Grouse shooting during a global pandemic

Gareth Dockerty

Gareth Dockerty

Gareth is head of uplands at BASC. Having joined the organisation in 2016, Gareth’s role focuses on ensuring decision makers, stakeholders and the public understand the benefits of shooting for upland habitats and rural communities.

BASC has been leading the way providing practical COVID-19 guidance to a variety of shoots. This has recently included delivering COVID-19 guidance for grouse shoots.

Supporting the future of shooting

Over the last few months, the regional teams have undertaken hundreds of COVID-19 shoot visits to provide advice that enables shoots to have the confidence to operate this season. Our aim is to ensure that the much needed economic, social and environmental benefits of shooting can continue.

I have spoken to several upland shoots and have been extremely impressed with their ‘can do’ attitude to the COVID-19 situation. There has been an acceptance that shooting will be different this season. However, shoots have embraced this change and taken onboard the ever-changing government guidelines. They have sought solutions to suit their individual circumstances, while striving to keep everybody safe. 

COVID-19 guidance for grouse shoots

So with the Glorious Twelfth behind us, I took a day off ‘real work’ last Friday and headed out onto the moors for my first days beating this season.

I must admit that the usual nerves about my fitness or the panic of a long walk through chest high rushes at ‘keeper pace’ were replaced with concerns about COVID-19. How was it going to work practically?

I had spoken to the shoot a few weeks ago and sent some extra information about COVID-19 guidance for grouse shoots. I was confident they were taking their responsibilities seriously; however, it was going to be interesting seeing the advice put to the test.

Starting my day

I arrived as usual and was greeted with a smile. Before I knew it, I was part of the new process.

First, my temperature was taken. I was then moved into a registration area featuring clear guidance advice on the walls where I signed the ‘track and trace’ form and was handed a freshly sanitised flag.

I was supplied with a new face mask and drink before being given clear instructions about the rules in place. There was sanitiser available in convenient locations while people were catching up and getting on with their jobs as normal. 

Head keeper Murray Wilson said: “Everybody has embraced our new COVID-19 plan. The whole team has been brilliant across all roles. We are resilient and have practical solutions in place to ensure shooting continues while protecting the safety of all involved.”

Embracing a new normal

During the day I had chance to speak to Julia, a recently retired midwife who is a beating regular on the moor. After three days of beating she had embraced the new system like it had always been in place. Her main concerns were not about COVID-19 but the fact her dog went missing the day before on a drive; her cocker Bella did look suitably sheepish about the incident.

After the usual chats about the anti-shooting  lobby, (it is hard to escape the day job), it was onto the designated beaters’ bus. I was in Bus “B” and this would be my vehicle for the day – no swapping vehicles allowed.

Yes, there were less beaters in the vehicle, and it is a bit odd having conversations with face masks on, but apart from that it was business as usual.

Starting the first drive

As we got ready to start the first drive, my mind wondered to the moors around me and the challenges ‘keepers  have faced in the last year. Incredibly dry weather in the spring meant a poor insect hatch for the grouse chicks, not to mention a large attack of heather beetle and a global pandemic, yet this was the third day of shooting and there was a genuine feeling that we were all lucky to be there and be part of the day.

Rather predictably, the weather proved that there are some things we simply cannot manage. The mist rolled in repeatedly for a couple of hours until the day was eventually called to a premature halt. 

Putting my fears to rest

Even though we were cut short, the bit of the day we enjoyed gave me a sense of how shooting can continue despite Covid 19. My next beating trip will not hold any fears about COVID-19 or the regulations. Instead I can get back to the usual fears about being a year older and maybe a little heavier when tackling the moor.

Nobody claims it will be business as usual – but shooting is open for business, and that’s fantastic. The COVID-19 guidance for grouse shoots has really helped people take that step in the right direction. With the right attitude and cooperation from all involved, all forms of game shooting can enjoy our sport in a year when we need it even more than ever.   

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