Driven grouse moors - socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts: summary report

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

5. Part 1: Socio-economic impacts of moorland use - case studies


Thomson et al. (2018) noted that the existing evidence base for the socio-economic impacts of grouse shooting and alternative moorland land uses is limited and dated. Phase 1 recommended that further research be undertaken, to investigate the impact of economic connections between grouse shooting estates and surrounding businesses and wider communities, and the economic impacts of grouse moor management at different shooting intensities. Phase 1 further recommended that an evaluation of the socio-economic impacts of alternative land uses for moorland areas be undertaken.

The key objectives which Part 1 of this research aimed to address were to: (i) Examine the extent and impact of economic connections between grouse shooting estates and surrounding businesses and communities; and (ii) Evaluate the socio-economic impacts of alternative land uses for moorland and how they compare against land used for grouse shooting. This section provides a summary of the full technical report for Part 1.

Methods and caveats

A set of case studies were identified, informed by stakeholder input, to fit case study selection criteria that were developed to provide a diverse set of cases from across Scotland that include variety in enterprise scale, intensity and owner motivations. These included examples of driven grouse enterprises and alternative moorland land use activities, including walked-up grouse, forestry/woodland management, conservation, deer management, sheep farming, and renewable energy. While the case studies were selected systematically, they represent a relatively small set of estate examples drawn from a large pool of potential cases across Scotland and are not a representative sample of all enterprises of these types. As such, the results are only indicative of the types of socio-economic impact that arise from different land uses, meaning that care should be taken using the data to make broad conclusions about uses of Scotland's moorlands. The full list and number of case studies for each land use category are shown in Table 1.

A systematic approach was evolved to collate financial information from 24 examples of relevant estate-based enterprises (and three additional examples of specific woodland creation schemes presented as a component of the forestry case study), relating to: i) capital investments; ii) recurrent expenditure; iii) revenue streams; and iv) employment. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with estate owners/managers to provide the context for the activity in each case. The case studies research required the collation of sensitive financial data and all landholdings were fully anonymised through the data storage, analysis and reporting phases. Using published reports additional information pertaining to the Langholm experiment was also summarised.

Table 1 Moorland use case studies with measures of scale/intensity

Moorland use (case study)

Number of cases

Case study characteristics

Walked-up grouse/ grouse over pointers

3 walked-up estates and 1 walked-up/driven transition

  • Small (walked-up, no commercial shooting)
  • Small-medium (walked up, some commercial shooting)
  • Large (commercial walked-up shooting)
  • Walked-up estate which has developed driven shooting

Driven grouse

4 estates and 1 additional 'mini' case study showing costs of restoring a managed commercial moor

  • Sporting estate (smaller, commercial focus)
  • Sporting estate (medium size, commercial emphasis)
  • Sporting estate (medium size, mixed commercial/private)
  • Sporting estate (large, commercial emphasis)
  • Sporting estate (example of re-establishing a driven moor)

Deer stalking/ management

3 estates

  • Commercial focus (large deer stalking enterprise) (two estates)
  • Maintenance focus (medium size, deer management)

Rewilding/ conservation

2 conservation estates

  • Mixed land-use focus
  • Primarily conservation focus

Forestry/ woodland creation

1 forestry enterprise and 3 woodland creation schemes in moorland areas

  • Upland estate based mixed forestry enterprise (one example)
  • Specific examples of new woodland creation schemes established on moorland (3 scheme examples)

Sheep farming

3 estate-based sheep enterprises and 1 tenanted sheep farm

  • Estate based sheep enterprise (part moorland based) (3)
  • Upland sheep farm (with moorland component)

Renewable energy

3 hydro scheme and 3 wind farm examples

  • Hydro schemes (3 hydro schemes on grouse shooting estates)
  • Wind farm (3 moorland located examples)

The approach taken allowed for analysis of the sources of finance and the first round of local/regional/national expenditure to be identified, but it did not account for indirect economic benefits and/or the costs or benefits of positive (e.g. landscape) and negative (e.g. carbon release from muirburn) externalities arising from different land uses. Accounting for these aspects was beyond the scope of this research. Additionally, with a limited number of examples there was potential for specific cases to skew results. Figures for a specific land use (e.g. driven grouse) have been averaged across the related estate examples to derive estimates (including on a per hectare basis) for average land use costs and revenues.

The allocation of costs/revenues to case study land uses was based on estimates provided by the interviewees. These allocations were necessarily based on estimates which can change over time. Furthermore, not all of the examples were located wholly within the moorland zone. To increase the comparability of the forestry and woodland case study, additional examples were identified and developed which relate to woodland creation on moorland sites.

Although land uses are presented as singular activities, they do not occur in isolation and invariably overlap considerably within estate contexts. Finances were commonly managed across an estate as a whole, with some land uses subsidised from other activities relative to their financial performance and relevance to the priorities of the landowner.

Moorland use case study findings

The results from the interviews, data collation and analysis are presented below. Summarised results are presented initially for walked-up and driven grouse shooting and then for each of the alternative moorland land uses. The summary data is shown for individual landholdings within each case study land use and alongside average figures. This is not intended to provide conclusive evidence for each moorland use – rather, it presents results from a selection of case studies that provided indicative estimates of the extent of socio-economic impacts arising from different moorland uses. The data summary is followed by a section outlining the main conclusions from the overall synthesis of the moorland use case study findings.

Grouse shooting enterprises – key findings

Driven and walked-up grouse shooting occur on the same types of moorland and the choice of the type of grouse shooting undertaken is heavily dependent on owner motivations, but is affected by the capital infrastructure in place (roads, grouse butts, etc.) and grouse density.

Walked-up grouse shooting

The case studies show that walked-up shooting was comparatively low 'intensity' (25 hectares per brace[8] on average), with an apparent emphasis on maintaining traditional values and limiting the degree of active management. The total combined direct impacts (capital, running and staff costs combined) for walked-up grouse were relatively low compared to other moorland land uses at £13 per hectare.

Walked-up shooting also generated comparatively low revenues (£5 per hectare), operating at an average net cost across the case studies of £6 per hectare (or £35,000 at estate level). Walked-up shooting also had a comparatively low employment impact (1 full-time equivalent (FTE) employee per 4,700 hectares). Nevertheless, walked-up shooting (regardless of intensity) required a base level of activity/staffing and expenditure that was commonly facilitated through integration with other sporting activities (e.g. deer stalking) and through subsidisation from other estate land uses or external income.

Spending impacts were predominantly local or regional, with an absence of local businesses related to the remote location necessitating regional or national level spending in some cases.

Driven grouse shooting

The case studies demonstrated that expenditure levels and impact from grouse shooting varies widely, linked to the size of the moorland and sporting operation and relative commercial emphasis as determined by owner motivations. Driven shooting required a sustained level of capital spending (equivalent to £8 per hectare, on average), and the total combined direct impacts (capital, running and staff costs combined) for driven grouse shooting (£38 per hectare) were comparable to (or higher than) other moorland land uses. Driven grouse shooting was a more intensive use of the moorland (compared to walked-up) and required 7 hectares per brace shot on average (the most intensive case only required 2 hectares per brace).

Driven grouse shooting operations generated substantial annual revenues in good years (over £250,000 for larger operations), although revenues were generally lower than spending levels, averaging £20 per hectare. However, income was highly cyclical, depending on the availability of shootable surpluses of grouse which was related to a number of factors (e.g. weather, parasites and predators). These findings confirmed those of previous studies that driven grouse shooting enterprises are rarely profitable as stand-alone land uses, because costs generally outweigh revenue, or at best result in a break-even position during good years. On-going net costs mean that driven grouse shooting is subsidised by other income streams, from on or off the estate.

The employment impacts of driven grouse enterprises across the case studies broadly reflected previous findings and indicated that, on average, 1 FTE is generated per 1,450 hectares. This represents a higher per hectare employment impact than other moorland land uses. In most cases, grouse shooting enterprises (and associated income) were seen as a key factor facilitating ongoing retention of core estate staff.

Reflecting findings from previous work, 60-80% of direct spending in the case studies occurred within the local or regional area. Importantly, in regions where driven grouse shooting is most prevalent, grouse shooting is likely to be of greater local importance as an employer (than in non-grouse shooting regions), and in relation to the local economy and community retention.

Comparison of walked-up and driven grouse shooting

Driven grouse shooting generally occurred at higher intensities (based on hectares required per brace shot), although all types of grouse shooting enterprises required healthy grouse populations and on-going active moorland management. Revenue levels from walked-up enterprises were considerably lower than driven grouse (both in total revenue terms and in relation to revenue generated per participant and per shooting day). As expenditure and staffing levels on walked-up enterprises were also lower, any shift from a driven to a walked-up enterprise would likely result in reductions in staffing and local economy impacts. Nevertheless, walked-up shooting was a valued complementary activity within mixed sporting enterprises that can be sustained at a lower cost than driven grouse, but was less economically viable as a stand-alone land use due to lower capacity to generate income. In terms of maintaining the related spending and staffing impacts, walked-up shooting was not perceived by interviewees as a viable alternative to driven shooting.

Key constraints identified in relation to both walked-up and driven grouse shooting included: (i) a decline in grouse numbers in 2018-2019, perceived as being linked with increased prevalence of pests (heather beetle and tick) and climatic factors; (ii) increased regulatory constraints; (iii) loss of heather habitat; (iv) political pressure and negative public perceptions; and (v) a general unreliability in revenue over the longer term.

Recent trends and perceived opportunities for both walked-up and driven grouse shooting included: (i) increased employment and investment linked partly with sustained demand for driven grouse shooting; (ii) reduced parasite burdens from the use of medicated grit and tick mopping; and (iii) increased training and professionalisation among gamekeeping staff. Wider opportunities identified included peatland restoration, integrated estate management plans and potentially limiting the degree of intervention in grouse moor management to gain public support.

Alternative moorland uses – key findings

Forestry and woodland creation

Forestry as a commercial enterprise is often less directly comparable to grouse shooting due to commercial forestry often occurring on lower ground or on sites with higher land capability. Nevertheless, the single forestry case study example illustrated some of the key features of forestry as a land use within an upland estate setting. These included relatively high capital costs (£41 per hectare) relative to ongoing running costs (£24 per hectare), with most spending and activity occurring during establishment and felling phases.

The intermittent nature of forestry activity results in periods of comparatively high income (relative to other moorland land uses), linked with either revenue from establishment grants and/or timber sales during felling periods. Recorded revenue for the forestry case study was £53 per hectare, with income relatively evenly split between grant income (47%) and from timber sales (53%). Importantly, the recorded income from timber sales was not representative of the longer-term average. Over the longer term, grant income was also noted as more variable and funding of the forestry enterprise was likely to require cross-subsidisation from other estate enterprises.

Both forestry and new native woodland creation generally had lower employment impacts (outside of peak phases) on a per hectare basis than most other moorland land uses (with the exception of deer and walked-up grouse – both of which occurred over much larger areas). Additionally, spending impacts were less localised due to imported short-term specialist labour squads and the use of contractors.

Three additional case studies of native woodland creation were developed to assess costs and revenues for woodland creation on grouse moors. None of the schemes expected to generate income from timber sales but the projected income from the sale of carbon units was a significant additional source of revenue over the main growing phase for two of the schemes.

Two of the schemes showed net estimated costs of £144 to £166 per hectare over their life, or £9 to £11 over 15 years. Even with the high extrapolated running costs, one of the schemes was projected to return a net income of £1,183 per hectare (or £79 per hectare over 15 years).

Owners of the two most recent schemes viewed the current grant rates, combined with projected income from the sale of carbon, as ensuring new woodland creation was now an economically viable land use in upland settings, with the capacity to generate a profit on a projected annualised basis.

Despite the potential benefits of carbon revenues for new woodland creation, a variety of constraints to new woodland creation on grouse moors were recognised, including: (i) challenging environmental factors, deer browsing pressures and uncertain growth and tree survival rates; (ii) limited or no potential for returns from timber sales from woodlands created on poorer ground; (iii) liabilities for landowners relating to the uncertainties around ongoing costs and requirements to repay grants subject to scheme success; (iv) loss of ground to other land uses and increased cover for predators leading to increased grouse losses; (v) shortages of available trees to plant; and vi) a lack of confidence in the long term potential of carbon markets to generate guaranteed income, particularly on challenging upland sites.


On a per hectare basis the average combined spending (capital, running and staff costs) on the conservation estate examples was marginally higher than for driven grouse (£39 per hectare). Notably, the overall proportion of spending in the local area/region was marginally lower than for some other moorland land uses.

The larger of the two conservation case study examples demonstrated the potential for conservation to deliver a comparable (or higher) level of spending and employment impacts relative to other moorland land uses. This includes a capital spend component equivalent to, or greater than, a large sporting estate.

Revenues from conservation were comparatively low (£19 per hectare), relative to other moorland land uses (reflecting previous studies), with the exception of deer and walked-up grouse. Conservation management therefore generally operated at a net cost, despite benefitting from substantial public funding, with the case studies suggesting that over 80% of conservation revenue is from public funding. Common Agricultural Policy payments, in particular, were an important funding component for conservation management.

The case studies demonstrated that conservation, as a land use, was heavily dependent on ongoing public and/or other organisational or external private funding aligned with the conservation objectives of the estate. Nevertheless, as demonstrated on these case studies, the net conservation costs can be reduced through generating income from alternative sources, including renewable energy, tourism and sporting land uses (e.g. walked-up grouse) at low intensities.

Overall, conversion of management on moorland sites (i.e. including the cessation of driven grouse) towards a primary conservation goal is likely to be heavily influenced by owner motivations or a change in ownership, the availability of public funding, and the potential to generate long-term revenue streams from complementary activities to offset costs. Declines in other land uses may also result in opportunities for conversion, in parallel with the availability of payments for ecosystem services.

Deer stalking and deer management

The average combined spending (capital, running and staff costs) for deer case study enterprises was £12 per hectare, which was considerably lower than for most other moorland land uses. On average, annual capital investment was £2 per hectare, suggesting deer management can be maintained without major ongoing capital investment, providing the required infrastructure is in place.

Average revenues for the deer case study enterprises were low (around £5 per hectare), with higher revenues (£8 per hectare) for the examples where commercial stalking took place. Regardless of commercial orientation, deer operations operated at a substantial net cost (around £100,000 on average, or £5 per hectare) before any capital investment was accounted for, due to a combination of the ongoing staffing costs and the low revenue potential (e.g. relative to large driven grouse shooting enterprises).

Although employment impacts for deer were comparatively low (averaging 1 FTE per 4,000 hectares), the very extensive nature of deer operations in two of the case study examples resulted in the retention of a substantial local deer-related workforce (5-7 FTEs).

The complementary aspects of deer management (e.g. in relation to woodland management) were perceived as a key strength. In practice, an integrated/shared staffing model across sporting activities (deer, grouse, fishing, etc.) enabled the estates to maintain a larger year-round staff team (of which the deer FTEs were one part), ensuring a high level of active management over large areas of ground.

In the absence of any available public funding, stalking income was a mechanism to supplement some of the deer management costs with the remainder funded by other sporting activities, wider estate income (e.g. from renewable energy), or direct owner contributions.

Key perceived constraints for stalking and deer management included: (i) low revenues and low availability of funding support for deer management; (ii) conflicting objectives within and between landholdings; and (iii) the administrative burden linked to deer management group requirements.

Perceived opportunities for stalking and deer management included: (i) improved collaborative working arrangements; (ii) increased uptake of habitat impact assessment; (iii) recognition of the potential for new hunting models (e.g. shooting in mixed habitat setting and woodland stalking); and (iv) generating income from wildlife tourism.

Hill sheep farming

Relative to other moorland land uses, the initial set-up costs and ongoing capital investment costs for sheep farming case studies were low, reducing the potential for local economic impact. However, average running costs, including staff costs (£36 per hectare), were comparable to other moorland land uses. Additionally, the average total spending impact (capital, running and staff costs combined) for sheep enterprises (£43 per hectare) were comparable to, or higher than, the per hectare impacts for most other moorland land uses (including driven grouse shooting).

Total revenues and returns per £1 spent in the sheep case studies (averaging £61 per hectare and £1.69 respectively) were relatively high compared to most other moorland land uses. Sheep enterprises generated a profit before capital costs of £25 per hectare, on average.

However, excluding CAP support, all of the sheep enterprises returned losses, with average losses of £15 per hectare before capital costs. The sheep enterprises were therefore heavily dependent on public support (66% of revenue on average) to ensure their financial viability.

The case study sheep enterprises generated around 1 FTE for every 1,800 hectares, a lower per hectare employment impact than for driven grouse. While the case studies suggest spending impacts are highly localised, economic and job creation impacts from sheep farming can vary widely.

Despite declines in livestock numbers, and being subject to the continuing availability of support payments, the complementarity of sheep farming in mixed estates contexts and the potential for supporting new agricultural entrants (due to low set-up costs), suggests it remains a viable moorland land use going forward.

Renewable energy

The renewable energy case studies demonstrated that, relative to other moorland land uses, renewable energy schemes generally require a high level of initial capital investment - averaging around £1.4 million for hydro schemes and significantly more for wind farms. For large-scale wind farms, this initial investment is commonly taken on by an energy company carrying out the development, resulting in long-term rental payments to landowners.

Ongoing annual running costs for hydro schemes were comparatively low (averaging £37,000 across the case studies) relative to the initial investment costs. Cost-efficiencies can influence the scale of renewable energy schemes, with the cost per kilowatt generally decreasing as size increases, with fixed cost elements remaining similar between smaller and larger schemes.

Relative to running costs, the revenues from the hydro scheme and wind farm case studies were comparatively high when compared to other moorland land uses, with the hydro scheme case studies generating an average of £190,000 from energy sales and subsidy payments on an annual basis - the highest overall returns per £1 spent of all the case studies (particularly when initial capital costs are repaid). Additionally, the wind farm examples generated the highest overall returns (from rental payments) on a per hectare basis (£217-£272), although this fell to £49-£61 when calculated on a whole estate basis.

Renewable energy development represents a potentially significant source of reliable revenue to landowners over the long-term, relative to other moorland land uses. In several of the wider cases within this report, income generated from renewable energy schemes was perceived by interviewees as a key component of ensuring long-term estate financial viability.

While employment impacts (following the initial development) are comparatively low for hydro schemes, wind farms can generate employment impacts comparable to other moorland land uses and the wider regional economic impacts of the wind farm development phase can be considerable.

Key perceived strengths and opportunities relating to renewables enterprises included: i) improved estate access/infrastructure as a result of the renewable energy development; ii) the development of community benefit funds as a result of large renewable energy installations; and iii) compatibility between renewable energy developments and other land uses including agriculture and grouse shooting.

Conclusions – alternative moorland uses

Table 2 provides a comparative overview of the key costs, revenues and staffing levels for each of the moorland uses examined through these case studies. The importance of the wider context of these stand-alone enterprises should not be under-estimated as the owners of businesses did not consider each type of land use in isolation. Instead, they contributed to a holistic estate business model.

The case studies show that grouse shooting can generate significant economic impacts for communities, with impacts generally localised and disproportionately important in regions where grouse shooting is most prevalent. However, grouse shooting enterprises are rarely profitable in their own right and commonly exist as part of an integrated, mixed, sporting enterprise. Spending and staffing occur across these enterprises, which are also integrated financially with the wider estate business, with more profitable aspects often subsidising less profitable activities.

Alternative moorland land uses were also shown in the case studies to generate comparable spending and revenue impacts (and in some cases more consistent revenue) to driven grouse shooting on a per hectare basis. Moorland land uses are not mutually exclusive and are often at least partially integrated, and the level of direct comparability of 'alternatives' can vary.

Native woodland creation offers scope for biodiversity and carbon gains and has the capacity to generate a profit over a rotation on suitable moorland sites. The availability of carbon revenues has the potential for altering the economic viability of woodland creation on moorlands, although uptake may be constrained by site constraints, perceived conflicts and uncertainty.

Grouse shooting is perceived as facing increasing regulatory requirements, as well as longer-term uncertainty around climate change impacts, although sustained market demand, capital values and owner motivations remain significant drivers for retaining driven grouse. Wider drivers for alternatives include the availability of carbon revenues, favourable grant rates for woodland creation and peatland restoration, a continuing emphasis on renewable energy, and wider market shifts (e.g. increasing demand for nature-based tourism), all of which have potential for influencing land use change. Landowner motivations and how these reflect ownership change or succession are a further factor potentially influencing future retention (or not) of grouse shooting.

A widespread transition away from driven grouse towards woodland creation would likely result in job losses in some regions. A wider shift towards conservation and woodland restoration may also result in decreased levels of private owner investment in some rural economies. The case studies demonstrate that some of these losses could be offset through tourism development (and visitor spend), and the ongoing need for deer management suggests some retention of gamekeeping roles, particularly where estates have already developed diversified enterprises to offset costs.

A significant moorland transition towards conservation, native woodland restoration and/or high nature value farming, also implies a shift in the balance of public-private investment (or increased funding from organisational memberships or wealthy individuals), at a time of increasing pressure on public budgets. Any loss of sporting revenues is also likely to increase funding requirements for essential deer management, necessitating either further internal estate cross-subsidisation, or public support. The role of emerging markets for ecosystem services is also likely to become increasingly important in the long term.

Table 2 Comparative socio-economic indicators for the moorland land uses derived from case studies


Walked-up grouse

Driven grouse


Woodland creation[9]


Deer stalking


Renewables - Hydro[10]

Renewables - Wind

Case study enterprises










Average annual capital costs















£1.4m (build cost);

(£93,444 over 15yrs)


£89m (developer) costs


Average running costs (incl. staff costs)





£102, 056












Est. £4.8-5m for larger examples


Average revenue


















(£245/ha wind farm or £55/ha estate)

Hectares per FTE










Net balance (before capital)


















Net balance (capital included)


















Average revenue (%) from public funding[11]










Level of local-regional spending




Low/ Moderate










Revenue per £1 spent









(£4.43 after payback)




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