Ian Elliot, Head keeper, Hopes Estate, East Lothian

IT is today that the heather-clad hills and glens of Scotland come alive to the sounds of the start of the grouse shooting season.

So what cause do we have to celebrate the Glorious 12th? It’s certainly true that grouse shooting makes a major contribution to the largely fragile local economies around rural Scotland.

Loading article content

It’s very much the case that hotels and an array of small businesses from cafes to garages are sustained and many people are employed – either full or part-time – in a wide number of associated enterprises.

There’s no question that sustaining a shooting enterprise is a major commitment 365 days a year.

But an outstanding reason to see today in all its glory is that the grouse is not only red or black but also green.

Clearly, wild grouse won’t relish the prospect of being shot but their continuing and unique existence in Scotland is due to the fact they are harvested in a sustainable way.

We should also bear in mind that, in many areas of Scotland where shooting no longer takes place, the grouse have gone, too, and the landscape is drab and unkempt.

On grouse moors it is a more positive picture. There is a vast range of birds either breeding or feeding on land managed by gamekeepers and species that have suffered serious decline in various parts of the country have rallied on moors.

Golden plover, black grouse, ring ouzel, golden and white-tailed eagles, peregines and hen harriers are among leading species identified on managed moors.

Some audits in recent years have put the number of species breeding on renowned grouse moors in the 80s. Only this week, new research by Newcastle and Durham universities highlighted the extent to which species are thriving on moors.

This diversity of species is one of the least heralded gifts of grouse moor management.

It is all too easy to portray shooting estates as akin to bird-of-prey deserts but that is a distorted view. Eagles, buzzards and red kite numbers continue to rise and, while the breeding of hen harriers remains frustratingly static, there is a widespread commitment to improve those numbers and this year a record number of estates have volunteered to be part of the Heads Up for Harriers Project operated by Scottish Natural Heritage.

High quality habitat management can deliver multiple conservation benefits. Gamekeepers want this to happen and are in fact making it happen on daily basis across the country.

The shooting season is quite short but we are out there all year round managing the landscape that we all cherish.

Of course, concerns about shooting have to be recognised and addressed. We have to adhere to the highest standards and the keepers I know do.

That also applies to the environment. For example, heather burning (necessary to keep it blooming and purple) has to be undertaken sensibly.

Equally, some the work that has been done on shooting estates in terms of peatland restoration has been of real environmental benefit.

We’d all be in a sorry state if we could not express our views and those who are opposed to grouse shooting pursue their case vigorously.

However, I also have the right to fight my corner and am proud of the social, economic and environmental difference that we make in rural Scotland.

What we in the countryside are looking for as we embark on another grouse shooting season; is a Scottish success story – and that should be reason enough to celebrate on this day.