Grouse shooting: Campaign against this vital part of the rural economy is often little more than class war against 'tweed-clad toffs' – Murdo Fraser MSP

I have never personally been on a grouse moor except when walking across one, but I still have always had a great deal of respect for the men (and, increasingly, women) who make up Scotland’s gamekeeping community.

Grouse shooting is a vital part of the rural economy, says Murdo Fraser (Picture: Phil Wilkinson)
Grouse shooting is a vital part of the rural economy, says Murdo Fraser (Picture: Phil Wilkinson)

Out throughout the year on our hills in all weathers, these are individuals caring for our natural environment, with an extraordinary level of knowledge of upland flora and fauna. They are ambassadors for rural Scotland: in my experience of hillwalking and climbing over many years, I have always found gamekeepers to be courteous and helpful.

Sadly, not everyone feels the same about these guardians of the countryside. According to new research published by the Scottish government, 64 per cent of surveyed gamekeepers say they had experienced abuse or threats due to their job. And 79 per cent were less optimistic about the future, due to being targeted by anti-shooting campaigns, a lack of government support, and the negative portrayal of shooting in the public domain.

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Any group of workers facing this level of negativity and abuse needs to have people speaking up for them, and I was pleased to see that my Conservative colleague Oliver Mundell MSP lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament last week highlighting the issue, and calling for more to be done to support gamekeepers.

Keepers are well aware that their livelihoods are under threat from an organised campaign against grouse shooting. Driven by groups such as Revive, and promoted by celebrities with zero understanding of the economics of rural Scotland, this is aimed at whipping up public opposition to shooting for sport. In many cases, this is little more than an extension of the politics of class war, aimed at “tweed-clad toffs” coming to Scotland to shoot and socialise.

The reality is very different, and was very helpfully set out in the Scottish government’s own research which detailed the socio-economic impacts of moorland activities in Scotland. Driven grouse shooting employs more people by area than any other moorland land use. It is one of three land-use types that deliver the highest levels of local and regional investment, in comparison to other moorland land uses.

And all this is done without any public subsidy or funding whatsoever. The management of land for grouse shooting also promotes biodiversity, with a range of rare species benefitting from activities such as muirburn.

Losing grouse shooting means losing the jobs not just of gamekeepers, but across a broad range of other activities in the rural economy. Hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, caterers, clothes retailers, and gun shops, all depend on these activities in rural Scotland, and the investment made by many shooting estates in their infrastructure supports employment in the construction and other trades. The disappearance of these inputs in our rural economy would be a disaster, and there is simply no alternative land use that would replace these levels of employment in the short term.

The Scottish government’s research is important because it dispels many of the myths about grouse shooting being promoted by its opponents. There is a lively debate around this issue, including the possible introduction of a licensing scheme as suggested in the recent Werritty Report, and these new findings will be vital in informing the discussions as we go forward.

Murdo Fraser is a Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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