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AS PARTIES of shooting enthusiasts took to the hills for the start of grouse season last weekend, a battle broke out in the media between the gamebird industry and activists seeking to ban driven grouse shooting.

In what looks set to become an annual exchange of fire between the two opposed lobbies, conservation figurehead Chris Packham took to the airwaves and social media to back a petition demanding that a ban on the sport be debated in Parliament, while ex-cricketer Ian Botham retorted on behalf of the shooting sector that Mr Packham had 'eco-tourettes' and was abusing his position at the BBC to push 'extremist' views.

But with the League Against Cruel Sports having achieved the 100,000 petition signatories needed to push the issue onto the parliamentary timetable, the shooting industry has been working overtime to highlight its economic importance to the UK's uplands.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg pointed out that shooting provided 8800 full-time jobs per year in remote areas, and with uncertainty slowing Scotland’s economy, offered a rich seam of employment that has never been more important.

“Compared to many other European countries, Scotland does not have an embedded ‘hunting’ culture and chunks of the population don’t know the impact the shooting seasons have to the country, economically," said Mr Hogg.

“The 2014 ‘Value of Shooting’ report showed 8800 full-time jobs relying on shooting – 2000 more than are created by the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe, Tattoo and Hogmanay combined, according to the latest figures from Festivals Edinburgh. These festivals are a major attraction for Scotland and rightly so.

“Shooting jobs dwarf the growing music tourism market, creates as many jobs as our number one food export, the farmed salmon sector, and it will bring in more money – at £155 million a year – than The Open Championship did at St Andrews in 2015," stressed Mr Hogg.

“Shooting, by its nature, will never be popular in everyone’s eyes and the divisions in the countryside now can be negative. As an organisation, we seek to make progress and look forward. It is important the skilled workforce is retained and new opportunities for the future are explored with decision makers.”