Glorious Twelfth: Fighting for the survival of North Yorkshire's moors

It keeps thousands of people in jobs, ensures Yorkshire's moorland stays diverse with wildlife and contributes more than £2bn to the national economy.

Anthony Dowson 28, Moorland Beat Keeper for the Thimbleby estate, near Northallerton, is pictured counting grouse on the moor with his dog Millie. Picture: James Hardisty.

But as gamekeepers across the region mark the Glorious 12th and the start of the grouse season today, a new group set up to fight for the survival of shooting on the moors of North Yorkshire has urged people to recognise the multitude of benefits it brings.

The North Yorkshire Moors Moorland Organisation (NYMMO) brings together keepers from 12 North Yorkshire estates, including Danby, Rosedale and Westerdale, Sleights and Goathland and Thimbleby, who felt their livelihoods - and way of life - were being threatened, both by misinformation and the possibility of a ban in future.

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They are now working to promote the benefits that managed moorlands bring, not only to the moors and wildlife, but also to communities and the rural economy that is helped by the shooting parties. It is a picture replicated across the country, from Scotland to the Peak District.

Gun dog handler Fiona Kirk with her English Setter, Zeus and Anthony Dowson 28, Moorland Beat Keeper for the Thimbleby estate, stalking game on the moor.

NYMMO coordinator Tina Brough said: “There seems to be more and more bad publicity about shooting, and following the hunting ban, people were thinking ‘will we be next?’. We want to promote the good side of moorland management before it gets to that point.”

Shooting, and preparing for a shoot, is just a small proportion of a keeper’s role. Trapping predators such as stoats and foxes allows ground nesting birds such are the red-status lapwing, curlew and merlin, to thrive, and the NYMMO plans to survey wildlife on the moors in an attempt to show that once-threatened species are benefitting from moorland management.

“People have the misconception that we kill everything just to keep grouse but that’s not true,” Miss Brough said. “If game keepers weren’t there the moors would not be sustainable.”

At Thimbleby Estate, near Northallerton, heather burning is key to moorland management.

Anthony Dowson 28, Moorland Beat Keeper for the Thimbleby estate, near Northallerton. Picture: James Hardisty.

In May, 200 acres of heather moorland in the Peak District were destroyed after an accidental fire spread. Moorland management, which includes creating firebreaks, was not in use.

Thimbleby head keeper David Dickinson said: “If we didn’t burn, a summer fire would run for miles and miles. It would be a disaster. People seem to think moorland management is all about wealthy people shooting, but it’s so much more than that.

“It’s about creating a healthy moor that can be the best it can be - and also an environment where a wide range of people can get enjoyment from it. On shoot days we have ladies beating, students helping us when they’re off college - it’s a big part of the community.”

Grouse on moorland.
Gun dog handler Fiona Kirk with her English Setter, Zeus and Anthony Dowson 28, Moorland Beat Keeper for the Thimbleby estate, stalking game on the moor.
Anthony Dowson 28, Moorland Beat Keeper for the Thimbleby estate, near Northallerton. Picture: James Hardisty.
Grouse on moorland.