GROUSE shooters are braced for an uncertain season on the Glorious Twelfth with low bird numbers leading to some outings being abandoned altogether.

It comes as low bird numbers at some estates are said to be delaying the start of the season there while others are preparing for no shooting, with the Finzean Estate in Aberdeenshire cancelling its shooting programme after a disappointing bird count.

Overall, estates said prospects for the season are showing a "very mixed picture" with the likelihood of good shooting in Perthshire and the south of Scotland, while parts of the Highlands have suffered from late snow and some cold wet weather in June, delaying some shooting programmes.

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Agenda: Glorious twelfth an occasion that is truly to celebrate

It is claimed that the economic impact grouse estates have on local communities - as well as the support for many threatened bird species - is hugely significant, and year-round management of estates is key to the rural economy across the country.

Recent figures from estate surveys around Scotland’s seven regional moorland groups show that over £23 million flows directly into local businesses in trade generated by estate activity, with the downstream spend in local businesses from mechanics to butchers to cafes and village shops generated from each estate being on average £500,000.

The Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group said its Game for Growth strategy aims to increase the value of country sports to the Scottish economy by £30 million by 2020, bringing the total to £185 million.

Herald View: The debate continues to rage over grouse shooting

However, the shoots are also being scrutinised by the conservation groups.

Ian Thomson, of RSPB Scotland, said estates should be licensed amid ongoing concern over the protection of persecuted raptors.

He said: "We feel that regulation is the only way forward. Self-regulation has failed.

"We'd like to see a situation where a right to shoot has to be dependent on both sustainable and legal management of our uplands."

Tim Baynes, director of the landowners' Scottish Moorland Group, said licensing is a draconian measure and open to abuse.

He said: “Continued moorland management is not only economically beneficial but is of huge benefit to many other moorland birds, some of which are endangered including the curlew, which is on the red list for birds of conservation concern.

"It is also very encouraging to see 16 shooting estates across Scotland taking part in a ground-breaking project to help raise efforts in protecting hen harriers as part of the ‘Heads Up for Harriers’ project.”

Agenda: Glorious twelfth an occasion that is truly to celebrate

Country sports backers said a study by Newcastle and Durham Universities, which surveyed 18 moorland estates, found 76 species on the moors including 43 endangered ones, with some species flourishing.

It is claimed predator control meant more skylark, lapwing, curlew and golden plover on managed moors.

Andrew Grainger, of the SCSTG, said: “Scotland continues to attract a large number of European sports enthusiasts with increased interest this year from Scandinavia, Germany and France in particular, as well as North Americans who are particularly keen given the favourable exchange rates.”

Grouse shooting season lasts from 12 August to 10 December.