A "ground-breaking" new study has highlighted that grouse shooting delivers significant socio-economic benefits.

Commissioned by the Scottish Government, the research - led by Scotland’s Rural College in conjunction with the James Hutton Institute - shows that grouse shooting sustains many jobs and delivers high levels of local and regional investment while receiving no public funding.

The study also suggested that a widespread transition away from driven grouse towards woodland creation would likely result in job losses "in some regions", although it cites the potential to offset some of these losses through tourism development. 

It highlighted that the ongoing need for deer management would require the retention of some gamekeeping roles, particularly where estates have already developed diversified enterprises to offset costs. 

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The research has been published prior to the Scottish Government’s response to the independent review on grouse moor management known as the Werritty Review.

BASC Scotland Director, Dr Colin Shedden, said: “This research confirms that grouse shooting, especially driven shooting, makes an enormous socio-economic contribution across the uplands of Scotland. Despite running at a net loss, driven grouse shooting enterprises boost employment and drive rural business.

“The research also highlights how sporting enterprises are entirely self-sustaining. While conservation enterprises rely on public funding for 79 per cent of their revenue, grouse shooting and deer stalking enterprises require no direct public funding whatsoever. The study affirms that an outstanding array of benefits are delivered on grouse moors at no expense to the public purse.

“The Scottish Government must consider the findings of this research when it formally responds to the recommendations of the independent review into grouse moor management later this year. The contribution made by grouse shooting is integral to rural Scotland, and every effort must be made to safeguard the lifeline it provides to upland communities.”

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Liz Smith MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, said: “This research strongly evidences the socio-economic credentials of grouse shooting as an important and much-valued upland land use.

“Such is the scale of its contribution, it would be profoundly irresponsible of the Scottish Government not to consider the socio-economic implications of imposing unnecessary and damaging regulation on the sector when it formally responds to the independent review into grouse moor management later this year.”

The study also provided unique and independently conducted insights into Scotland's gamekeeping profession.

Key findings from the research showed that familial ties mean that gamekeepers often perceive it as a ‘vocation’ or ‘way of life’, rather than a career - and most believe that they are working to improve habitats for "the betterment of wildlife."

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The study also found that gamekeepers regularly undertook vocational training, with only very few having no formal qualifications.

Furthermore, many of the gamekeepers surveyed often feel "vilified" by mass and social media - leading to work stress, incidents of verbal or even physical abuse, and wilful damage of property.

For many of the gamekeepers involved in the study, there was a "desire to have more open, public dialogue about practical land management options" in order to create greater consensus instead of conflict, with calls for more done to educate the general public about the profession so that they can develop "more informed opinions."

Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “The report researchers have substantiated what we have always said. Driven grouse shooting has disproportionate employment and economic benefits in the areas where it occurs. It helps to keep the heartbeat in fragile communities and the lights on in the glen houses.

“Gamekeepers play key roles in their communities and their work, which has no drain on public finances, extends beyond their own ground. They are offering un-subsidised deer management, habitat improvement and predator control which also helps protect farm livestock and forestry. This comes at no cost to the public purse.

“These people offer much to Scotland and it troubles me deeply that so many (64%) are suffering threats and abuse in their jobs. They are under intense scrutiny at all times, they are persistently targeted by campaign groups and they are suffering from a lack of government support and little appreciation of the work they do.

“They are a major part of Scotland’s cultural heritage and deserve government backing instead of constant attack.”