Gareth Dockerty: How grouse shooting supports Yorkshire's fragile rural economies

YOUR columnist GP Taylor's recent attack on driven grouse shooting repeated the tactic of trying to promote a call for action by trying to make a class-based argument.

Is grouse shooting good for the Yorkshire environment and economy?
Is grouse shooting good for the Yorkshire environment and economy?

There’s no denying the fact that driven grouse shooting can be expensive and you will undoubtedly see a Range Rover or two on a shoot day.

But if we wish to make good decisions about the future of our countryside, then it’s essential that all those with a passion for such things are able to engage in balanced debate and listen to all sides. GP Taylor’s rhetoric serves only to entrench positions further.

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So, does grouse shooting benefit anybody other than Range Rover drivers?

GP Taylor's recent column on grouse shooting has prompted much debate.

Absolutely. In much the same way you would not look at high end hotels, supermarkets or department stores and say they do not benefit the local economy because they’re expensive.

Grouse shooting creates employment directly and indirectly, it provides full-time employment for the gamekeepers along with valuable part-time employment for many of the 40,000 involved in the activity each year.

I have spent a number of days on grouse shoots his autumn and they have employed a variety of people from all backgrounds – students raising funds before they go back to university, self-employed tradespeople at a time when weather conditions can hamper their earning potential and small-scale upland farmers topping up their incomes.

The list is varied and the employment provided by shoots can be vital to supporting fragile rural economies.

It does not end there. Every one of these people involved is undertaking some form of exercise, walking outside and raising their heart rates, improving their physical and mental wellbeing. The Government has recognised as much.

There are also numerous, well-documented indirect economic benefits of shooting. Small market towns like Helmsley and Thirsk thrive because all types of shooting carry businesses through the quiet months. That means hotels with guaranteed winter bookings, pubs serving drinks and meals, bakeries and cafes selling morning coffees and bacon sandwiches.

Almost eight million people visit the North York Moors national park annually, with one third of the park or 44,000 hectares covered in heather moorland (most of which is grouse moor). The landscape managed and protected by grouse shooting helps attract these visitors.

There are repeated claims that driven grouse moors cause environmental damage to habitats and species. However, the uplands are managed for grouse shooting in such a way as to benefit the economy and the environment.

Burning of heather, for example, is undertaken under strict guidelines on all designated sites with gamekeepers undertaking burns in a short window under the right conditions.

And after a well-manged burn, peat accumulation increases the amount of carbon locked away. More carbon is stored in peat in the UK than in trees.

Nevertheless, there remains a real need to undertake research across multiple sites looking at habitat management and its impact on factors such as water quality, flood risk and species diversity.

This is why organisations as varied as Yorkshire Water, the Moorland Association, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Wildlife Trust Peatland Partnership are funding an ongoing project at York University.

BASC has also publicly condemned all wildlife crime. There are signs of improvement and this year’s breeding hen harrier counts are encouraging. There is still work to be done, but 60 per cent of the 34 hen harrier chicks which fledged in England in 2018 did so on land managed for grouse shooting. We are moving in the right direction.

Please look beyond the Range Rover and understand that managing the countryside is complex. It is important the debate is informed by balanced information, rather than rhetoric and hyperbole which will always cause more damage than good in the long-term.

Gareth Dockerty is regional officer for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.