought after game birds for over a century and command a high price from sportsmen all over the world. Furthermore, they are excellent to eat and their relative scarcity makes them a valuable commodity. Grouse shooting is carried out with a high level of care and responsibility and is arguably the pinnacle of game shooting in the world. See useful links for further information.
In many upland areas, grouse shooting is now the only significant income earner which is not heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. It provides the "economic engine" to pay for conservation management and to maintain employment in remote rural areas. In turn, this employment helps fragile communities and their schools, shops and pubs to survive. Local hotels benefit from shooting parties staying and there are knock-on effects through to garages, gunshops and a whole range of related businesses, many of which struggle in the depressed rural economy.
Driven grouse shooting enables practical conservation of rare bird populations at minimal cost to the taxpayer and helps fragile rural communities to survive.
There is a common misconception that walked-up grouse shooting is a better system of harvesting grouse than driven shooting because it is "closer to nature" and because far fewer grouse are shot, less predators would need controlling.
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