Q: What are grouse and where are they found?
A: There are four species of grouse in Britain: the red grouse, the black grouse, the ptarmigan and the capercaillie. Capercaillie are a protected species with fewer than 2,000 individuals in a few pine-dominated Scottish woodlands. Like the capercaillie, ptarmigan are also only found in Scotland, but only above 800m altitude and are notoriously hard to count. The black grouse population is UK-wide and estimated to be 5,100 males. They are found on moorland and woodland edges, either coniferous or birch. Red grouse are one of our few endemic sub-species, meaning that they are only found in the UK, and have a population estimated to be 230,000 pairs. They are found on heather moorland including both areas of blanket bog and upland shrub heath. All grouse populations fluctuate in size over the years so these figures are a mid-point estimate.
Q: Which grouse are shot on driven grouse moors?
A: Red grouse. They are regarded internationally as the paragon of gamebirds; their attraction has not been superseded by the ubiquitous pheasant. The marketplace confirms this view; the cost of driven grouse shooting can be five times that of a pheasant day for a similar number of birds shot.
Q: So red grouse are wild birds?
A: Yes. Red grouse moors are entirely dependent on wild birds, unlike many pheasant or partridge shoots, which rely on rearing and releasing. This is because reared red grouse survive badly when released, and grouse moors have maintained many parts of our upland ecosystem in a suitable condition for wild birds. This differs from large parts of the lowlands, which have been heavily affected by modern development and agriculture, and can no longer support a big population of wild gamebirds.
Q: Is driven grouse shooting the one where shooters wait for the birds to come to them?
A: Yes. Red grouse, pheasants and partridges are ‘driven’, where birds are flushed by a line of beaters and fly over the people shooting, who are stationary in a line. On grouse moors they typically stand in a line of ‘butts’ – screened stands for one shooter. But red grouse are also shot ‘walked-up’, where the participants walk across the moorland, flushing birds as they go; and ‘over dogs’, where walking shooters use trained pointing dogs to find grouse.
Inside a butt, a ‘loader’ prepares the guns for the person shooting (the ‘gun’).
Q: Are there benefits of driven grouse shooting over walked-up shooting?
A: Yes. Driven moors invest more in staff, time and equipment, which allows more consistent predator and disease control and enhanced habitat management. A driven grouse shoot can make this additional private investment because the private and market demand for driven shooting is higher, and therefore so is the economic return6. Walked-up shooting is a highly engaging sport, but it cannot typically provide the wide range of associated benefits provided by driven shooting because of its lower economic turnover.
Q: What are the conservation benefits of driven shooting?
A: Moors managed for red grouse are shown to be better than other land uses in maintaining heather-dominated habitat, and both directly and indirectly support the species that depend on or thrive in it. This is important because 75% of the world’s heather moorland is found in Britain. In addition, many species of upland birds, including curlew, lapwing and golden plover, are more numerous and breed more successfully on moorland managed for red grouse than on other moorland not managed in this way. The way the keepers manage the land is beneficial to these birds, some of which are of conservation concern, and whose populations are declining nationally and internationally.
Q: Are these benefits widely recognised?
A: Yes. In response to the last petition to ban driven grouse shooting, the UK government released a statement recognising that: “When carried out in accordance with the law, grouse shooting for sport is a legitimate activity and in addition to its significant economic contribution, providing jobs and investment in some of our most remote areas, it can offer important benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation”.