By Mike Smith
IT usually arrives with a bang but in the last two years, the Glorious Twelfth – the start of the grouse shooting season – has landed with more of a whimper. The pandemic and subsequent international travel restrictions, coupled with poor grouse breeding numbers, has led to a challenging period for those who work on our moors – and the businesses that rely on them.
Yet, this year, there is quiet optimism that the outlook for the season is good – and Scotland’s rural economy will be the first to raise a glass if that comes to pass.
As the owner of an accommodation and hospitality business near Dunkeld, I’ve been all too aware of the recent stresses brought to bear on firms such as ours. Long periods of not being able to fully open our doors followed by a need to meet pent-up demand – and now we look ahead to winter with unease about what rising energy prices will bring.
It is vital, then, that we capitalise on the brilliant assets that bring visitors to Scotland to safeguard the long-term health of our business and the employment we provide. One of those assets is grouse shooting.
We often see in the media, including in this esteemed newspaper, the ping-pong of debate between those who want to see grouse shooting consigned to the past and those who champion the benefits it brings. I see first-hand that it means so much more than polarised opinions – it provides jobs, income, communities, opportunities for young people, conservation by estates and field to fork sustainability as grouse makes its way onto plates as a healthy game meat in restaurants around the UK.
Moors will only shoot where there are surplus grouse, ensuring they can maintain a viable population of the wild bird for the years to come. This year, grouse numbers look encouraging and that means my business will be welcoming visitors from Scotland, England, Europe, and America to name but a few.
These parties come here specifically for grouse shooting but do so much more. Off-road driving, hiking, canoeing and canyoning with local activity providers are favourites, and it goes without saying that local pubs and restaurants – not to mention taxis – benefit from parties enjoying meals out with an accompanying dram or two.
But take away the grouse shooting – as experienced in recent years – and the rest of the economic benefits from these visitors disappear too. Many will argue that this could be replaced by some other form of business, such as nature tourism, but that fails to take account of when country sports sustains what we do – that difficult August to December period when there is a big dip in demand from "standard" tourism.
Whilst we recognise that grouse shooting is not everyone’s bag, recent Scottish Government commissioned research has amply demonstrated its advantages. A good 2022 season will mean so much to rural Scotland given the wider uncertainty ahead – we are among many hoping the season gets off to a flying start.
Mike Smith is owner of Tay House, Dunkeld