AFTER SEVERAL years crippled by poor bird numbers and Covid restrictions, Scotland's grouse moors – and the communities they help support – have their fingers crossed that this season will help top up incomes.

Speaking ahead of the season start this Friday, Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg, MBE, said he was hoping for some respite for rural businesses enduring spiralling petrol and energy costs.

After successive years of poor grouse breeding on the moors, there has been an uplift in some regions this year. While large surpluses of birds to harvest are not forecast, gamekeepers expect visitors to return to the heather uplands again, bringing a much needed cash injection to the rural economy.

That revenue boost will be particularly important to the Scottish game sector at a time when avian flu looks set to severely curb the 2022 pheasant and partridge seasons.

A number of UK shoots have been impacted by supply issues caused by flu outbreaks in the Loire region of France where many young birds are sourced for low ground shoots, which will begin later, in September and October.

“In a stable year, grouse shooting brings over £30million to remote communities in a short window, helping a range of spin-off small businesses at a quiet time after the summer holidays," noted Mr Hogg. "The recent Scottish Government commissioned study indicated just how important that income and household wages can be in these remote areas.

“We are not looking at consistently good grouse numbers nationally. Red grouse are completely wild. There are so many things which can affect breeding success, but, at a time when grouse shoots have been continuing to invest and getting no income back, we should be grateful for the coming season," he said.

"The return of visitors spending money is also equally important for local businesses. Their operational costs are going up all the time, with inflation. The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone in the countryside. We are going to need all areas of the economy firing, if we are to get back to some form of stability.”

Grouse shooting is part of a game sector that brings nearly £300m annually to Scotland’s economy, sustaining 4400 full-time direct jobs. The SGA noted that this was nearly double the number employed by all of Scotland’s large conservation charities combined.

But the avian flu impact on the pheasant and partridge seasons is a very real threat to some rural jobs: “I know of some part-time gamekeepers around me, in the Scottish Borders, who will not be able to host shoots at all this year because they were reliant on poults being imported from overseas," said Mr Hogg.

“Some are turning their hand to other things and hoping to source birds for the 2023 season but it is worrying and we hope to be able to sit down with shooting bodies, game farmers, vets and respective UK governments to look at future contingencies."

While Mr Hogg acknowledges that some people oppose game shooting, he firmly believes that gamekeepers, river and land ghillies and deer managers are helping to meet the Scottish Governments’ environmental and biodiversity aspirations.

“As well as the work that pays the bills, our members are helping restore peatlands, are managing non-native invasive species, humanely controlling deer populations, planting and managing woodlands and creating wetlands.

“These activities, and many others, are helping Scottish Government reach towards its targets and this skill and local knowledge resource is an irreplaceable asset to Scotland.”