Shooting season will help rural economy

SMALL business owners in north Northumberland and the Borders are hoping that the shooting season will provide a timely boost for rural economy.

The opening of the grouse shooting season at the Lilburn estate near Wooler and elsewhere in the region last week heralded the start of a sporting tradition with a proven record of providing economic, social and environmental sustainability for rural communities in the north.

As the starting pistols from the Olympic Games gave way to the sporting gun across the region’s moorlands, fingers were crossed for a good season.

Douglas Chalmers, CLA (Country Land and Business Association) North director of policy and public affairs said: “Just as the £9 billion investment made by the country in the Olympic Games will provide long term benefits for otherwise disadvantaged areas and communities, grouse shooting pours tens of millions of pounds of private money into the North every year.

“Much of this money goes into the management of the moors and paying for the full and part- time staff who work there. The rest is spent during the season in hotels, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, shops and garages – supporting businesses and jobs and insulating them against less busy months.”

Moorland gamekeeper Robin Varley added: “The economic benefits of grouse shooting to local economies is immeasurable.

“The guns that come to shoot spend money and by spending money on the grouse shooting, the funds are there to invest in the dry stone walls, the footpaths, the stiles, all the things that encourage the walkers and the general public to visit. In turn they then spend money in the local economy; so basically it’s immeasurable what grouse shooting brings in.”

Prospects for this year’s grouse shooting season are mixed due to the recent bad weather, according to the UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC). Mr Varley explained: “After the continuous rain we have had since April, I am going to be very interested to see just what effect it’s had on the wildlife and the environment and we aren’t really going to see that until we have done the season.

“It’s always difficult to predict the amount of grouse you’re going to have, it’s difficult to predict the type of season you’re going to have. With the wet weather we have had this year - I think it could be very patchy.”

But Matthew Watson, a rural surveyor at Savills in York, said: “2012 looks like it could be a record season for more than just our Olympians. The prospects are good for the coming grouse season. Many moors are reporting strong grouse numbers, some are comparable to last year, some even better.

“There are inevitably variances to this, however several moors broke their all-time records for numbers last year. For 2012 the good news is that moors are mainly reporting increases in numbers. This could mean that bag records are broken again.”