SOCIALLY DISTANCED country sports must continue during the pandemic to ensure the rural economy can continue to recover.

Scottish Land and Estates has criticised calls for country sports to be halted, pointing out that they are an open air pursuit where social distancing is easily practised.

Stressing that country sports are worth around £200million per annum to rural areas, the chief executive of the rural business association, Sarah-Jane Laing, said critics of country sports appeared content to see thousands of workers’ livelihoods lost in order to prevent the activity taking place.

“Over recent days, we have seen an array of calls being made for country sports, including grouse shooting, to be halted, which would deliver a crushing blow to the rural economy at a time when it has already been struggling during the pandemic.

“A recent Scottish Government commissioned review highlighted how important grouse shooting is for employment, reporting that around six gamekeeper jobs are maintained for the same area of land that would need one shepherd if used for farming," she continued. "This also doesn't take account of the part-time employment on shoot days and the hotels, shops, restaurants, garages and other businesses across Scotland which rely on country sports tourism for their own sustainability.

“Country sports is an open air pursuit where social distancing is easily practised and a Covid-19 framework is adhered to. A range of other activities in the events and tourism sector are also unaffected by changes to maximum gatherings."

Ms Laing suggested that individuals were using the pandemic as a means to attack country sports under the guise of public health concern.

“Everyone fully understands the difficulties that the pandemic is creating, especially when it impacts on visiting our family and loved ones. However, it is deeply troubling that anyone would use unfounded health concerns to pursue their dislike of country sports and place livelihoods at risk as a result. That is the reality of what activists are calling for,” she concluded.