Nothing to grouse about for community

Forget preconceptions, shooting means jobs and continuity, says Jo Sutherland

Grouse numbers are thought to be down due to the poor weather. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

THERE are many brilliant aspects to Scotland that draw tourists from near and afar, although it is unlikely that our inclement weather is likely to feature particularly positively in any visitor’s guidebook.

Whilst the hills and glens are iconic, the rain and cold we sometimes experience can evoke a less warm image.

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Unfortunately, the weather was one of the topics for discussion on 12 August, which saw the grouse shooting season get under way in Scotland.

Following several particularly good seasons for grouse numbers, the rather intemperate conditions in the spring means that moors are unlikely to hit those heights in 2015.

Yet worrying about the numbers are just one small part of the grouse story.

The Glorious Twelfth also witnessed the launch of the Gift of Grouse, an initiative to demonstrate the benefits of grouse moorland to Scotland beyond the media gaze that occurs at the start of the season.

As the owner of a hotel nestled close to the Lammermuir Hills, I’m very familiar with the gifts that are provided through grouse to the region, whether it be tourism, employment, conservation or accessibility.

Across the Lammermuirs, there are ten grouse moors that contribute heavily to land use in the region between East Lothian and the Scottish Borders.

Most importantly for businesses such as ours, it contributes economically to our work on an ongoing basis.

Often seen as an elitist pastime, the common refrain from those who care little for country sports is that the money from visitors goes straight into the bank accounts of large estates, never to be seen again. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Every year, we welcome guests from many corners of the globe. However, for many who visit us, the Lammermuirs and their famed reputation for grouse shooting are the draw for their visit to Scotland – and, contrary to popular belief, it is simply not the case that the estate is the only beneficiaries.

In a region with no large-scale industry, tourism from country sports is a vital source of income to businesses such as our own. It helps to ensure that the hotel is a busy year-round business.

For the staff who work at The Lodge at Carfraemill, this means a permanency of employment that would perhaps be less likely otherwise. It means that our chef can continue to source the best ingredients, including grouse, from local Scottish producers – helping to add to the viability of their own businesses.

This ripple effect takes place across the region. Those who shoot help sustain our business and many others. We in turn can help to sustain other businesses, whether it be the local farm that supplies our eggs or the garage that services our car.

This doesn’t even begin to touch upon those who are directly employed by estates to conserve our land – and anyone who knows the beauty of the Lammermuirs will know the exceptional work they do.

Yet it’s not just heather and grouse, even though they are at the heart of management effort. There is a rich tapestry of other wildlife on the moors, including roe deer, pheasant and partridge which will go from hill to plate. And this isn’t to mention the other species – some of them increasingly rare in other parts of Scotland – such as golden plover, lapwing, curlew and black grouse.

Yet, this biodiversity is unlikely to flourish without the work of gamekeepers and estate staff. A recent survey by the local Lammermuirs Moorland Group found that 31 full-time jobs were created as a direct result of grouse, with many hundreds of seasonal positions.

It is easy to quote job numbers but those are jobs that support families. They support young people who attend local primary schools and keep our community thriving. They keep the next generation in the region rather than instantly upping sticks to Edinburgh or beyond at the age of adulthood.

No matter what the weather is like, the work of the gamekeepers continues and the estate ensures that costs are met and it is prepared for the arrival of visitors in the autumn. For a business that appreciates what grouse can provide, we are thankful that this cycle continues come rain or shine.

• Jo Sutherland, owner of The Lodge at Carfraemill