UPLAND businesses have put measures in place to enable the grouse shooting season to go ahead safely in the face of the pandemic, the industry has said.

But the arrival of the ‘Glorious 12th’ marking the start of the season today has reignited the debate over red grouse shooting and its impact on the environment.

The Moorland Association, which represents moorland owners and managers in England and Wales, said plans had been put in place to ensure shooting can resume safely and within Government Covid-19 guidelines.

They include the use of personal protection equipment, social distancing and food hygiene measures and travel restrictions, and with the plans in place it is hoped the first grouse will be sent to restaurants from today.

Moorland Association director Amanda Anderson said the start of the season would be an opportunity to reverse some of the damage to local rural economies caused by the pandemic.

“Although there will be Covid regulations in place on all shooting and accommodation arrangements, we’re confident that once it becomes clear that shooting can restart safely, we’ll soon be welcoming great numbers of shooting enthusiasts back into our communities to stay in our hotels, buy goods in our shops and eat delicious game in our restaurants.”

This year’s season has also been affected by damaged heather from heather beetles, which has left adult grouse in a poor condition to breed, and drought that limited the insects which grouse chicks feed on, she said.

In Scotland rural businesses have also brought in a framework of Covid-19 guidance to allow the grouse shooting season to get under way.

The sector is expecting fewer people to come from abroad for grouse shooting because of the pandemic, but it is hoped that more people from within the UK will come to take part to help provide the economic boost it can deliver.

But conservationists have raised concerns about levels of illegal persecution of birds of prey on moorland managed for grouse shooting, and reiterated calls for a mandatory scheme for licensing the sector.

At the heart of the debate are hen harriers, England’s most threatened bird of prey, as their food source of red grouse chicks to feed their young brings them into conflict with commercial shooting estates.

There are also concerns about burning upland peat, which stimulates new heather growth for the grouse that feed off it and which moorland managers say is necessary to reduce wildfire risks.

But conservationists say it creates carbon pollution and raises flood risks.

Luke Steele, spokesperson for Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors, said illegal persecution of birds of prey on grouse moors continues.

“We need a new approach to protect and restore birds of prey on northern England’s iconic heather hills,” he said.

“That is why we’re calling on the Government to urgently introduce grouse moor licensing to end the wave of wildlife crime.”

Other conservationists, including TV naturalist Chris Packham, have called for an outright ban on grouse shooting.