I WRITE in response to your long letter of April 6 from John Andrews extolling the virtues of grouse shooting. I honestly thought that this tosh had been consigned to history. Where to start? I shall try to address his points one by one.

1) Game shooting is an economic mainstay of rural life. Estate owners are not benevolent benefactors propping up the countryside for the benefit of the rural economy – far from it. Estates receive huge subsidies from the public purse simply for owning land, and these are more than enough to offset the wages of a few gamekeepers. If I can quote Andy Wightman: “there is something seriously wrong with a rural development programme that relies on a few wealthy individuals owning huge swathes of land who support a few low-paid jobs.”

The estates themselves can be a very lucrative investment. A recent advertisement in a well-known country magazine read: “As an investment, owning Scottish sporting estates has generally proved very rewarding, with significant long-term capital gain being achieved.” A recent Scottish Ratings and Tribunal Chairman’s report, when referring to shooting estates, read: “The local staff are poorly paid, their wages bearing no relation to the capital investment. Estates use short-term labour, leaving the taxpayer to often pay their staff from the dole for the rest of the year.”

2) Shooting grouse is not just for toffs. Quite apart from the fact that most right-thinking people would not be interested in blasting a few small birds to bits for fun, his figures don’t add up. Shooting for a party of eight guns on a prime grouse moor was advertised at £35,000 plus VAT. Think about that on your next outing, which will it be? The food bank, or pop up the hill and kill something?

3) Eagles die of various causes. Two RSPB studies are very interesting here. Firstly: “Occupations of those convicted of offences linked to raptor persecution in Scotland 1994-2014: gamekeepers 86 per cent, farmers six per cent, pigeon fanciers six per cent, pest control two per cent.”

Secondly: “Land use types in relation to confirmed poison abuse incidents 2005-2014: grouse moors 57 per cent, lowland pheasant shoots 24 per cent, farmland 14 per cent, urban two per cent, quarry three per cent.”

4) Gamekeepers found guilty of wildlife crime might lose their jobs – and so they should.

5) Waders thrive on grouse moors – not this old chestnut again! I think this nonsense stems from a report from the RSPB of all people from the early 90s, where they looked at wader numbers on two moors – one keepered intensively, one not – and the keepered one had more. Not really a surprise, as every living thing which could possibly be a threat to grouse had been shot, snared, poisoned, and trapped. I don’t know about you, but this is certainly not the countryside I want to see.

If we look at wader species, lapwing feed on worms and prefer the grassy moorland edges, curlew prefer a mixture of tufty grass, sedge and heather, and golden plover and dunlin prefer the high tops. George Monbiot states that research in the Cairngorms found wooded habitats were 11 times richer than grassland and 13 times richer than moorland in naturally important species. Of the 223 species on the Cairngorm massif only one, a fungus which lives on billberry leaves, requires heather moor for its survival. Intensively managed grouse moors are a desert given over to one species: the red grouse.

6) Hen harriers only breed on grouse moors. Where do I start with this one? The hen harrier was all but wiped out as a breeding species in mainland Britain. They survived only on the Western and Northern Isles, where there are no intensive grouse moors. In his monograph The Hen Harrier, Donald Watson comments on hen harrier breeding in forestry plantations. This was in the 1950s. On the continent hen harriers breed in hugely diverse habitats (some very close to human occupation) and would do so in this country too if they were allowed to.

7) Muirburn is good. Only in Britain could burning be looked at as a conservation tool. Muirburn is highly damaging to the ecosystem. It destroys untold numbers of reptiles and insects, including many nationally protected species. It destroys nationally important peat bog habitats and wetlands. It releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. It increases the risk of flooding. It acidifies the water table and pollutes the water supply with particulates.

I hope this can be published to counter some of the nonsensical statements made.

Graeme Myles