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Mental well-being boost for moorland communities

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated communities across the UK, particularly those reliant on seasonal tourism. Businesses in rural upland areas like the North Yorkshire Moors and the Peak District have been brought to their knees. 

However, a new study by researchers from the University of Northampton has revealed a vital lifeline which is helping to keep some of these communities afloat, even amid the coronavirus storm.

Professor Simon Denny and Tracey Latham-Green of The Institute for Logistics Intelligence and Supply Chain Transformation at the University of Northampton have conducted a new study into the economic and social effects of integrated moorland management – including grouse shooting – on moorland communities.

The report ‘What Impacts does Integrated Moorland Management, including Grouse Shooting, have on Moorland Communities? A Comparative Study’, compiles survey data from 583 respondents in English moorland areas, as well as interviews with 61 uplands residents.

The study, which is one of the largest of its kind, examines the impact of integrated moorland management practices, including those that benefit grouse, in upland communities and finds that grouse shooting forms part of a ‘complex web’ of economic and social factors that allows moorland communities to not only survive, but often thrive in these difficult times. 

The study surveyed moorland residents around the UK and found that communities where moors were managed for grouse were far more socially vibrant and economically resilient than those which had no connection to the activity. To those who are familiar with these communities, this comes as no surprise. 

In all, moorland communities were found to benefit economically from grouse shooting both directly – through increased tourism to the regions and employment for gamekeepers and other estate staff – as well as indirectly, through estates’ investment in conservation and the facilitation of stewardship schemes which benefit local farmers.

Survey respondents reported a higher than average level of job security, despite being interviewed in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estate owners were also found to attach a great sense of importance to conservation, with 76% of estate owners stressing the importance of peat restoration and carbon sequestration. The researchers concluded that this dedication to conservation significantly improved tourism to moorland areas, as well as helping to protect communities against the potentially devastating effects of flooding and wildfires.

Grouse shooting was also found to have a pronounced effect on the social networks of moorland communities, with residents reporting a greater sense of community and a connection to the areas in which they lived.

Ms Latham Green explained:

“Areas of upland England managed for grouse shooting were found to have strong and vibrant communities, with upland, moorland residents expressing a stronger sense of belonging to the area they live in comparison with nationally available data…Statistically, residents in these areas were found to have lower levels of loneliness than the national average and those that took part in grouse shooting across a range of roles, not just as 'shooting guns', were found to have higher levels of well-being – measured using the short Warwick-Edinburgh mental well-being scale – than the national average.”

The study highlights how this sense of belonging can in turn have a significant impact on the entire UK economy, with loneliness costing an individual up to £6,000 over a ten year period.

Residents in areas where grouse shooting is practiced also reported higher than average levels of physical fitness, with 69% of survey respondents regularly completing 150 minutes or more of moderate exercise. The researchers report that a lack of physical exercise costs the UK £7.4 billion per year, and is particularly relevant given the government’s current plans to address adult obesity in the UK.

“It is important that these strong, rural communities are maintained and this study has found grouse moor management is part of an integrated system of activities in these areas, which the evidence suggests is vital to the sustainability and long term health and well-being of the communities concerned,” Ms Latham-Green concluded.

The authors of the study also emphasised the importance of the economic impacts of grouse shooting if moorland communities were to “thrive and not simply survive”. They also expressed their pleasant surprise at the social impact of the sport in fostering deep-rooted connections within communities.

Their advice to policymakers was to carefully consider the social and economic impacts of any policy that would affect the ‘complex web’ of integrated moorland management.

Read the full paper here.


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