The ‘Glorious Twelfth’ – 12th August

Britain’s 121-day-long grouse shooting season always begins on August 12th each year. It has been an integral part of the countryside calendar for decades, although having once been an aristocratic hobby, it’s increasingly at the centre of rows over animal cruelty and class. Here’s some facts about the so-called ‘Glorious Twelfth’: –

Grouse are incredibly speedy
Regarded as the “king” of game birds, red grouse are incredibly sought after and represent the supreme shooting challenge. They can fly at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, often fly low and have a habit of changing direction at the last minute. It’s no wonder they require a high level of skill to shoot.

Red Grouse are wild birds unique to Britain
Red grouse (Lagopus lagopus) are not artificially reared for shooting, like pheasants and partridges. Teams of gamekeepers manage the moors to maximise the number of birds available – so some years the numbers fluctuate according to the conditions. The red grouse is native to Britain, making them high-value birds. People from all over the world pay large sums of money every year to shoot them.

They would be lost without the heather
As well as berries and seeds, a typical grouse eats up to 50g of heather a day. They eat the young, tender heather with green shoots but nest and shelter in the old heather. Gamekeepers promote the growth of new heather by controlled burning before the breeding season begins. Heather moorland is now rarer than rainforest, according to the Moorland Association. The UK has 75 per cent of what is left worldwide, and the largest continuous expanse lies in the North York Moors National Park.

Grouse is good to eat
By early evening on the so called Glorious Twelfth the first red grouse shot that day will already be on the menu of some of London’s top restaurants, which compete fiercely for the honour of serving the first birds that are shot at the start of the season. Not many people know that roast grouse has less than a third of the fat and twice the protein of roast chicken, although it has a gamey-flavour.

Grouse make an unusual noise
Red grouse make a very distinctive call that sounds like ‘Go back! Go back! Go back’ as they fly fast and low above the heather.

Sundays are a no-go
Grouse are safe for one day of the week. It’s illegal to shoot grouse – as well as many other game birds – on the Sundays. In 2012 when the Glorious 12th fell on a Sunday, it had to be moved to August 13th. The law about Sunday shooting is laid out in the Game Act of 1831.

Grouse shooting is big business
Grouse shooting generates about £150 million for the economy every year. The industry also supports approximately 2,500 full time equivalent jobs – from gamekeepers and beaters to people in tourism and hospitality. Wealthy people, many visiting the UK from overseas, pay thousands of pounds to join a shoot. A hand-crafted Purdey shotgun can cost more to buy than a house! There are 45 full-time keepers employed on estates across the moors of North Yorkshire and, on average, each grouse moor employs around 23 extra people per shoot day. An estimated 1,000 workdays of additional employment were provided during the 2017 season – twice as many as in 2016.

It’s increasingly controversial
Environmentalists accuse landowners of killing natural predators which threaten grouse populations both legally (like foxes and stoats) and illegally (birds of prey like hen harriers).
Conservationists also argue that burning heather leaves peat exposed to the air, threatening wildlife that make their home in the peatland. They also say that exposing peat to air causes the carbon in it to release carbon dioxide which contributes to climate change.
However, gamekeepers claim that responsible grouse moor management actually protects the environment. More than 60 per cent of England’s upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are managed as grouse moors, controlling bracken through the grazing of livestock so heather and wildlife can thrive.

Contributed by John Darby – Yorkshire Blue Badge Guide