It has been a few weeks now since the grouse season ended. The uplands that surround me have now changed to their rather neutral winter colours and with everyone being back in lockdown, it has all gone rather quiet.
A ‘normal’ shooting season sees people from all different walks of life come together to join forces to work on or around the fell. Every one of them tends to have a love for the outdoors, spending time on the moor and seeing the wildlife thriving as a result of the management and care taken to keep the moors alive and well. Each have their specific focus and are specialists in what they do whether it be dog work, flanking, loading or beating as well of course, as the chefs and servers, mechanics etc. This year has been slightly different, bringing new challenges to everyone involved.
For me, even with the on-going Covid restrictions, I had a rather busy season. Everyone seemed to jump up a gear, happy to be busy and back to some form of normality. The grouse community always amazes me, houses and lodges all over England suddenly spring into life, producing five-star food and accommodation, the keeper’s year of hard work is finally presented, and guests are witnessing the best of our uplands.
If there is one thing I have educated myself on this year it is the diversity of these managed moorlands. Whether it is for the benefit of grouse shooting or not, the management of these small areas undoubtedly makes them thrive with a lot more than grouse. Yes, there is loss, but in any habitat, there will be loss. Without keepers looking after their designated areas, I am afraid we would see a far greater decline in many of our already red-listed birds. Something I witnessed the stark reality of during nesting season.
One element which is always present in the season is the social side of things. This year the season has been a saviour for the sanity of many people. After months of not seeing anyone, for many people living alone or where life had become monotonous, the season was a welcome break to relax a little. Time to get away from home and have a change of four walls. The restrictions this year seemed to get tighter and tighter making everything more difficult, but the grouse community kept going, kept adapting.
Without a grouse season there would also be a huge hole in local economies. For me personally, where I grew up and live, I went beating for most of my teen years, waitressed in lodges on evenings, spent three seasons practically living on the moor and now photographing and documenting people’s days. The house I worked in hires keepers, loaders, fell staff, house staff, chefs, valets, picker-uppers and admin staff. They source local produce, use local transport, electricians, plumbers, builders… the list goes on. This is just during the season, off season grouse counters come in to work their dogs, maintenance is carried out on houses and lodges and much more. It really does bring so much work to so many individuals and businesses.
During this season, as the restrictions grew ever tighter the reality of how much people rely on this income was never clearer. I saw first-hand how important the income is to people with many of my colleagues stressed and even tearfully upset each time restrictions were tightened. They were worried that their income was about to be stopped like so many others in the hospitality industry.
Although I understand the controversy around grouse shooting, there is a huge mental, physical and economical benefit to it. I 100% believe people need to look and learn the bigger picture. The community, the economy, the conservation. It is very worrying that many people who vote against this sport have no idea what is involved, and they do not bother to educate themselves on the bigger picture.
If we are ever to move forward and keep this sport alive, we need to all work together and big organisations that support us need to agree and back each other up. Futhermore, we need to better represent ourselves to the wider public and to do that we need to start by achieving harmony amongst us. After all, we are all fighting for the same thing, to keep this industry alive.