Scottish Water looks set to ban grouse shooting on their land

The gory blood sport of grouse shooting is well underway in the UK. The rich are whipping out their rifles in delight, eager to murder defenceless birds. But it’s one blow after another for grouse shooters in Scotland, as Scottish Water has stated that it will issue no new leases on its estate.

The company owns 55,000 acres of land in the country, so this is, potentially, a significant loss to the shooting industry.

A company spokesperson said:

“Scottish Water has only one area on which there is an operational grouse shooting lease in place. This lease is set to expire in 2027 and we will review our future options on land use priorities at that point.”

The one area where Scottish Water currently allows grouse shooting is, according to The Times, in the catchment of Backwater Reservoir in Angus, spanning around 6,900 acres. But it looks like bad news for this shooting estate, as the spokesperson said that it will review the lease:

“with particular regard to biodiversity and sustainability, taking into account our position on muirburn [the burning of heather moorland] and herbivore management requirements.
This will be subject to a formal decision-making process to be undertaken in due course; however, it is likely these considerations will lead to changes in the terms of any lease offered in future.”
The company spokesperson then announced even better news:
“In the meantime, there will be no new grouse shooting leases created elsewhere across our catchment estate.”
The move comes after other land owners, such as the National Trust, have also banned grouse shooting in some areas over the border in England. The Trust banned the blood sport from 1,600 acres of its land in the Peak District. Meanwhile, United Utilities, which is the largest corporate landowner in England, recently announced that it won’t renew any grouse shooting licences when they expire.

Another nail in the coffin

Scottish Water’s announcement comes after the Scottish Green Party, which is in Holyrood coalition with the Scottish National Party, described the grouse shooting season as a “festival of violence”, and a “cruel and outdated hobby”. The Scottish government is in the process of progressing the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill through parliament. When this is passed, the Bill will require landowners to have a licence to allow grouse shooting on their land. On top of this, those managing moorland will also need a licence to burn the moor at any time of the year. People set fire to moors because grouse like to eat the young shoots of new heather that sprout up after burning.

The new Bill also makes it an offence to use a glue trap that could be used to catch an animal, and introduces a licensing scheme for the use of specific traps to catch wild birds and animals. Foxes, weasels, corvids and other creatures suffer cruel, torturous deaths when caught in traps set by gamekeepers, whose aim is to keep their grouse stock high.

The Bill has been developed as a response to the Werritty Report, which was an independent review of grouse moor management that took place in 2020. The report concluded that:

“every year birds of prey continue to be killed or disappear in suspicious circumstances on or around grouse moors”

and that

“self-regulation [of the grouse shooting industry] alone will not be enough to end the illegal killing of raptors, and further intervention is now required.”

As Protect the Wild regularly reports, birds of prey are consistently targeted by the shooting industry. Raptors are poisoned or mysteriously disappear, as they are seen as a threat to the grouse population. In fact, the total number of Hen Harriers confirmed killed or missing in the UK since just 2018 now stands at 101. Hen Harriers are a Red Listed species and fully protected in law, yet no one has ever been prosecuted, nor faced consequences.


Total ban, not licencing

Scotland is far ahead of England when making laws on hunting and shooting. It has already passed a new law banning the hunting of animals with dogs, essentially making the fox hunting industry difficult to survive. On top of this, an advisory group to the Scottish government has recommended a total ban on snare use. But Protect the Wild argues that the new Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill doesn’t go far enough. We believe that a licencing scheme won’t save red grouse, nor will it save birds of prey. After all, they’re already protected in law, but are murdered anyway. We argue that all of the UK needs a total ban on the whole disgusting grouse shooting industry.

Grouse shooting isn’t a quaint rural tradition that we need to preserve, despite what the shooting industry would attempt to make us believe. Nor is it an industry that props up the economy, contributing to just 0.02% of Scotland’s economy. It is the blood sport of choice for the rich, and it is millionaire landowners, leaseholders and companies that make profit – not local people – as they charge people as much as £14,000 a day to murder grouse. The industry doesn’t provide the poorer masses with many jobs, either. An RSPB report concluded that:

“The best available estimates suggest that the sector and its supply chain support approximately 4,000 FTE jobs in the UK (less than one tenth of one percent of rural employment), although this may be an overestimate.”

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has warned the government that “the profession stands at a critical juncture”. And so it is a victory that Scottish Water has announced that it will not support any future grouse shooting on its land. Along with other key land owners in the UK, it is sending a clear message that the murder of grouse is an outdated pastime that needs to be, and will be, abolished once and for all.

Join us to campaign for a total ban on grouse shooting. You can read more about why we argue that licencing is not the answer here. And you can support us to end shooting once and for all here.