THIS year’s grouse season should be the last before a country-wide ban quiets the guns forever, the Scottish Greens have said.

Almost one fifth of the nation’s land mass is taken up by the managed moorland used for the hunts.

Landowners say their activity contributes vital income for rural communities and preserves undeveloped hillsides for wild species.

However, critics say the bloodsport, which attracts visitors from around the world, contributes to culls of other species like native predators which also hunt grouse.

These include foxes, stoats and weasels, while conservation groups have linked the deaths and disappearances of protected bird species to grouse management, something strongly denied by Scottish Land and Estates and other sector bodies.

A review of grouse moor management practices was ordered by the Scottish Government in 2017 and is expected to report later this year.

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But as the season opens today, Green MSPs have renewed their plea to ban grouse shooting within one year.

Andy Wightman, who represents the Lothians, said: “There’s nothing glorious about the 12th of August or about the intensive and damaging killing, burning, road construction and artificial medication that is associated with driven grouse shooting. It’s time for the Scottish Government to come into the 21st century and end this cruel practice.

“That these barren Victorian hunting grounds remain a playground for the privileged few is a stark reminder of the inequality that still persists over so much of Scotland’s countryside.

“Scotland’s land needs to be freed up for the benefit of all of its people and used in ways that secures a sustainable future for our country. The continuation of this barbaric practice makes no economic or moral sense in modern Scotland.”

TV naturalist Chris Packham, known for his work on the BBC’s Springwatch and Autumnwatch, is amongst grouse shooting’s most high-profile critics, linking the sector to wildlife crimes – a claim which has triggered strong denials from industry bodies.

Alison Johnstone, co-leader of the Greens in the Scottish Parliament, is currently holding a public consultation on her proposed crackdown on fox-hunting and hare killing.

The proposed legislation would prohibit the killing of foxes, mountain hares and brown hares without a licence.

She said: “Tens of thousands of mountain hares are eradicated every year as part of localised ‘culls’ by estate managers who want to keep populations of red grouse artificially high, who they are also managing for killing.

“These beautiful animals are killed only so a few enthusiasts can then go on to kill grouse. Meanwhile birds of prey, natural predators of mountain hares, are also mysteriously disappearing in suspicious circumstances.

“The Scottish Government needs to get off the fence and call time on this senseless circle of slaughter.”

The Scottish Government’s review, led by Professor Alan Werritty of Dundee University, takes in hare culls including other grouse moor activities like muirburn, the torching of gorse bushes and grassland to provide fresh growth for game.

Raptor persecution and the use of medicated grit – utilised to prevent periodic population crashes caused by parasitic worms ingested by grouse – will also be considered, as will licensing and other regulatory options.

The team includes law, land and ecology experts.

Commenting on the call by the Greens, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Professor Alan Werritty is chairing an independent, in-depth review of how grouse moor management can be environmentally sustainable and compliant with the law, while continuing to contribute to the rural economy.

“We will fully consider the recommendations of the group.”