Glorious Twelfth: everything you need to know about Scotland’s grouse shooting season

A red grouse among the heather. (Picture: Shutterstock)
A red grouse among the heather. (Picture: Shutterstock)
Share this article

The Glorious twelfth, which falls on the twelfth day of August, is the busiest day of the shooting season and large amounts of game are shot on this date.

It marks the official start of the four-month shooting season for red grouse in the UK and Ireland, however this year's Glorious Twelfth is set to be hindered by bad weather, much like last year.

Grouse shooting began back in 1853 when railways made it easier for people to get to the moors and the sport has since dominated the upland moors in Scotland and northern England.

Together Scotland and England have around 550,000 acres of grouse moors.

Grouse numbers fluctuate each year, since the birds aren’t bred for shooting and so some years are more fruitful than others for grouse shooting.

What happens on a grouse shoot?

Although it’s commonly associated with the Scottish Highlands, grouse are also shot on moors in England’s Peak District, Northern Ireland and Wales.

A shooting party normally consists of around eight to ten hunters (Guns) who stand in a line in the butts, which are hides for shooting spaced 20-30m apart and screened by turf or a wall.

The grouse are driven towards the Guns by beaters, but the sport can also be done by ‘walking up’ grouse over pointers or by flushing the birds with dogs.

Guns must follow a code of conduct, which governs their behaviour on the grouse moor for safety and etiquette.

Grouse management

The red grouse is found in heather moorland, which is rarer than tropical rainforest - and 75% of it is found in the UK as a result of grouse management.

To support a large population of grouse, gamekeepers burn patches of heather on the moorland, allowing fresh shoots to come through which provide nutrition to grouse.

The short new shoots provide food and the taller, older heather provides cover and shelter for the grouse.

While supporters of heather burning argue that it creates new habitats for different species, those against it say it has a negative effect on the diversity of moorlands.

Grouse moor management also involves routine control of predators such as foxes, crows and stoats.

According to the Moorland Association, in England, grouse moor management creates 42,500 work days a year and is responsible for over 1,500 full-time posts.

Of these, 700 are directly involved in grouse moor management, with a further 820 jobs in related services and industries.

The future of grouse shooting

Various issues have hindered the success of the grouse shooting season in recent years, such as flooding and bad weather, the effects of the sheep tick, the heather beetle and gut parasites.

In some cases, shooting hasn’t gone ahead in certain moors which have had low numbers of grouse.

Labour has also recently called for a review of grouse shooting because of the damage it says it causes to the natural environment.

Read more: Anti grouse shooting activists in Scotland accused of 'campaign of intimidation'

The party said that under a Labour government, it would launch a review into grouse shoots and would potentially replace them with “simulated shooting” and wildlife tourism.

In addition, the Scottish government set up a review in late 2017 into the management of grouse moors, looking at practices such as heather burning and culling hares.

However, estate owners have reacted by saying they’re being unfairly targeted and that Labour’s plans could threaten rural jobs.

Animal rights activists argue that the sport - which is traditionally an aristocratic hobby - results in the illegal killing of other animals, such as mountain hares, hen harriers, foxes and stoats which are often culled to protect grouse and their chicks.

Meanwhile, environmentalists have raised concerns that burning moors increases carbon emissions and the risk of wildfires and flooding.