SHOOTING ESTATES in Aberdeenshire have joined forces to tempt consumers to add game bird meat to their regular shopping.

The group, overseen by the Soil Association Scotland-led Rural Innovation Support Service, involves six estates working with SAC Consulting and Fife-based processor Woodmill Game to explore new markets for the shot birds that have previously been treated as a business by-product worth only 'pennies'.

Speaking from Glenrinnes Farms, a private sporting estate which produces around 3000 pheasants, ducks and partridges annually, estate manager Alister Laing reported: “We’re getting less and less money from the game dealer. In certain situations they’re not even picking them up, which causes a major problem. So that inspired us to see if we could develop a market for these birds, which could benefit us and the whole shooting industry.”

Glenrinnes and the other estates in the RISS group recognised the opportunity to start treating game birds as a marketable product from Scotland’s natural larder.

“The challenge is trying to find the market,” said Mr Laing, “because people look at pheasants and partridge and don’t see it as a meat they want to eat. A lot of people aren’t sure what to do with a pheasant these days. So we need to process it into a product people recognise. It’s trying to get people to try it and enjoy it.

“We wanted to try and brand our own products to give people pies, pheasant breasts, sausages, burgers, or a whole pheasant to try," he explained. "It would also encourage them to eat a healthy meat, to utilise the birds we shoot, and have more money coming back into the estate.”

The estate group's first trial batch of game birds goes to processing this week. SAC Consulting's Ceri Ritchie connected the estate managers with Woodmill Game, which is now tasked with turning the game birds into marketable food products. She said: “The RISS approach allowed someone active in the food and drink sector to bring the group together. We have the time to do the research and identify the opportunities to move forward with, which meant that the estates had the additional resource needed to make this project happen.”