Inglorious 12th: The True Cost of Tradition

The so-called ‘Glorious 12th’ of August marks the beginning of the 4-month-long grouse shooting season here in Scotland, an event where every year thousands of gun-toting, tweed-wearing, wealthy men and women take to the country’s uplands to practice the 150-year-old sport.

Grouse shooters

Costing up to £50 000 for a two-day party, the industry brings in approximately £40 million to the rural economy in Scotland and provides jobs where other rural activities like sheep-farming have been barely scraping by [1].

Although being anthropogenic in origin, moorland habitats are of conservation value, providing habitats for many invertebrates and some breeding birds [2].

A typical heather moorland

These have become degraded as a result of grouse moor management which is a deep-seated tradition amongst upland farmers and land owners despite its harmful consequences. Techniques used in grouse management are severely outdated in terms of biodiversity preservation. To maximise the amount of grouse per km2 landowners burn the heather to increase the younger new shoots for the grouse to eat whilst also draining the land to allow for heather to grow more readily. Muir-burn destroys nesting sites for birds and prevents afforestation and its associated diversity amongst many other things [3]. According to the ecologist and Guardian columnist George Monbiot, muir-burn and drainage are a major contributor to downstream flooding and need to be regulated.


Predator control is also carried out by gamekeepers by poisoning and shooting often resulting in the indiscriminate killing of birds of prey such as the Golden Eagle (see below). Grouse moorlands are historically associated with illegal methods of predator control [4].

Illegal killing of a golden eagle

Additionally, disease is rife in the grouse populations due to their high densities. As a result Landowners put medication in their feed, a practice that has unknown consequences for the consumer of the meat [3].

Grouse in a heather moorland

Unfortunately grouse shooting is protected by many lobbyists and wealthy investors within our government who seek to block any proposals to end these unsustainable practices. It would also be ridiculous to damage the rural economy in such a way. What is the answer? There isn’t one yet. It is clear however that we need a shift in our current practices to something more progressive. Rewilding projects, which involve large-scale habitat restoration, may provide alternative benefits for landowners like subsidies. Before any of this can be achieved though we must engage ourselves as a country with this debate and encourage a shift in our values towards nurturing the whole ecosystem.

What a moorland might look like without heavy human intervention.


  1. Wightman, A. and Tingay, R., 2015. The Intensification of Grouse Moor Management in Scotland.Commissioned and Published by the League Against Cruel Sports.
  2. Grant¹, M.C., Mallord, J., Stephen, L. and Thompson, P.S., 2012. The costs and benefits of grouse moor management to biodiversity and aspects of the wider environment: a review.
  3. Thompson, P.S., Douglas, D.J., Hoccom, D.G., Knott, J., Roos, S. and Wilson, J.D., 2016. Environmental impacts of high‐output driven shooting of Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica.Ibis, 158(2), pp.446-452.
  4. Whitfield, D.P., McLeod, D.R., Watson, J., Fielding, A.H. and Haworth, P.F., 2003. The association of grouse moor in Scotland with the illegal use of poisons to control predators.Biological Conservation, 114(2), pp.157-163.

By Rebecca



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