Rural businesses have heralded the start of the grouse season as a ‘lifeline’ in overcoming the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As parties gathered in the Angus Glens for the first day of the season, local businesses are hoping that visitors for grouse shooting will provide an injection of income to sustain employment after an unprecedented six months.

Sporting shooting supports 11,000 full time jobs in Scotland, of which 2,640 are in the grouse sector. Game and country sports overall contribute £350m per year to the economy of Scotland.

In order to ensure that shoot days could safely go ahead, the country sports sector has spent the past few months working together to ensure that all providers and their associated suppliers are compliant with the new regulations on social distancing. The main changes relate to ensuring two-metre distancing between participants not from the same household, the use of face coverings where appropriate, avoiding shared transport and not congregating in large groups.

In Glen Clova, visitors to Rottal Estate were taking part in a walked-up shoot.

Dee Ward, owner of the estate said: “All aspects of our society have had to adapt to the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the country sports sector is no different. We have a duty to staff and local businesses to restart safely and be in a position to sustain the significant economic benefits that grouse moor management provides. 

“We have conducted our risk assessments and we have fully briefed members of the party, the gamekeepers and other staff as everyone’s safety is paramount.  In these unusual circumstances it is just good to get out and enjoy this beautiful Scottish scenery with friends and family and also help get the Scottish rural economy safely back on track.”

The 12th of August marks the opening of the grouse shooting season, which has attracted visitors to Scotland from the rest of the UK, Europe and North America since the 1850s. In a good year, approximately 970,000 bed-nights are purchased by tourists, both domestic and international, keen to enjoy Scotland’s world class country sports. This year there will be fewer visitors from overseas but it is hoped that there will be an increase in domestic tourism to make up the shortfall.

Lesley McArthur, manager of Glenclova Hotel and Lodges, said: “This year, every hospitality business has been hugely affected by the pandemic and the enforced closures. In rural areas we have been hit particularly hard.

“I know some restaurants in cities have been able to offer a takeaway and delivery service for their customers but we couldn’t do that until parts of our accommodation were allowed to open. We rely heavily on shooting visitors to keep our business afloat during the Autumn and Winter months. Grouse is very important for us, and later in the year stalking and pheasant shooting. All the businesses, staff and communities in the glens are reliant on country sports.”

Tim Baynes, Moorland Director at Scottish Land & Estates, said: It is undoubtedly a unique year for grouse shooting in Scotland but in many respects it is more important than ever to rural areas. The rural economy has been buffeted by the pandemic and the grouse season will provide a lifeline for many businesses, especially in hospitality, to maintain activity until the end of the year. Even though visitor numbers might not be as high as normal due to international travel restrictions, investment by estate owners will continue and that is good news for jobs, communities, wildlife and the environment.”

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