Max Wiszniewski: As the shooting season ends, it’s time for a new beginning on Scotland’s grouse moors

Ben Wray

Max Wiszniewski, Campaign manager for the Revive coalition which seeks reform of Scotland’s grouse moors, says an ambitious project to transform Scotland’s grouse moors can literally change the face of Scotland for the better

IT’S all very well talking about radically reforming or banning driven grouse shooting but you need to show there is something you can replace it with.

The so-called Glorious 12th of August is celebrated by a few as the official beginning of the shooting season. Last week was the official end of the season and can be celebrated by everyone else as the launch of an ambitious project which puts the apparent benefits of driven grouse shooting into sharp perspective.

Back to life, produced by Common Weal and Lateral North as part of the Revive coalition, is a report that not only brings a menu of alternatives to the table to choose from, but also shows that these alternatives could vastly increase the productivity and job creation potential reaped from the land currently used by the grouse industry.

Between 12 and over 18 percent, almost a fifth, of Scotland is managed for grouse shooting. The grouse shooting industry would want you to believe that this bloodsport is the best sole use of this land. Back to life provides us all with the opportunity to kick off the conversation of how ambitious we can be in our vision for changing Scotland.

For those who may not know, driven grouse shooting involves a line of ‘beaters’ disturbing the grouse, causing them to fly towards a line of ‘butts’ in which shooters use shotguns to kill as many of the birds as possible. The grouse shooting industry may like to portray itself as being a vital and wholesome part of Scotland’s countryside, a perfect picture of nature in balance perhaps, but the reality is nature in decline and chaos.

Hundreds of thousands of animals die every year to protect grouse so they can be shot for fun while illegal persecution of Scotland’s birds of prey has been a historic problem. Our vital peat reserves (which capture huge amounts of carbon) are constantly threatened by seasonal burning of heather. Muir-burning occurs to make conditions more favourable for grouse – resulting in a golf course-like patchwork across the moors.

READ MORE: ‘Scaremongering’: Grouse moor reform campaigners hit back at ‘killing livelihoods’ claim

The landscapes are artificial and barren, as wildlife is limited and grouse are mass-medicated to keep up their numbers while poisonous lead shot, used to kill grouse, is spread across the moors. And it doesn’t end there. Fencing to keep deer out and sheep (which act as diversionary tick mops for grouse) in, can block land access while unregulated hill tracks, designed to ease access for land management, scars our countryside.

For all these costs, and some generous public subsidies, the grouse shooting industry claim it brings £32 million to the Scottish economy, and all it needs is up to almost a fifth of Scotland’s land to do it.

Back to life provides a number of alternative visions for communities and decision-makers to look at, all of which seem to dwarf the economic contribution that comes from a dedication to killing red grouse. Not everyone will agree with every option and it’s not the intention of the report to provide a static vision of what should happen. What it does very well is to highlight ideas that people and communities could explore and prioritise themselves if they had the option to do so.

READ MORE: ‘The Gift of Grouse’? Shooting estates revealed to be paying less than minimum wage

The Scottish Government has already commissioned a review into licensing grouse moor management. Revive will be pleased to work with this commission and MSPs from every party who are ambitious for Scotland’s people and care for protecting our environment and wildlife. That’s why we’re making sure they all have a copy on their desks this week as the grouse shooting season officially finishes.

After only a few weeks, over 8,000 people have signed the pledge and joined the movement to significantly reform Scotland’s grouse moors. Reviving our moors is the opportunity for the Scottish people to build on the incredible natural resources which are abundant – or could be abundant if we look after them properly. It’s time to literally change the face of Scotland for the better.

Picture courtesy of Mark Hope