THE UK Government has come under fire after grouse shooting and hunting have been added to the list of exemptions for social gatherings.

Life events such as weddings and funerals were thought to be the only occassions were more than six people were allowed to meet in England under the new laws which came into force on Monday.

However it has since emerged that grouse shooting and hunting parties are also allowed to meet in groups of up to 30.

Guidance on the rules, published by Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says that "shooting including hunting and paintball that requires a shotgun or firearms certificate licence" counts as a "sport or organised outdoor activity"

A meeting  of the Covid-19 Operations ministerial committee was believed to have been scheduled for last Saturday on the matter, to be chaired by Michael Gove, but was called off at the eleventh hour.

HeraldScotland: Michael Gove MP

Instead minsters said they would discuss the matter at a later date, or by ministerial correspondence. 

Downing street insiders are believed to have said the meeting was cancelled to avoid ministers raising oobjections. 

Former minister, Conservative MP Tracey Crouch said the exemption was "bonkers" and added: “Many will find this topsy-turvy prioritisation from government.

“I’ve had queries about choirs, community bands, addiction therapy groups, all of whom would be worthy of an exemption and instead we are scrabbling around prioritising shooting animals. It’s bonkers.”

Labour's shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard added: “Across the country, people are struggling to get COVID-19 tests anywhere near their homes.

“But the Conservatives are distracted with trying to exempt the bloodsport passions of their big donors from coronavirus regulations. It shows where this government’s priorities really lie.

“It is clear there’s one rule for the cabinet and their mates and another for the rest of us.”

The loophole of an 'organised activity that takes place outdoors' also exists in Scotland’s emergency legislation, and the Scottish Greens have called on ministers to close it to ensure hunting and shooting groups do not meet in Scotland.

HeraldScotland: Grouse shooting will start again on August 12

Scottish Green health spokeswoman Alison Johnstone said: “This exemption is ludicrous. "The restrictions on gatherings is a difficult but important public health measure to prevent spread of a deadly virus. Not for the first time, the UK Government has indicated that public health emergency rules don’t apply to their wealthy friends.

“This cannot be allowed to happen in Scotland. The tiny minority who derive pleasure from killing wildlife are not more important than the thousands who are being kept apart from seeing friends and family.

"Thirty people should not be able to gather to shoot grouse when thirty people cannot attend a wake for a lost loved one.

“The Scottish Government need to urgently clarify the Scottish rules so that this doesn’t happen."