Investing in a grouse moor could bag some substantial rewards
If you’re game for a great investment then a sporting estate is a sure fire bet. Sharon Dale reports.
AT the break of dawn on August 12, Royalty and landed gentry don tweeds and Barbours, fill up their hip flasks and head to the moors with gun in hand and a dog at their heels.
Over the last few years their ranks have swelled to include celebrities, bankers, Russian billionaires and entrepreneurs all keen to celebrate the start of the grouse shooting season, spend their “new money” and boost their social status.
But the pleasure and challenge of trying to shoot a bird that flies close to the heather at speeds of up to 80mph comes at a premium. A day’s shooting costs about £15,000 and if you want the ultimate prestige of owning a sporting estate expect to pay a few million.
Grouse moors with good sized houses are rare – there are only 350 managed grouse moors in Britain and most are in Scotland and the North of England. Just less than a third are in Yorkshire.
William Duckworth-Chad, of Savills Country Department, says: “They’ve been an important asset for the gentry and the aristocracy since grouse shooting started in Victorian times.
“Over the last two decades we’ve seen a shift in ownership. Some have been sold and leased to City guys, industrialists and entrepreneurs. They love shooting, but they are mainly absent landlords who see a sporting estate as a toy. They go up once a year for a week. The estate is a status symbol, but also a very good investment.
“They are highly sought-after especially if they come with a decent house. I’m not talking about a rambling mansion, but something manageable and big enough to sleep eight guns and their wives,” says William, who adds that the wives are increasingly joining the growing number of women who take part in the sport. According to Guns on Pegs, Britain’s biggest shooting broker, 20 per cent of its members are now female.
Real estate is important but the real value of a moor is quantified by the average amount of grouse shot on it.
This is arrived at by taking a 10 year average of productivity, which can be as much as £4,000 a brace (a brace is two grouse). This figure peaked in 2007’s property frenzy at £6,000.
If the average number of brace shot on an estate is 1,000 per year over a decade a moor could be worth £4m, plus the price of any property on the estate.
Owners also need to invest in the land and the annual running costs are high, anything from £100,000 to £200,000 a year depending on the number of keepers and beaters you employ.
It’s a considerable sum but you can offset the expenses. If you let a day’s shooting you should get £120-£150 a brace, so 100 brace a day would be £12,000-£15,000. Rent out your moor for 10 days and you have covered your annual costs.
Another option is to lease out your property, which is common among gentry, who may be asset rich and cash poor.
William Duckworth-Chad says: You choose to lease it out to people who are in the reverse situation cash rich and asset poor.”
Solicitor Edward Bromet is co-owner of Bingley, Burley and Hawksworth moors and his consortium also won the lease for Ilkley Moor in 2008 after submitting an impressive plan to revive the ecology of the landscape. He is president of the Moorland Association and says ownership comes with a great deal of responsibility.
“A grouse moor needs sizeable annual investment and a lot of input and administration to protect the heather moorland and create the right environment for game birds.
“You have a responsibility to the environment in the uplands and to the people you employ.
“I think you really have to be interested in shooting and conservation to take one on. I get a great deal of pleasure from it. It’s wonderful to see a healthy moor, with the purple heather in August and to hear curlews.”
The golden rule if you re thinking about buying or leasing a sporting estate with a grouse moor is that you must be passionate about the sport.
“It requires time, commitment and money to ensure a moor is looked after, but if you increase the number of birds then you will be greatly rewarded,” says William.
“Sporting estates have outstripped the country house asset class in terms of performance and that is because there is a lack of supply and a high demand, plus grouse shooting is a sport unique to the British isles and it’s the most exciting form of shooting there is. People will pay a premium for that.”
AIMING HIGH: Anna Thomas and William Duckworth-Chad on the Egton estate near Whitby. He says: “If you increase the number of birds, then you will be greatly rewarded.”