SEEMS ‘tis the season for attacking the grouse shooting industry (Carolyn Leckie’s column of March 19 and Letters, March 31).

Fieldsports, mainly fishing and game shooting, employ many thousands, bringing many thousands of visitors who contribute many millions of pounds to rural areas of need. This greatly helps to keep alive many rural communities. Gamekeepers, ghillies, estate managers etc have wives and kids. Kids need schools, schools need teachers. All need healthcare, healthcare needs doctors and nurses, and so on. A small army of students and locals needing part-time work are gainfully employed each season as beaters.

Sadly, much of the hostility towards grouse shooting seems to stem from a distorted form of inverted snobbery. Not all slayers of grouse are tweedy, titled aristocrats – many are ordinary professional, business and tradespeople, many making vital contributions to Scottish society. They are not all forking out thousands to take a gun to the moor – a day “walking-up” grouse may cost less than a round of golf. Every grouse shot ends up as somebody’s dinner.

Contrary to popular belief, gamekeepers in these enlightened days do not seek to destroy everything with a hooked beak. Many of them are college-trained in a professional manner and seek to control only legitimate targets such as foxes and some corvids, which directly benefits hill-farming as well as game interests. It appears that there have been unexplained losses of eagles and other raptors in recent times – eagles kill eagles, so do starvation and powerlines and admittedly the odd rogue shepherd. Foxes kill ground-nesting hen harriers, buzzards kill osprey poults and red squirrels. If a gamekeeper is convicted of wildlife crime they automatically loses their firearms certificate and shotgun licence, thus becoming unemployable.

The management of hill land as grouse moors benefits many desirable species. All upland ground-nesting birds – curlew, lapwing, golden plover and many others – benefit, including hen harriers which never breed successfully where there is no food (grouse) or an abundance of predators (fox, corvids). The nutritious young heather created by strategic “muirburn” and control of heather beetle feeds mountain hare, deer and sheep as well as grouse.

If you want to see a prolific variety of wildlife, take a walk across a managed grouse moor – you can, you have a right thanks to our Scottish Government, and the nice landowner has even provided you with a nice hill track to make it easy. This type of land management creates the “bonnie purple hills” so well-loved by tourists and poets.

It is difficult for those who have not really examined the big picture to view grouse as a crop, but producing grouse is little different from producing hill sheep or cattle – the end result is the same for the beast except that many of the grouse stock are permitted to survive. Notable that a brace of grouse is worth considerably more to the rural economy than a brace of lambs. A bonus is that all these forms of husbandry are not mutually exclusive and all may be carried out side by side on the same ground.

Multiple and varied ownership and use of all land should be the way ahead in a progressive Scotland, with everyone now having a right of access. A sensible cooperation between varied interests could be very productive. For instance, the problem of raptor predation on game species could be eased with feeding stations for birds of prey during peak nesting/rearing times. Rats, rabbits, deceased day-old chicks are good grub for young harriers and eaglets. Viewing hides at these feed stations could provide additional tourist attractions. No reason why the RSPB could not steer some of its wealth in this direction combining interests and sharing funding with land owners and everybody wins.

Much as it is a romantically attractive idea to “divvy-up” Scotland’s huge upland areas into little parcels and share these out among the population, creating a living from a small acreage of hill ground is problematic. The bulk of Highland hill and moorland is of little agricultural value, suitable only for blanket forestry, limited sheep or hill cattle grazing or for grouse production.

Progress is being made. Some community buy-outs are thriving, injecting a new vigour into some parts of the Highlands. An independent Scotland will flourish best with a good mix of types of land ownership and a tolerant understanding and cooperation between those who wish to utilise it.

John Andrews