Scotland’s regional moorland groups hosted an event at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, to outline the many benefits of the work undertaken by Scottish estates and upland communities.

MSP’s including Maurice Golden, Murdo Fraser, Edward Mountain, Kate Forbes, Rhoda Grant, Donald Cameron and Rachael Hamilton were updated on the activities of the six groups, from the Lammermuir Hills in the south to Loch Ness Rural Communities in the north.

Scotland’s estates provide homes for 13,000 families and generate over 57,300 jobs, bringing in an estimated £2.4 billion pounds annually to the Scottish economy.

Driven grouse shooting – a major land use on upland estates – contributes around £30 million to the Scottish economy, and supports the greatest number of jobs per hectare, according to the Scottish government’s own research.

Maurice Golden MSP spoke at the event of the importance of gamekeepers for upland conservation: “Hard working men and women, whose passion, skill and graft to conserve rare heather moorland habitat, supports many wildlife species which thrive on our uplands – from rare Curlew, to Merlin to the majestic Golden Eagles that soar in the skies. Without the day to day work that goes on all year round by the staff on these estates, we are at real risk of losing a truly underestimated environment. This is why it is important that the Scottish Government listens to the knowledge of the people on the ground, and the experts who back them, to make the necessary amendments to make this grouse moor licensing system workable.”

Lianne MacLennan, campaigns manager for Scotland’s regional moorland groups said: “We established the moorland groups in 2015 and they have gone from strength to strength, demonstrating the importance of these jobs in fragile rural areas and showcasing game as a sustainable, healthy and delicious local food. The gamekeepers play a leading role in species conservation, carbon capture and peatland restoration  too, with many of our most at-risk species thriving on grouse moors.”

To date, 5,000 vulnerable families and local charities have received a donation of a hot meal, through the Game For Giving scheme, which has expanded to more areas and operates throughout the season.

Gamekeepers and land managers from the regional moorland groups are also at the forefront of initiatives to improve Scotland’s biodiversity and boost rare moorland species.

By managing the land to provide the right conditions for ground-nesting birds, species such as Curlew, Black Grouse and Lapwing are doing well on grouse moors while they are almost absent in other parts of the country.

Birds of prey are at their highest number for many decades, with significant increases in the population of species including Red Kite, Buzzard, Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle.

Through the award-winning South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, sporting estates in the Angus Glens and the Highlands have been at the heart of efforts to re-establish a thriving Golden Eagle population in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway, by donating chicks to areas in the south with suitable habitat.

Lianne MacLennan also warned of the risks to rural businesses from the ill-considered grouse moor licensing scheme, due to be introduced during this parliamentary term:

“All it would take is one vexatious call from an anti-shooting campaigner and the individual concerned is at great risk of a fine of up to £40,000 and a 5-year prison sentence. In addition the estate itself may see its licence suspended or revoked, putting employees and their families at risk of losing their homes and livelihoods. These are rural communities who work tirelessly in all weathers to protect the natural environment and to ensure moorland species have the right conditions to prosper and thrive.”

The regional moorland groups work closely with the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service, providing specialist equipment training, advice and support to help control the spread of upland wildfires and gamekeepers are often first on the scene when a wildfire does break out.

Collectively over the years the moorland groups have raised around £100,000 for local charities.