The grouse shooting season gets under way today, with hopes that record numbers of red grouse in northern England will deliver good returns for moorland estates and rural businesses.
This year’s annual count by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) ahead of the “Glorious 12th”, which marks the start of the shooting season, showed populations of red grouse on upland heather moorland had increased by an average of almost a quarter (23%) on last year’s numbers.
The figures are higher than they have ever been since accurate counts by the GWCT started in the early 1980s.
The counts mean the Moorland Association is expecting around 1,200 shooting days across England and Wales, which it says will have benefits for businesses which supply accommodation, equipment and clothing to shooters and game dealers who take grouse to restaurants and butchers.
The association, which represents moorland estates, said £52.5 million was spent by grouse moor owners on year-round management of their land, while businesses related to grouse shooting such as equipment suppliers saw benefits of some £15.2 million.
It said new research showed that the 149 grouse moors in England and Wales managed by its members directly supported the equivalent of an estimated 700 full-time jobs, along with 820 jobs in related industries such as dry stone walling and clothing retailers.
Robin Varley, a moorland gamekeeper in Yorkshire, said: “Grouse shooting contributes to the local economy in more ways than we can imagine.
“There’s the hotels - not only does it create some revenue for the boss who puts a lot of money into this moor in wages, equipment, facilities; but when the guns come to stay they stay in the local hotels, they spend money in the local shops, the local pub does well.
“It’s a big knock-on effect.”
He added: “Without the grouse shooting, a lot of things would suffer. The grouse are the main reason the landowners put the time and the money into these moors. And through doing that, everything benefits.”
Shooting groups point out that managing the moorlands for red grouse benefits other wildlife, including birds such as the curlew and golden plover, and protects natural resources such as peat which stores carbon.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation said heather moorland was a threatened habitat and three-quarters is found in Britain, where it survives because it is managed for grouse shooting.
The Countryside Alliance said the number of grouse moors in a favourable or recovering condition had increased from 25% to 96% in just six years, and 57,000 acres of moors had been regenerated in the past decade.
And the sale of shooting days helped fund gamekeepers to manage the land for other wildlife alongside grouse and improve environmental resources such as peat, the country sports organisation said.