It may divide opinion, but grouse shooting has provided vital income for rural communities ever since the Victorians oversaw the construction of the railways.
The advent of the locomotive-hauled railways in the mid-19th century opened up access to the countryside at a time when the breech-loading shotgun was invented.
Ever since then, the shooting season has attracted visitors to Yorkshire’s moorlands from across Britain, and in more modern times a growing number from overseas.
The result has been vital income for rural businesses which are able to capitalise on associated overnight stays, restaurant bookings and other spending,
Yet this year, with the new grouse shooting season opening yesterday on ‘The Glorious Twelfth’, both the short-term and longer term prospects of the field sport are being questioned.
As reported in The Yorkshire Post on Saturday, at least half of all planned shoots in the Dales have been cancelled due to widespread infestations of heather beetles which destroy food supplies for red grouse, at a time when many in the upper reaches of the Yorkshire Dales have been severely disrupted by last month’s devastating floods.
The situation threatens to compound the impact of last year’s “appalling” season when rural businesses were estimated to have lost out on £11m in revenue, after the storm dubbed the Beast from the East hit grouse numbers and led to many shoot days being cancelled.
Understandably, the situation has created some nervousness among Yorkshire’s countryside communities.
Charles Cody, the proprietor of the CB Inn in Arkengarthdale, one of the areas affected by the flooding, said: “Shooting is an important element of our business. It’s not just the accommodation but also the food and drink trade we get from parties and gamekeepers who work on the estates.
“At this stage, things are unclear as regards the prospects for the season. The poor weather and flooding have already had a huge impact on the local community and businesses, with a lot of visitors being put off visiting because of the coverage of the floods.”
It remains to be seen if, longer term, businesses will continue to rely on income from the shooting season. The Labour Party has demanded a review of the sport amid claims it damages the environment, and called for alternatives such as simulated shooting or wildlife tourism to be considered.
The Government may have “no plans to undertake a review”, according to a spokesman for the Prime Minister.
The Moorland Association’s director, Amanda Anderson, challenged MPs to visit the moors and witness the “enormous contribution gamekeepers and private investment makes to managing the moors”.