The 12th August represents the start of the game shooting calendar, beginning with the most prized bird of them all – our native red grouse. In more recent years this has not only been the start of the shooting season but an annual outcry of anti-shooting propaganda. Much of the criticism of grouse shooting is centred on the belief that it is for the privileged few, an elitist pastime with little or no benefit to the ‘normal’ people or the villages and towns bordering grouse moors.
I am no expert on ‘class’ in modern British society, so let’s keep it simple… Grouse shooting can be an expensive pastime, but does it matter when that money goes directly towards benefitting both wildlife and local communities. A well-managed grouse moor creates sustainable full-time employment and provides seasonal flexible working for people just as the tourist season begins to dip. For many pubs, hotels and restaurants across Yorkshire, this support is key to the health of their business.
The start of the grouse season brings together a vast array of people from all sorts of backgrounds. It is a staple employer of students looking to top up their bank accounts before returning to their studies, or a way of supplementing upland farmers’ incomes. It represents an opportunity for the self-employed, retired or semi-retired. It may sound odd to some who have not been involved, but the actual shooting of the grouse is a small part of a much bigger picture. Those who come together on a day’s shooting do so because they like to be outside, catch up with friends, laugh, gossip, enjoy a brew, spend time with their dogs and exercise while sustainably harvesting a wild and delicious meat.
I once successfully filled out a grant form and described a project that integrated generations in remote rural areas, prevented isolation of the elderly and improved health and wellbeing. This project also managed the landscape which attracted millions of visitors a year while providing a home for many declining species that have evolved to need open spaces. To the surprise of many, this project starts on the 12th August and is called grouse shooting.
Next week I will catch up with people like Julia, a midwife from the North York Moors who has spent decades in the NHS delivering babies, looking forward to her well-earned retirement. Julia will be on the moor smiling while watching her little cocker spaniel Ruby eagerly hunting in the heather. After walking miles in the stunning scenery she will head home from her first day back on the moor with a brace of grouse to cook and money to spend in the village shop and pub. This is not a rural fairy-tale – she just enjoys the benefits of grouse shooting like so many others.
I will be on the moor this week, a bit nervous that I can’t keep up with the whippet-like gamekeepers but glad of the extra income and in awe of the wildlife and landscapes. So please, next time somebody writes about grouse shooting or brings up ‘class’, just think of the variety and richness of people involved.