Scotland’s grouse sector has taken a multi-million pound hit due to the poor weather – but that has not dampened the private investment in vital conservation work yielding significant results for the nation’s treasured wildlife.

New figures estimate the financial impact of the shoot cancellations to be approximately £38.5m – direct spending on grouse shooting suffered a drop of around £22.4m while a further £16.1 million approximately was lost due to reduced trade with local businesses.

However, according to the Gift of Grouse campaign, the news comes at a time when conservation efforts are paying dividends thanks to the employment of gamekeepers and land managers funded by estate owners.

Ongoing conservation work on moorland across Scotland, including peatland restoration programmes, predator control and habitat management, is producing positive results for rare upland species despite the huge fall in income for estates with sporting interests.

Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group, said: “Estate owners have taken two major steps which are now having a noticeable effect on our biodiversity.

“Firstly, they have invested considerable sums in conservation measures designed specifically to create habitats of benefit to ground-nesting birds and other wildlife. We have seen the success of this investment in places like Strathbraan, where black grouse numbers have rebounded from single figures to 50 this year.

“Secondly and perhaps more importantly, there is now active and close collaboration between estates and partner organisations such as NGOs and public sector organisations, which wasn’t the case in the past. Voluntary initiatives like Working for Waders, Heads up for Hen Harriers and PAW Scotland are the way forward.”

Robert Rattray, head of Galbraith Sporting Lets, Scotland’s leading sporting agency, said:

“Scottish estates have had to cope with a terrible grouse season whilst simultaneously facing a major government review into driven grouse shooting, which is due to report next Spring. Despite these concerns, most estate owners are feeling optimistic because they have already moved to a model of robust self-regulation with conservation a leading priority. There has been a huge cultural shift over the past few years and estate owners feel that they have taken measures to address the issues that were previously seen to weigh against driven grouse shooting. This puts them in a strong position going forward.”

Scientists from Game Conservancy Germany recorded 103 different bird species at Glenogil Estate in May 2018. The habitat management undertaken by the estate was seen as the key reason for this abundant biodiversity.

The number of merlins is on the rise and some other birds of prey, such as buzzards, are also doing well. Hen harrier populations have been stable for about two decades in Scotland. Twenty-seven estates have now volunteered to place monitoring cameras on their land in order to protect hen harrier nests as part of the ‘Heads Up for Harriers’ project.

In 2017 the number of curlews in Scotland increased by 4% according to new figures published by SNH, although the species is still red-listed as a conservation priority. More than a quarter of the world’s breeding pairs of curlew – around 16,000 – are found in the UK. The number of some other upland birds also increased in Scotland in 2017, notably red grouse, golden plover, common sandpiper and hooded crow.  Short-term increases of more than 10% were noted in 2017 for the snipe and skylark. The GWCT’s guide to Conserving the Curlew (June 2017) showed that in areas where predator control existed, the curlew population increased by 14% per year.

The other conservation measures which shooting estates are engaged in to protect habitats include woodland planting, grazing reduction, rotational heather burning, predator and bracken control.

Peatland restoration programmes are under way to create the ideal conditions for rare birds, mammals and plants. Restoration projects began this year covering 3,700 acres of land in the Monadhliaths and 1,200 acres in the Cairngorms National Park. The nine estates involved have committed to continuing the work no matter how many years it takes. The restoration work involves using coir mats, made from coconut husk, which are placed over the bare peat followed by healthy heather, mosses and seed, which allow the peat to regenerate. The projects will require annual progress reports and careful management by gamekeepers on the estates.

Lydia Nibbs of Tomatin Moorland Group, which represents many of the estates undertaking the work in the Monadhliaths, said:

“These crucial projects will help to restore and conserve these uplands so that future generations can enjoy our amazing peatland and blanket bogs. Estates in Tomatin have adopted an innovative, collaborative approach to conservation, at landscape-scale, to achieve significant benefits. A significant part of our work, year on year, is to create the right habitat for grouse, other ground-nesting bird species and the mammals, plants and other birds which thrive on our iconic Scottish moorland.”

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