Image: Intensive grouse moor management on Millden Estate, Angus.

A report on the damaging environmental and social impacts of the intensification of grouse moor management in Scotland is published today by the League Against Cruel Sports. The authors of the report are Dr Ruth Tingay and myself. The report can be downloaded here (658kb pdf) and a short video here.

The report highlights a land use that where Scotland’s hills are being turned into intensively managed game reserves, where protected species are being persecuted, where electric fencing and roads are being constructed with impunity, and where much of this is eligible for public subsidy.

Image: New grouse butt construction with Firmounth and Scottish Rights of Way sign indicating junction between the ancient Firmounth and Fungle routes (Grid Ref. NO499853) Photo: James Carron

The evidence we have uncovered is a shocking indictment of a land use that is out of control. The methods being deployed to maximise grouse numbers are damaging the environment and are subject to no effective regulation or oversight by the Scottish Government and other public authorities.

The report is published days after a scientific assessment of many of these issues was published by Scottish Natural Heritage. The report was requested in response to concerns of SNH Board members about intensified moorland management practices in some areas, including the spread of hill tracks, increase in muirburn, heavy culling of mountain hares, and using chemicals to dose red grouse to increase numbers of grouse for shooting.

It also comes on the day that the Office for National Statistics published data showing that 33% of jobs in Angus pay below the living wage – the highest percentage of any Scottish local authority. Two of the case studies in the report focus on grouse moors in Angus. This may have something to do with the fact that, as the report reveals, the 2640 full-time equivalent jobs in grouse moor management pay an average of £11,041 which is below the national minimum wage.


Heatmap of Confirmed and Probable Raptor Persecution Incidents 2005-2014

The report will be launched at a fringe meeting at the Scottish National Party conference on Thursday 15 October at 6.30pm.


  1. I usually am in strong disagreement with the League Against Cruel Sports, but this time they have done something worthwhile – well done Andy !

    • Personally have found League Against Cruel Sports to have been of great support when life being made unbearable some days by noise of grouse shooting to be heard even edge of Edinburgh suburbia.Visitors shocked at noise.Having to listen to sound of birds,deer being shot at,not the nicest to have to endure even inside home at weekend with windows shut after week at a very stressful busy job.The League gave support,whereas the responses to letters I wrote to Scottish govt read as if written by shooting lobby themselves.

  2. This report is a really good insight into a disgusting practise which no government or environmental authority appears to have the courage to bring under control. Once again we read of SNH expressing concern, promising to look into the situation etc etc while our uplands are being raped for the sake of the gun.

    For the record it is not a problem that will be solved just by changing some land ownership laws. The Peak District of northern England is under a patchwork ownership of private water companies and the public as a National Park. Apart from saving it from some of the brutal measures described in this report, like the fencing out of deer, mass killing of hares and use of sheep dosed with insecticide to mop up ticks, it makes little difference. Tracts of moorland are still scorched black on what is supposed to be watershed for the big reservoirs below serving the northern cities. Trees have been trying for years to naturally regenerate across the moors where the sheep disappeared after the foot and mouth of 2001, and are burned, although as forest the land would hold 60 times more water and be an incalculably more attractive national park.

    Nothing must stand in the way of a free field of fire.

    The situation this report describes in Scotland is even worse. It is however in Scotland we have the best chance to get it changed.

  3. As evinced by what has happened and is happening on Dalnaspidal Estate under the new regime. I fear for the Loch Garry experimental woodland plots in the longer term, but the immediate effects are quite shocking. The local stalker/keeper and his son have left with 3 generations of local knowledge going with them. Tracks abound and the intensification of predator trapping is distinctly obvious. The Victorian -Edwardian dystopia is getting worse. Where the hell is the SNP land reform strategy?

  4. As we’re on the subject of grouse & raptor persecution, here is some genuine grouse hunting ! – but not the faux hunting of a load of bloated bankers shooting grouse beaten towards them – but with the fantastic Perigrene Falcon, poisoned and shot by obseqious goons, but a far more noble bird that provides a far more sporting and aesthetically pleasant scene ;

  5. William Ferguson

    Is there a way that grouse moors can co-exist with other land uses? There are many examples of land use that become over dominant, from grain to forestry. Roads, fences etc are not exclusive to grouse moors – yet the most obvious feature of the photo shown seems to be the right of way. The land debate often seems to be very polarised with little or no compromise at either end of the spectrum. Surely, given the diversity of our land, the debate, or at least the perception of the debate, can become more diverse as well.

  6. Now isn’t this just sickening. Wild cats, eagles, hare, pole cats etc, disappearing by the day . Management of shooting estates includes destruction of nature. Seriously overkilling. Hillsides scarred for life. Watched it happening for years, tried to highlight when I could. To these people money is no object, they are killers, and that’s what makes them tick.

    • Quite agree Jess.Shame poems by Burns expressing same sentiments seem to have gone out of favour,but ‘On Seeing A Wounded Hare’ expresses clearly what he thought of men taking enjoyment out of killing other creatures.
      Travelled across grouse moor at weekend and astonished at newly erected extensive wire fencing local insisted would have cost tens of thousands,(funding from EEC,ScotGov) with virtually no sign of life whatsoever apart from sheep-no birds of any kind to be seen then over 10 miles.Local was despairing and bitter at the actions,at what he called the destruction-certainly seemed that to me too

      • Yes – its a good poem, and an excuse to put a link to here ! ;
        Robert Burns was actually a keen coursing greyhound man, and did not like seeing non-selective/non-Darwinian mass slaughter of hares – but rather believed in “one for the pot” style artisan hunting – a man after my own heart indeed !
        It would be good to see this poem reproduced in the national press, all we have today is the mass shooting of mountain hares & brown hares by overpaid and overprivaleged rich yobs, with Gypsies & Crofters etc criminalised as “poachers” and such like mereley for getting out in the hills and fields for something to eat.

        • Thanks for link to poem.Burns couldn’t have shot or caught very succesfully in early life anyway as his brother described meat as being a stranger in their house for many years- maybe why he was so profuse in praise for haggis

          • You need to be very careful with the Bard’s verse because it often has a different meaning to the obvious.

            One for example describes being out hunting with the gun and bringing down a ‘bonny birdie’ that wasnae hurt then stroking its feathers to calm it. The gun wasn’t carried under his arm and a ‘bonny birdie’ was a young lassie.

          • Stuart thanks for comment below.Nobody however could read the once commonly recited ‘Tae a Mouse’ and not feel Burns’ genuine compassion for other living things.I was brought up in a house where some of the greatest Burns scholars visited,though paid little attention aa a child.And meat was a rarity in the diet of most of those at the time- less than 50 beasts were slaughtered in the town of Ayr annually around the time Burns was born.Pork and bacon were not eaten at all.Burns only mentions eggs once.
            This is not going off on a tangent from the subject of land reform, but rather I think it is highly relevant.

          • Stuart you made a good point but I just felt it important to put across those issues too.I should give a reference to those historical food facts
            ‘The Scotland of Robert Burns’ by John Strawhorn 1995 Walker &Connell

  7. Martin Meteyard

    Is it just a coincidence that major prominence was given to this news item today suggesting the beneficial effect for bees and honey production of managed grouse moorland:

  8. The League Against Cruel Sports report is at odds with an ever greater body from research from a variety of other credible organisations. We have made our response known here:-

    The LACS report flies in the face of the Scottish Natural Heritage report, which makes clear what steps can be taken to further enhance best practice in sustainable moorland management:-

    • Your response is merely to throw insults at me. Can you provide examples of where our research “is at odds with an ever greater body of research”?

      • No one is throwing insults.

        Grouse shooting cannot receive subsidy. Hill tracks now subject to planning approval. Two examples that it are not well sourced.

        • You described the report as “nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on estates by a land reform campaigner.”

          In response to your points.

          Hill tracks are not subject to conventional planning control. For agricultural and forestry purposes they remain a Permitted Development but prior approval is required for siting, design and appearance. As they remain a Permitted Development, they cannot be refused in principle. Your organisation opposed this regime. Importantly, this regime is only applicable to agriculture and forestry and not for shooting. Some of the tracks constructed at Millden are clearly for shooting but when they were considered by Angus Council (e.g. Application 09/00089/UNDV), the Council could not prove they were not for agriculture and thus had no option but to let them be constructed. Hill tracks are still being built for shooting purposes in contravention of the law.

          The report does not claim that grouse shooting receives subsidy. It notes that grouse moors are eligible for agricultural subsidy if a minimum activity is met. Grouse moors increasingly manage a flock of sheep to act as tick mops. This is part of grouse moor management and not agriculture. Yet, since it meets minimum activity levels, it is eligible for agricultural subsidy.

          Both these cases are examples of where grouse moors are circumventing the law by pretending that their activities are agricultural in nature when they are clearly not.

          • I would also like to add that many shooting estates are “owned” by shell companies in offshore tax havens, thus avoiding the tax that the rest of us have to pay, with us plebs having to make up the shortfall.
            Additionaly, many shooting days and holidays may be funded by “corporate hospitality” tax write offs, again, we the people have to make up the shortfall, oh, and there is the Business Rates Exemption, tax breaks etc etc etc….

    • OK let’s take one item of concern in the LACS report: medication. Do you know of any scientific studies which have looked at possible impacts on other species?

      Perhaps you could also provide some information which lists (1) each of the species which are culled in order to promote grouse numbers (2) what population levels you are aiming to reach with each kind of population control (3) any steps you take to assess the population size of culled species.

      I totally agree: facts are everything.

      • It would seem,I believe,easier to know what is being culled the closer the site is to a populated area,than in deepest countryside.The difficulties the police, the shooting industry face can be seen in the example below.
        Around a quarter of a mile from an Edinburgh police station and the sprawl of the city,less than 8 miles from Holyrood,a badger was found dead in a snare perhaps 8 years ago.Badgers of course protected species.The spot was close to a well used walking and horseriding route,former main route from Balerno to Currie,Lymphoy Road.It was immediately reported to the police as the badger was very close to a well established sett the finder had been secretly enjoying the activities of for some time.The only person the finder was aware of as being questioned by the police was the local gamekeeper for the estate(which has/had organised shooting of ‘ game’) which immediately adjoins where the badger was found,but there was no evidence, he denied setting the snare so of course no blame could be attached to the poor man.Obviously the snare could have been sett by anybody.
        One of the country’s most senior wildlife crime policeman has intimate knowledge of this event,from my recollection of conversations with him when he came re other investigations completely unrelated

    • The LACS Report is nowhere at odds with the SNH Report. The SNH Report is simply a dispassionate science based review of moorland environmental issues, in the context of Scotland’s Land Use Strategy, with a series of recommendations, which it says will require a shared holistic vision for the uplands. These recommendations assume however that we are dealing with a grouse industry which is not systemically criminal, irresponsible, anti social and unaccountable. It is that assumption which The LACS Report challenges, using evidence of abuse which you can in any case read between the lines of the SNH Report.

    • Monoculture which is what an intensively managed grouse moor is effectively, isn’t sustainable in the long term nor are ‘shooting estates’ the best use of land.

  9. Does anyone have the numbers for shepherds and tenant farmers put on the dole by grouseshooting.?
    it must be thousands

    • Not to mention the jobs that could have been created, but can’t, due to the persecution of Golden Eagles,Mountain Hares etc damaging the nascent wildlife tourism industry.

  10. Thanks for highlighting this Andy; it seems that wherever one looks now all that is visible is the steady destruction of the natural environment.

    Where I live we have just witnessed the destruction of a section of the Coupar burn (it is now a featureless ditch) done too, it is claimed, among other things, reduce flooding in the town. How it will achieve this is unclear as the work is downstream and downhill from the town.

    • Clearing a ditch below the town will allow the water to get away quicker, therefore wont back up into the town.
      When fixing drainage, you always start at the bottom and work your way upstream.

      • When flooding occurs it is because the water is held back by a very low bridge; when flooding has occurred the lower reaches have been running clear and not causing the burn to back up into the town, they can’t they are downhill from the town.

        Everyone with a knowledge of hydrology and fluid dynamics who has looked at the problem has reached the same conclusion; the work was a waste of time and money and will do nothing to reduce the flood risk in the town.

        The only thing it has succeeded in doing is eradicating beavers from that area of the burn. These are animals that have found their way to the burn from the Tay via the Isla and being from an illegal release they are not protected.

  11. The report is a fascinating read. This quote from UK statutory advisory Committee on Climate Change caught my eye:

    “Altering the hydrology of peatlands so they become
    drier is known to cause significant losses of carbon
    from storage in the soil. This is of great concern, as
    peatlands are the largest natural store for carbon on
    the land surface of the UK and play a crucial role in
    climate change. They are the Amazon of the UK.”

    As far as I understand it, a peat bog will grow (very slowly – something like 1mm per year?) until it fills up a natural basin in the surrounding geology. At this point, although new peat will continue to be laid down at the same rate, the bog itself won’t grow further because material can now wash away out of the basin as fast as it is deposited (more or less).

    With no burning, a bog would always be at maximum (*practical*) capacity as a carbon buffer. Peat mass would decline only in drought years (and therefore it wouldn’t always be at maximum *theoretical* capacity).

    With burning which causes peat losses which do not exceed the annual rate of formation of new peat, the total peat mass might drop a little immediately after a burning event but it would eventually rise back to 100% again. Over the long-term, the average capacity would be a little less than 100% but not by a huge amount. The bog’s ability to act as a carbon buffer would not be greatly affected.

    On the other hand, if burning causes peat losses which exceed the rate of formation of new peat (which I guess would itself be affected by the burning) the total mass of peat would decline over the long-term and the carbon stored in the bog would gradually be released to the atmosphere, year by year.

    So my question is: are grouse moors causing temporary, recoverable damage to peat mass or are they actually destroying the peat mass in a slow death by a thousand cuts?

    Carbon storage is just one of many impacts of course. There is plenty to be concerned about even if the answer is the former.

  12. i was really encouraged to read the report and the news of its launch at SNP on thursday.
    Would be great to see the red grouse fully protected, and then the ban on driven shooting, it is not hunting and it is not a harvest of wild food. Sporting estates participate in these puerile activities in an attempt to connect with the land they own.
    On a sporting/letting estate, the rents accrued from the tenant farmers fund the shooting activities for the landowners. A terrible drain on agriculture and ultimately a terrible drain on the tax payer, the economic contribution is a red herring, these sporting estates are kept alive with tax payers money from all directions.

    • SLURRY STIRRER: The SNP should be embarrassed by this report and its indictment of its repeated procrastination over land reform. How the hell can this kind of thing be going on within the boundaries of a national park, how can the Scottish National Party continue to fail to engage with the concept of a Scottish national park actually being owned by the Scottish nation? The SNP could begin with changing the status of wildlife from’ res nullius’ to ‘res publica’ with all the ramifications that would have downstream.

    • SLURRY STIRRER were you the SNP office when you heard the news of the release or did you hear it that it was launched at the SNP offices. If the former do you have any inside knowledge of a major SNP policy initiative to deal with the problem?

  13. Recommended reading on the subject is Mark Avery’s “Inglorious” ;

  14. a bit confused with the reports section on ticks, sheep and dipping. As a sheep farmer i dip my sheep to protect them from getting ticks on them in the first place. I suppose the dipping will kill any tick on the sheep. Would be interesting to research Estates with flocks and dipping licence, or use of pour-on chemicals. All the talk now is the introduction of the ewe hogg premium, which pays around 100euros for every home bred animal retained. Scheme is for the rougher areas and estates are buying sheep, i doubt if dipping is going to be a priority. I recon the sheep flocks are more to do with Agri subsidies than tick mopping.

    • perhaps we could give people on JSA or those on zero hours contracts a ewe -hogg premium, or even those who have lost their jobs on the above kind of estates?

    • I think you”ll find that mopping up ticks is precisely the reason that some flocks have been brought back in again after the tenants left with their flocks. Gamekeepers and sheperds have both said that its true. If the dip is fairly persistant a lot of ticks will be taken out and if not then more frequent dipping will do the same. Ticks and grouse do not sit well with one another.

  15. Andy, another piece of breathtakingly brilliant work. We have covered it on ALTER’s website as another example of “socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor”. Hope you don’t mind us using the photo by Chris Townsend- we have attributed it.

  16. “the data are not open to independent verification” the report notes pejoratively of the PACEC survey.

    The same is true of the allegation that 50% of Scotland’s privately owned land area belongs to 432 owners. (Hunter et al, 2013)

    • Neil if the PACEC Report was not widely discredited,it could only be evidence of how much money talks.Commissioned by shooting interests,paid for by shooting interests, evidence presented coming from answers given by members of shooting clubs after they had been told the responses would be important for the future of the activity.Oh yes,and scrutinied by one ‘expert’ professor.having just one ‘expert’ looking over validity of research- think that is the weakest verification

      • Carol, the LACS report was commissioned by anti-shooting interests and paid for by anti-shooting interests. Has the PACEC report been “widely discredited”? By whom? I don’t know because I’d never heard of it until seeing it rubbished in a report co-authored by somebody who put his name to a document making a claim that 432 owners own half of privately owned Scotland. Except the data backing up that claim is not are not open to independent verification. (Does that sound familiar?)

        Sauce. Goose. Gander.

        • Not at all Neil.The PACEC Report argued that shooting as a ‘sport’ brought substantial financial rewards to the economy . As I said before,a lot of the evidence came from responses from members of shooting clubs who had been told their responses would be very important for the future of the sport.They were asked how much they spent connected to the sport,and this was used to make up the figure.The entries made interesting reading.The report saw No negative consequences to the economy at all.I believe the damage to the tourism industry alone must be astronomical.I have also seen a young veteran of a recent war who suffered from PTSD who slashed his neck at a time he was forced to listen to noise like war sounds within his own home- hard to forget

          • I might also add that “shooting clubs” and the small and wealthy elite who shoot over grouse moors are two different things, many shooting clubs may be ordinary working people who do wildfowling,pest control and clay pigeon shooting, of course this adds up to the rural economy, but grouse moors (and pheasant shoots for that matter) can not hide, as they seem to be doing, behind working class hunters.

          • Carol, the PACEC survey may very well be a load of bollocks. I don’t know. I’ve never read it.

        • As has already been explained to you in other posts, the source data does not belong to Andy Wightman and it is in fact available to anyone who wants to do their own research and publish their own conclusions.

          Regardless, this post is not about that. It’s about the environmental effects of grouse shooting. Perhaps you would like to address specific findings from the LACS report.

          • Actually, Noel, I don’t think it has been explained to me that the source data doesn’t belong to Andy but who owns it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s not open to independent verification which was the criticism levelled by Andy and Dr Tingay at the PACEC survey.

            Who does own the 432:50 source data as a matter of interest? Were they asked for permission to publish it and refused?

          • No doubt the intensification of your own grousing practices would be a fascinating topic for another forum but on this one (for the second time..) we’re discussing the LACS report.

    • Furthermore, whilst on the subject of “subsidies by stealth”, it has been noted that many shooting estates are owned and/or shot over by banking industry magnates – who were of course heavily bailed out by the taxpayer during the banking crisis (which may yet be repeated).

  17. Neil .
    Here you go again , banging your old Scottish Land and Estates tin drum .

    On the subject of 432 people owning half the private land in Scotland .
    It is not only Andy Wightman who believes that only about 432 people own half the private land in Scotland .
    If you care to read an articlcle written by Simon Johnson , Scottish Political Editor for The Telegraph on 24 of January 2015
    ” She ( Nicola Sturgeon ,First Minister ) argues only 432 owners hold half the private land in Scotland , a figure Mr Johnstone conceded was ” LARGELY ” accurate .
    Neil , largely accurate means very close to the truth , give or take an estate owner or two
    Mr Johnstone is no less than Chairman of Scottish Land and Estates which acts for most if not all of the landed estates in Scotland . He should know , should he not ?. Do you not even believe The Chairman of S L and E ?.

    • GD, my point was a sauce goose gander one about the confusions and ambiguities which can arise when claims are made without opening the data they are based on to independent verification. I’m not sure that the Torygraph believing a stat to be “largely accurate” dispels that, indeed I think goes quite a long way to confirming it.

  18. Channel 4 News report from tonight on Scottish Land Reform proposals ;

    • yes, I saw it and what a f**kin disgrace it was for the SNP. I can hardly articulate the vitriol and bile I feel within me towards them for the way the have abrogated and disdained their own policies, promises and the hopes and needs of others. I left the SNP over this several years ago and time has proved me correct. Bearing in mind the spreading discontentment within their membership over the Party’s land reform stance, time and tide are beginning to flow against them. My heart went out Andrew Stoddart, his family and others like him. How could it all come back to this?

      • I dare say this may sound a bit nasty & suspicious of me, but it often seems that over the issues of land reform and conservation, the SNP often seem to function as an “establishment safety valve” – a bit like the invented opposition in George Orwell’s 1984.
        Activists should go hammer and tongs to push through extensive land reform and end the “tax haven” type ownership of estates – and hold the SNP (and Labour) noses to the grindstone if they prevaricate.

    • wow, the factor has an interesting attitude towards land. “the landscape has been provided by individuals who cherish the land they own” thanks very much!
      He also says ‘he’s never threatened to kick a tenant off the land because he can’t do that’. I wonder how true that actually is? A strange comment to make, just to throw it out there.
      I hope the SNP watch this when they revisit the Land reform Bill.

      • The islay folk have a slightly different view of that factor,s statements.

      • SLURRYSTIRRER: The highlight of the SNP conference was the remit back on the land reform bill. The SNP hierarchy that have been prevaricating, procrastinating and obfuscating on real land reform for over 30 years have been sent homewards to think again. I can hardly contain my Schadenfreude.

  19. the aftermath of heather burning is terrible, i have been involved in a burn once, on a sheep farm, snakes and frogs cooked to a cinder are what i can remember. Hopefully one day the red grouse will be fully protected and this wee wild red chicken can live in peace. All the noise about jobs and economic revenue have been exposed and anyway it is absolutely no defines for killing animals for fun.
    It is possible to have a hunting/shooting group which is based around a ‘harvest of wild food’ attitude, where venison for example is shared out among locals. At the moment the shooting industry is referred to as sporting, which implies fun. And often fun for elite wealthy individuals desperate to demonstrate their connection to the land. One of the saddest things i witness every year is the sound of small wild ducks being shot as darkness falls. They fly over my farm whistling and then a few seconds later on reaching their pond, ‘boom and flash’! its all over. I often wonder if that was them landing for the first time after migration.

    • It would be interesting to look at hunting models from around the world, for instance, i understand in sweden & Nordic countries, hunting is set aside for local indiginous people, and in New Zealand, hunting on federal land is “common weal”.
      The grouse shooting industry trumpets the grouse as a food source, yet grouse moors are capable of producing far more wild food than grouse, namely mountain hares,deer,wild goats etc….. if they were not all shot to rarity/extinction by the owners !

  20. Replyiing to Noel Darlow above, October 17, 2015 at 10:16 pm “No doubt the intensification of your own grousing practices …”

    Noel, I note you avoided my question “Who does own the 432:50 source data as a matter of interest? Were they asked for permission to publish it and refused?”

    Do you own the data, Noel? Or is it you and Andy jointly? If not, who does own it? Do you know?

    [I rather suspect this will be replied to by being told it’s off topic. If so, it’s no more off topic than comments above about the SNP conference and recent Channel 4 news reports.]

  21. Neil .
    Here you go again , banging your old Scottish Land and Estates tin drum .
    On the subject of 432 people owning half the private land in Scotland .
    It is not only Andy Wightman who believes that only about 432 people own half the private land in Scotland .
    If you care to read an articlcle written by Simon Johnson , Scottish Political Editor for The Telegraph on 24 of January 2015
    ” She ( Nicola Sturgeon ,First Minister ) argues only 432 owners hold half the private land in Scotland , a figure Mr Johnstone conceded was ” LARGELY ” accurate .
    Neil , largely accurate means very close to the truth , give or take an estate owner or two
    Mr David Johnstone is no less than Chairman of Scottish Land and Estates which acts for most if not all of the landed estates in Scotland . He should know , should he not ?. Do you not even believe The Chairman of S L and E ?.
    Why not ask David Johnston ?.