EXPECTATIONS are high tomorrow's start of Scotland's grouse-shooting season, the "Glorious 12th", will be one of the more memorable with predictions of a rural boost exceeding £32 million.
The launch comes as opponents of cruel sports step up their campaign against the pursuit, warning there is nothing "glorious" about moorlands being turned into killing fields.
Supporters are confident the mild weather this year will contribute to one of the best shooting seasons.
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Tim Baynes, director of the landowners's organisation, Scottish Land and Estates' moorland group said: "I think it seems pretty clear it has been a very good breeding season. It started early and there was a mild spring and summer.
"Nobody likes to make any rash predictions but I would say there is a bit more than quiet confidence it will be a very good year. It's not often you get a uniform good story across the country. The purple heather seems to be in good fettle."
He said the estates' order books were pretty full with guns coming to shoot. "If they are getting a really good day's driven grouse shooting with beaters and getting say about 100 brace, a party would be paying about £15,000 for the day. But that would be eight or 10 guns. So a member of a party could be spending a couple of thousand pounds for a good day."
He said at the other end of the spectrum there was the "walked up" grouse shoot without beaters when a party of similar size might get 20 or 30 brace. "They pay less per brace because they have to work harder. They could be paying around £2,000 for the day between the party. An individual could be paying £300 or £400. That's comparable to a day's stag stalking."
Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg agreed: "The prospects for the season look good. The mix of weather has been right for the birds, which have feathered up well, there's been enough water and there has been a good insect hatch.
"It should secure a good season for sporting visitors which, in turn, helps small rural communities; the tourism businesses, shops and retailers that require the cash injection as we head into the less seasonal months." This could mean more than £32m to the local economies, he said
But he said the grouse moors were having another beneficial impact. Heather management and predator control by gamekeepers produced a harvestable surplus of grouse for sport had been proven to provide benefits for ground-nesting wading species such as curlew and lapwing which have suffered alarming declines of 56 per cent in 17 years, he said
The Scottish Government's Biodiversity Strategy, published last week, reported four out of five wading species showing declines. However, maps and counts from grouse keepers across the country were showing cause for optimism for conservation-listed birds.
The League Against Cruel Sports said: "There is nothing 'glorious' about this event, where thousands of birds are blasted from the skies, turning moorlands into bloody killing fields."
The season ends on December 10.