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

As reported in 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”. Red grouse breed on average three times more successfully when predator control is performed, the study said 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.

[Wild Justice Campaigners]

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”. The community spirit of grouse shooting helps reduce loneliness, the researchers claimed 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, 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.”

[Professor James Crabbe, University of Oxford] Campaigners such as Chris Packham’s group Wild Justice have called for driven grouse shooting to be banned

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.”

This article was first reported in The Telegraph


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