Publication - Research and analysis

Driven grouse moors - socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts: summary report

Published: 4 Nov 2020

A summary report of findings from research into socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts of driven grouse moors and the employment rights of gamekeepers

47 page PDF

1.5 MB

47 page PDF

1.5 MB

Driven grouse moors - socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts: summary report
3. Synopsis of 'Phase 1' research

47 page PDF

1.5 MB

3. Synopsis of 'Phase 1' research

Phase 1 of this research (Brooker et al., 2018a) provided a review of the existing evidence regarding socio-economic (Part 1) and biodiversity impacts (Part 2) of driven grouse moor management and included primary research that developed a Geographical Information System (GIS) methodology for assessing the area and intensity of grouse moor management in Scotland (Part 3). Brooker et al. (2018a) provides a short summary of Phase 1 research findings and recommendations with more detailed findings and methodology found in individual topic reports (Thomson et al., 2018; Brooker et al., 2018b, Matthews et al., 2018)[7]. As part of 'Phase 1', the limitations of, and gaps within, the existing research base relating to grouse moors were highlighted and suggestions on how further research could help provide a more robust evidence base to support policy decision making were made.

Phase 1.1: Socio-economic impacts of driven grouse moors

Thomson et al. (2018) reported a relatively narrow research base on the socio-economic impacts of driven grouse moors that policy decisions could be based on. Most of the socio-economic studies that existed on grouse shooting had been commissioned by representatives of the grouse sector, meaning those reading the research could be critical of the robustness and independence of the evidence base. Other criticisms of the evidence base highlighted in the report related to data collection biases, challenges in providing accurate data, and findings often being reported from a relatively small sample, making extrapolations challenging. Many of the studies were reported as now being relatively dated and therefore did not account for more recent changes in grouse moor management approaches.

The review pointed to evidence gaps and challenges related to accessing appropriate (private) data, and the challenges that estate managers / owners had in disaggregating estate data to specific activities, such as grouse moor management. There was recognition that part of the challenge in disaggregating data was that estate activities (sheep, deer, walked-up grouse, driven grouse, wind energy, tourism, conservation, etc.) were often not mutually exclusive – that is, they can all be done on the same piece of ground and managed by the same staff members. Most studies also failed to differentiate between walked-up grouse and more intensive driven grouse.

Within this research a brief synopsis of economic impacts arising from alternative land uses on grouse moor areas was provided. It recognised that some alternatives can be constrained by biophysical factors (e.g. land quality, climate) or regulatory factors (e.g. environmental designations, land use planning). A wide range of socio-economic impacts were found to occur for alternative moorland uses, but many were reported to rely on exchequer support to varying degrees.

One conclusion provided was that data collection was required on a range of alternative moorland uses, including driven grouse moor management, using a systematic data collection process that would enable comparisons to be made on a consistent basis. Part 1 of this Phase 2 research addresses this through a case study approach that utilised the same methodology to collate socio-economic data on a range of moorland land uses.

It was further noted that gamekeepers are an important group of land managers that were understudied and that developing a greater understanding of their drivers, concerns and motivations would likely be beneficial to better understanding the socio-economic impacts of moorlands and how employment terms may influence behaviours. Part 2 of this Phase 2 research undertook an anonymous survey of gamekeepers to better understand their employment rights and duties, as well as their motivations and perceptions of the industry.

Phase 1.2: Biodiversity impacts of driven grouse shooting in Scotland

Within the Phase 1 research, Brooker et al. (2018b) undertook an evidence review of the environmental impact of a number of management activities strongly associated with driven grouse shooting. This included: muirburn; grazing (sheep and deer); legal predator control; mountain hare management; and a review of ecosystem services delivery by driven grouse moors.

The review reported that hare control impacts were likely to be context dependent and influenced by the level of control, local and regional hare population status, and complex effects mediated through food webs. Legal predator control impacts were reported to be both negative and positive, resulting in changes in the combinations of species present on managed grouse moors.

Impacts of muirburn on biodiversity were considered diverse and could be positive or negative depending on a range of conditions including fire intensity. The review found that whilst muirburn can provide structural diversity to the moorland landscapes that is often associated with higher above-ground biodiversity, there was almost no published data on below-ground biodiversity impacts, and there was highly conflicting evidence on muirburn impacts on peatland biodiversity.

Grazing impacts depended on grazing intensity as well as the balance of different types of grazers (sheep or deer) but there was limited knowledge of the long-term impacts of grazing and how it can help or hinder grouse moor biodiversity, or indeed management impacts. Research was found to have rarely focussed explicitly on the impacts of driven grouse shooting on ecosystem service delivery and had focused on a small set of services (such as water quality and carbon storage). There are likely to be many interactive effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services of management activities associated with driven grouse shooting.

The authors of the review recommended that controlled experimental studies are needed to examine management impacts on biodiversity and better understand the ecosystem services moorlands produce. However, implementing these recommendations was beyond the scope of the Phase 2 research. However, this 'Phase 1' biodiversity report provides the context and background to Part 4 of this Phase 2 research, which uses published geo-spatial biodiversity data with enhanced GIS analysis to examine biodiversity impacts of different intensities of grouse moor management.

Phase 1.3: Use of GIS/remote sensing to identify areas of grouse moors, and to assess potential for alternative land uses

Within Phase 1 of the research, Matthews et al. (2018) utilised GIS and remote sensing to estimate the extent, intensity and characteristics of grouse moors in Scotland. This included an examination of the opportunities and constraints for alternative moorland uses.

Using the presence of grouse butts combined with evidence of strip burning of moorland heather, the analysis was able to identify a population of land holdings that were potentially involved in driven grouse shooting. Importantly, using this combination of data along with data on when grouse butts were established, it was possible to indicate where more intensive driven grouse management activity was being undertaken at a regional scale, as well as where management intensity had changed over time.

Driven grouse activities on land holdings were found to occur at a wide range of scales and circumstances, and as an apparently exclusive land-based activity or as part of a diversified holding. There were marked local variations in management intensity, with several areas identifiable in which management intensity was substantially higher than is typical for their surroundings.

It was reported that typically the Land Capability for Agricultural land containing grouse butts was low and that whilst a change to an exclusive use of this land as unimproved pastures was feasible, it was considered unlikely given reduced stocking of hill land on many farms. Improvement to permanent pastures was considered prohibitively costly as well as being unlikely to fit with proprietors' desires, as well as potentially conflicting with environmental designations.

Land capability for forestry on grouse moors was also low, but it was suggested that undertaking specific analyses of afforestation options using Scottish Forestry's forest management alternatives, where the mix of public and private benefits can be judged, offered greater scope for assessing future options. The need to avoid net carbon losses resulting from current or alternative management practices was stressed and the need to integrate more sophisticated assessments of soils highlighted.

Some of the main recommendations from this Phase 1 research related to how specific aspects of the Phase 1 analysis could be improved and additional recognised evidence gaps could be addressed. In particular, it was concluded that updating strip burning maps using more recent imagery would provide greater insight to grouse moor management developments within the last decade. Part 3 of this Phase 2 research provides updated GIS and remote sensing analysis that enables more precise assessment of moorland areas, including insights into more recent changes in intensity of grouse moor management. This improved data was also used for the basis of the Part 4 analysis (biodiversity impacts) within Phase 2.