Scottish country sports tourism businesses denied coronavirus funding for a second time

A group of shooters walking down a lane

The UK’s largest shooting organisation has hit out at the Scottish Government for failing to make lifeline coronavirus support available to country sports tourism businesses, after it emerged they had been excluded from funds for a second time.

In an open letter to Fergus Ewing MSP and Kate Forbes MSP – the cabinet secretaries responsible for the latest funds – the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) said the situation facing country sports businesses was ‘unprecedented’ and that many were now at ‘crisis point’. They warned that businesses would collapse ‘if support is not made available in short order’ and urged the government to act ‘without delay’.

BASC claim that country sports businesses are being knocked back from the strategic framework business fund, despite being able to demonstrate closed or significantly modified operations. They say that the list of eligible sports and leisure businesses is ‘too narrow and prescriptive’, which is often leading to support being denied where it is needed.

They have also criticised an apparent ‘exclusion’ in the marine and outdoor tourism restart fund, which is designed to help seasonal businesses with re-start costs. They say that the decision to exclude country sports businesses from the fund has left them ‘perplexed’, given that country sports take place outdoors, are dictated by statutory open seasons and incur considerable overheads during the close season.

The controversy has been exacerbated on account of this being the second exclusion of country sports businesses from coronavirus support in recent months. Shooting bodies were angered when country sports businesses were excluded from the first round of support funds during the first lockdown. Rated businesses were subsequently made eligible for funding, although unrated businesses remained largely exempt.

BASC strongly condemned the second exclusion in the open letter, adding: “We appreciate that you are contending with a rapidly evolving and extraordinary situation, but you cannot justify leaving country sports tourism businesses in the lurch for an unprecedented second time.”

Ross Ewing, public affairs manager for BASC Scotland, said: “The exclusion of country sports businesses from much-needed funding for a second time is bitterly disappointing. While we appreciate the Scottish Government is under unrelenting pressure at present, it does not forgive the recurring exclusion of a vital rural sector from crucial support.

“Country sports are integral to rural Scotland, and the sector plays a crucial role in supporting other rural businesses throughout the tourism off-season. Failure to help the country sports tourism sector survive this pandemic will have lasting implications in other sectors. The Scottish Government must urgently intervene to rectify this dire situation.”

A spokesperson for a commercial shooting business in Aberdeenshire said: “The Scottish Government’s repeated exclusion of country sports tourism businesses from financial support is appalling. We have been unable to obtain any help throughout this pandemic. 

“Unlike other businesses, we have been unable to furlough staff and reduce expenditure. Although 90% of our costs are usually incurred before the season starts, this year we have had to continue feeding game birds throughout the season on welfare grounds. This has driven our costs up considerably, and has been further exacerbated by having little income from shooting.

“The Scottish Government seems to be completely oblivious to the crucial contribution businesses like ours make to Scotland’s rural economy, and seems quite content to let us fall by the wayside.”