DESPITE A poor grouse season marred by numerous shoot cancellations, downstream spending in remote communities by Scotland's grouse moors increased to over £15m.

A survey by Scotland's six regional moorland groups found that footfall in rural areas reduced during the grouse season but spending in associated business continued which meant local jobs were protected.

Read more: Disease monitoring in grouse critical following poor breeding season

Prolonged periods of snow in March and May had a direct impact on the breeding season for red grouse which led to many estates cancelling or scaling back shoots without enough birds.

However, the survey found that despite average losses of nearly £140,000 each due to cancellations, downstream spending actually increased to an average of over £600,000 worth of contracts per holding.

The survey analysed confidential accounts data from 25 respondent estates of varying sizes, from the Monadhliath Mountains to the Southern Uplands.

While there has still been substantial losses of income, continued investment has been a lifeline for remote communities recovering financially from the pandemic.

Due to shoot cancellations, rural areas didn't see the same levels of visitors and local seasonal employment, however, associated businesses such as garages, trades, maintenance, feed businesses, builders and services still benefitted from considerable combined spending of £15,238,704.

The survey revealed that gamekeeper and estate employment remained static with estates self-financing salaries and no respondent using the UK furlough scheme.

Amongst respondents, one gamekeeper job was not replaced following an employee departure but this was partially off-set by an additional fishing ghillie being recruited on another estate.

Overall losses of shoot bookings led to a deficit of £3,490,084 altogether, averaging at income losses of £139,603 each.

“On the back of Covid-19, grouse moors have seen some leaner years of late," said Lianne MacLennan, Co-Ordinator of Scotland’s regional moorland groups. "We were expecting to see signs of reduced spending, in line with losses, and perhaps some shoots trimming staff.

“However, employment remained high, which is really important in remote communities, where the loss of one job and one family home is felt disproportionately," she continued.

“We found there was no reliance on furlough money but the biggest surprise was the continued spending.

“That will have helped a lot of small family businesses in these rural areas, as well as local suppliers at a critical time of recovery. That is a good news story.”

A 2020 Scottish Government-commissioned report into Grouse Moor Socio-economics found the activity sustained more jobs than other moorland land uses and created ‘disproportionately important economic impacts for communities.’

It also found that, unlike conservation which relied on 80% public spending, there was no direct public financial support for grouse shooting.

Read more: Moorland managed for game brings environmental benefits

However, Ms MacLennan pointed out that the Scottish Government is set to introduce a licensing scheme for grouse moors this term as MSPs bid to crack down on a small minority, drawn into allegations of raptor persecution.

She explained that officials believe too burdensome a licensing scheme could wreck sector confidence and threaten the acknowledged economic and biodiversity benefits associated with moorland management.

Gamekeeper Les George from Grampian Moorland Group, concluded:“Moors require significant investment with no income guarantee and we are close to the tipping point. Scottish Government could effectively lose an important rural sector if it bows to too many extreme demands on licensing,”