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Grouse shooting part of the big picture on conservation By Prof James Crabbe, University of Oxford

Grouse shooting part of the big picture on conservation

By James Crabbe, emeritus professor and supernumerary fellow at Wolfson College, University of Oxford


Writing in The Telegraph, Professor James Crabbe from University of Oxford outlines the role grouse shooting plays in conservation today.


Often referred to as the “King of Gamebirds”, the red grouse is unique to the British Isles, and makes its home across the country’s uplands. Grouse have been walked-up and shot over dogs since Stuart times, but it was not until the early years of the 19th century that sportsmen first experimented with driven grouse shooting, and it did not become general practice until the Victorian period.

Today, both the grouse as a bird, and grouse shooting, are small parts of a much bigger picture involving conservation, land management, economics and heritage. It is, unsurprisingly, a very emotive subject.

This is something I have been at pains to bear in mind while chairing a committee producing a major report by the University of Northampton into the sport’s sustainability in the 21st century. I was appointed with this in mind: I don’t shoot grouse, I have no personal interest in upland development, and I have never been involved in any emotional or political element regarding driven grouse shooting. I have simply sought to assess how sustainable the sport is in the 21st century and how it could fit into the modern world – if indeed, it could.


Many moorland areas that are managed for grouse shooting benefit the environment and its biodiversity. Across many upland estates, peat bogs drained in the 1960s and 1970s to make the land more agriculturally viable have been re-wetted. In the process, thousands of acres of bare peat have been restored, and hundreds of miles of drains blocked. Peatland is, of course, vital for carbon capture.

Managed moorlands also contribute to biodiversity. The mosaic of vegetation and the legal control of predators results in a habitat vital to the survival of many rare, or red listed, bird species such as lapwing, golden plover, curlew, red grouse and meadow pipit. Certain raptor species including the hen harrier and merlin also exist in higher numbers in these areas, and nest more successfully.


In most cases, grouse shooting is just one aspect of an estate’s business model, and it complements other activities. The world’s first recorded use of renewable energy was by a Northumbrian grouse moor estate owner in 1878. More than a century later, growing numbers of estate owners run water, wind or biomass power-generation schemes, crucial to achieving net zero.

A key part of our research was comparing grouse shooting with other potential uses of moorland. We found no evidence that other land uses would deliver the same benefits and that, when driven grouse shooting is done as part of integrated moorland management, it is sustainable.

Sustainability, though, is an ongoing process. We hope this report will be an important resource for policy makers, and anyone who cares about the development of rural communities and the people they serve.


You can download the full report here.