Last week the “Glorious Twelfth” (12 August) heralded the start of the grouse-shooting season. Driven grouse management takes up about a million hectares of the Scottish uplands, creating a patchwork quilt of heather habitat and a playground for the rich.
It is often quoted that this management significantly contributes to the rural economy by providing jobs and other secondary economic benefits. However, many grouse moors operate at a loss, and most of the economic value is locked up in capital assets which are not necessarily invested back into the rural economy.
Scientific peer-reviewed evidence has linked this management to the illegal persecution of protected birds of prey, such as the golden eagle, hen harrier and peregrine, leading to population declines and local extinction of these species. This has resulted in calls for improved wildlife crime enforcement and greater regulation of grouse moor management.
Although sensitive grouse moor management can deliver some environmental benefits, intensive muirburn for grouse can also result in the loss and erosion of peatland habitats (a government conservation priority), increase flood risk downstream and prevent native woodland regeneration.
Other damaging management includes the bulldozing of hill tracks, systematic culling of mountain hares and drainage of peatland to increase heather cover. Is it in the interests of the country for such a large area of land to be used for the interests of an elite minority which conflict with wider public interest?
Perhaps it is time to consider alternative land management systems and economic models, through more land reform and greater community ownership.