Moors count cost as guns – and pubs – are silenced
The impact of extreme weather on the grouse population has taken a toll on local communities
ON A chilly autumn evening, the pubs on the edges of the moors come alive with the sounds of celebration after a good day’s shooting.
This year, though, the same pubs lay empty as a shortage of grouse saw 70 per cent of the shoot days in the North of England cancelled.
With the grouse season coming to a close tomorrow, it can be revealed that the shortage has cost rural areas millions in lost income.
The shooting community, which moves into moorland areas as the tourists begin to move out, has vanished entirely in some places.
As well as businesses feeling the pinch, local people who rely on casual work as loaders, beaters, flankers, and pickers have all been forced to tighten their belts.
The grouse numbers were heavily depleted by a harsh winter followed by a hot summer, and some estates said that the population of the birds was at its lowest level in living memory.
One agent who manages 10 grouse moors in the north of England has estimated that the total loss to the local economy from those cancellations alone is in the region of £3.45million.
Jim Sutton, the head keeper at one Peak District moor, said: “Due to the lack of grouse we have only had four days’ shooting this year.
“On average, we have about 15 days a season, so it is quite a dramatic decrease. It has had an economic impact on the community. There is the knockon effect on local businesses, everything from the hotels and the pubs to the butchers that sell us our lunch.
“But there is also a larger social impact as well.
“In moor areas we are all aware of isolation and loneliness in the elderly people. We have a number of people who come out on our shoot days who are retired.
“It makes up a large part of their life and the contact that they get.
“Normally with the grouse shooting season it really picks up just as the tourist season runs out, and in areas where it would go quiet, a vibrant shooting community comes alive.”
The 19 grouse moors in the Peak District had 120 days planned, of which all but 37 were cancelled, meaning casual employees lost out on £226,000. In the North Pennines, 13 of the grouse moors had a combined total of 350 days of shooting planned for this season.
But 308 days had to be cancelled, resulting in local casual employees losing out on a little more than £1million.
For one of these estates, which cancelled 63 days, the estimated cost to the immediate community was £400,000.
The three moors in the Forest of Bowland cancelled all of their combined total of 24 days’ shooting, causing £58,000 of lost earnings to those employed on their shoot days.
The knock-on effect was felt by local businesses such as the Inn at Whitewell, which lost £16,500 in restaurant and accommodation bookings.
Owner Charles Bowman said that while it had a noticeable impact, his business was not the worst hit as some more remote pubs cater exclusively for grouse shoots.
“It is not just the cancelled rooms and the associated food and drink, but I had people phoning up to see if we were serving grouse as they wanted to eat it,” he said.
“I think that it would have been a complete nightmare for some of the pubs that are up on the edge of the moors.
“Without the shoots, there is very little happening. It is a beautiful place to be but fairly quiet.
“Some of the pubs in the wilds of Cumbria or Northumberland would have been completely empty.”
Adrian Blackmore, the director of shooting for The Countryside Alliance, said: “This has been a hard season for many people who rely on grouse shooting for part of their income.
“Our figures show its significance to many upland communities, where it can be the main economic driver, and
‘Without the shoots, there is very little happening. It is a beautiful place but fairly quiet’
the impact to those communities when shooting cannot take place.
“Grouse are a wild bird, subject to the vagaries of weather and other natural conditions, so the occasional bad year is to be expected.
“Fortunately such years are rare, and it is thanks to the unique motivation of grouse moor owners that their investment into the management of our uplands continues regardless of whether or not shooting can take place.
“This investment means the shooting will be back next year, boosting the rural economy, and the incomes of so many hard-working people, in our remote upland communities.”
The keepers are hopeful that the bird population will be back to normal next year, but as grouse are wild birds it will depend on whether there is a good spring and summer.
A head gamekeeper on one of the Peak District moors, also below, strides with his dogs across countryside which has seen little action for the grouse shooting community this year