Michelin-starred chefs Tom Kitchin and Brian Grigor have joined forces with moorland management groups to encourage Scots to eat the iconic game bird, which they say offers benefits for health, the environment and fragile rural economies.
Tom Kitchin, a regular on the TV show Masterchef and the youngest chef to be awarded a Michelin star, said: “To me grouse and the Glorious Twelfth symbolise all that is great about Scottish produce.
“The game we have access to here in Scotland is so outstanding I always feel it’s my duty to share the passion I have for it.
“I hope that others can share in that enjoyment of cooking and eating wonderful Scottish grouse the moment it comes into season.”
The estates will be dishing out free samples to hotels and butchers in the hope of persuading more people to try the meat.
Helen Savage, co-ordinator of Lammermuirs Moorland Group, said: “The more people get a chance to try the game produced and the more chefs cook with it the better.
“It has real flavour, it is wild and organic and there is next to no food miles.”
New research has shown the shooting season nets nearly £1 million in wages for scattered communities in the Angus region alone.
Lianne MacLennan, of the recently formed Angus Glens Moorland Group, said: “These jobs are so important when there aren’t lots of big employers around.”
But animal rights activists insist restaurants should stop serving grouse because of the unintended “by-catch”. They say the game shooting industry has a massive impact on many other creatures, with millions of non-target species including badgers, hares, cats, dogs and birds of prey being killed or injured to protect stocks of sport animals.
“The collateral damage caused by getting a grouse to the table leaves a nasty taste in the mouth,” said Tom Quinn, director of campaigns for the animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports.
“People are given the impression that shooting game for the table is a healthy, sustainable and environmentally friendly way of providing food. It is none of those things.
“The grouse themselves are often injured rather than killed outright, causing suffering, and the birds on the table will inevitably contain lead shot, which is a health hazard to humans.
“Millions of other animals and birds are deliberately killed to protect the grouse shooting industry. The environment is being devastated by the burning of grouse moors, and millions of tonnes of lead shot are left to poison the countryside.”
He added: “If people became aware of the huge numbers of foxes, badgers, hares, hen harriers, swans and other animals killed purely to put grouse on a dinner plate, we’re convinced they would care enough to stop eating it.”
The new publicity drive comes just days after retail giant M&S announced it would not stock grouse this year amid concerns over “responsibly sourced” supplies.
It will, however, continue to sell game birds such as partridge and pheasant and aims to have grouse back on its shelves in the future.