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7th August 2021

The Daily Telegraph reports on a forthcoming academic study on sustainability and grouse shooting

Grouse shooting gives glorious boost to rural economies and the environment, says study

Sport supports tourism, employment and biodiversity, experts argue. Plus, Prof James Crabbe on why Glorious 12th is vital for conservation


There are 8.38 million visitors annually to the North York Moors National Park, about 85 per cent of which is managed as a grouse moor CREDIT: Charlotte Graham for The Telegraph

Grouse shooting has positive “ecological, economic and social” impacts, including increasing tourism and employment, as well as reducing loneliness, the first major study has concluded ahead of the Glorious 12th.

Research led by an Oxford University professor found that no other activity on Britain’s uplands would create the same “complex web” of benefits, including an increase in biodiversity which allows rare birds to flourish.

Campaigners calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting, such as Chris Packham’s Wild Justice, had been “very selective” of the available research and some had “misused” findings to support their cause in the “emotive debate”, it was warned.

It comes as grouse estates prepare for the start of the season on August 12, known as the Glorious 12th, though many will have to delay or cancel shoots as bad weather meant that fewer chicks were born.

A bad season could have a detrimental impact on the rural economies that rely on the shoots, according to the report Sustainable Driven Grouse Shooting? A Summary of the Evidence.

The first major study of all impacts of driven grouse shooting, carried out by Prof Simon Denny and Dr Tracey Latham-Green from the University of Northampton, found it created a “mosaic of income-generating activities that sustain upland communities”.

This included employment on shoots, income from high-end tourism including for rural pubs and hotels, and infrastructure benefits. The “creation of a unique, accessible, and attractive landscape” in turn brought in visitors out of shooting season, they found.

For example, on the North York Moors National Park, about 85 per cent of which is managed as a grouse moor, there are 8.38 million visitors annually, generating spending of £730 million and supporting 11,290 full time-equivalent jobs.

The Lake District is the only upland area in the UK that does not have large grouse moors and it does not have as diverse a range of employment opportunities and a higher number of second homes.

Grouse moor landowners “also generate income from other activities including agriculture, forestry, alternative energy, property and land rental”, the authors found.

Because driven grouse shooting “involves a wide range of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, not just guns, but also beaters, pickers up, drivers, flankers, caterers, supporters and others, facilitating contact between individuals from different class backgrounds”, it also provided social benefits.

Grouse moors “maintain strong community networks and a vibrant local economy”, they found, and residents in moorland communities where the sport took place “have statistically lower levels of loneliness than the national average”.

Alongside the social and economic impacts, management of the estates created an “increasingly rare assemblage of plants, animals and invertebrates” which resulted in a “net gain in diversity and abundance over similar but unmanaged moorland”.

They found that grouse moors were “the only place in the British Isles where mountain hares thrive in abundance” and “lapwing, golden plover, curlew, red grouse and meadow pipit breed on average three times more successfully when predator control is performed”.

Moorland burning mitigated wildfire risks in warmer summers and encouraged peat growth as management leads to carbon sequestration and flood control.

But they noted that a lack of evidence meant “it is not possible to say with any assurance” that it was “more or less sustainable in terms of the ecosystem services” than alternative uses of moorland.

However, looking at the three pillars of sustainability set out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – economic, environmental and social – the authors found that alternative uses of the land, including rewilding would not have the same impact.

Writing in The Telegraph below, Prof James Crabbe, independent chairman of the report and a consultant for the IUCN, said: “We found no evidence that any others would deliver the same benefits to some of the most remote parts of the UK. When driven grouse shooting is done properly, as part of integrated moorland management, we concluded it is indeed sustainable.”

But despite the benefits, the authors found that there was often a negative view as the opponents were better at social media and “have become more skilful at influencing policymakers and in using judicial challenge”.

Many involved in the sport “do not feel confident in their ability to use media, including social media, to dispel mistruths and inaccurate perceptions of their activities”, the study found.

Wild Justice said that it had not seen the report, and suggestions that the group had been selective in its use of evidence was “so unspecific” that it could not comment.

The group argued that whilst grouse moors “bring some economic benefits”, they were “wiped out by the costs it imposes through increased flooding, damage to protected habitats, water treatment costs, greenhouse gas emissions and, of course, the illegal persecution of protected wildlife, especially birds of prey”.

The study, which will be updated every month as a “living document”, was welcomed by Adrian Blackmore, the director of shooting at the Countryside Alliance.

“Studying all available evidence, the authors of this report by the University of Northampton have completely rejected the allegation that grouse shooting is bad for people and the environment, and that it is economically insignificant,” he said.

“In making such claims, groups like Wild Justice are demonstrating either wilful blindness, or a remarkable degree of ignorance, totally disregarding the impact such a fundamental change in land use would have both on biodiversity in our uplands, and the livelihoods of many.”

Grouse shooting part of the big picture on conservation

By James Crabbe, emeritus professor and supernumerary fellow at Wolfson College, University of Oxford

Often referred to as the “King of Gamebirds”, the red grouse is unique to the British Isles, and makes its home across the country’s uplands. Grouse have been walked-up and shot over dogs since Stuart times, but it was not until the early years of the 19th century that sportsmen first experimented with driven grouse shooting, and it did not become general practice until the Victorian period.

Today, both the grouse as a bird, and grouse shooting, are small parts of a much bigger picture involving conservation, land management, economics and heritage. It is, unsurprisingly, a very emotive subject.

This is something I have been at pains to bear in mind while chairing a committee producing a major report by the University of Northampton into the sport’s sustainability in the 21st century. I was appointed with this in mind: I don’t shoot grouse, I have no personal interest in upland development, and I have never been involved in any emotional or political element regarding driven grouse shooting. I have simply sought to assess how sustainable the sport is in the 21st century and how it could fit into the modern world – if indeed, it could.

Many moorland areas that are managed for grouse shooting benefit the environment and its biodiversity. Across many upland estates, peat bogs drained in the 1960s and 1970s to make the land more agriculturally viable have been re-wetted. In the process, thousands of acres of bare peat have been restored, and hundreds of miles of drains blocked. Peatland is, of course, vital for carbon capture.

Managed moorlands also contribute to biodiversity. The mosaic of vegetation and the legal control of predators results in a habitat vital to the survival of many rare, or red listed, bird species such as lapwing, golden plover, curlew, red grouse and meadow pipit. Certain raptor species including the hen harrier and merlin also exist in higher numbers in these areas, and nest more successfully.

In most cases, grouse shooting is just one aspect of an estate’s business model, and it complements other activities. The world’s first recorded use of renewable energy was by a Northumbrian grouse moor estate owner in 1878. More than a century later, growing numbers of estate owners run water, wind or biomass power-generation schemes, crucial to achieving net zero.

A key part of our research was comparing grouse shooting with other potential uses of moorland. We found no evidence that other land uses would deliver the same benefits and that, when driven grouse shooting is done as part of integrated moorland management, it is sustainable.

Sustainability, though, is an ongoing process. We hope this report will be an important resource for policy makers, and anyone who cares about the development of rural communities and the people they serve.


Did You Know?

75% of Europe’s remaining upland heather moorland is found in the UK – but this area declined alarmingly over the latter part of the last century. The Moorland Association was set up in 1986 to coordinate the efforts of moorland owners and managers to halt this loss, particularly in England and Wales.

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