This article was published as part of our 16-page Manniefest special edition. Click HERE for more information and more articles setting out a vision for the Highlands and Islands after independence.

INDEPENDENCE begins at home. The Revive coalition for grouse-moor reform has no formal stance on the national question, although we recognise the immense power imbalance between a few large landowners and the local communities in the Highlands and beyond.

Such an imbalance in land and power and a sense of local powerlessness primarily benefits those who wish to maintain the status-quo and those who resist necessary change.

Take grouse shooting, for example. An area of around a million hectares – about half the size of Wales – is managed for grouse shooting in Scotland.

Grouse shooting can be seen as a metaphor for land reform in Scotland – lots of land that is owned by very few people with little benefit for the rest of us, and comes at a great cost to our wildlife and the environment. In order to maximise the number of grouse to be shot for sport, the shooting industry wheels out a circle of destruction.

The land is scarred and burnt – threatening our vital carbon-filled peat reserves – in a process called muirburn, which also stops our moorland from being rewetted and from developing greater biodiversity. In a time of climate crisis this needs to stop.

About 200,000 grit stations, which are intentionally filled with toxic chemicals – to medicate grouse and keep their numbers up – are scattered across the countryside, causing unknown damage to the ecosystem. They are often placed next to bulldozed “hill tracks” that scar the landscape which are designed to make life easier for shooters and grouse-moor managers – not the walking public.

Even if you accept that the above is a price worth paying so a few people can shoot a few more grouse for their enjoyment, there are also the hundreds of thousands of foxes, stoats, weasels, crows and “non-target species” like hedgehogs that are unnecessarily snared, trapped and killed in our uplands – just because they are seen to get in the way of their “high bag numbers”.

I ask you, does this sound like the modern progressive Scotland we all wish to see?

But what about the economic benefits and what about all the jobs in grouse shooting? Well, according to Scottish Government reports, grouse shooting contributes £23 million to Scotland’s economy – but that’s just 0.02% of our economy for such a huge land use. To put this into perspective, if Scotland’s economy was the height of Ben Nevis, then grouse shooting’s contribution would be the size of a bottle of Irn-Bru.

Industry figures show that grouse shooting supports around 2500 jobs (direct and indirect) while wildlife tourism is already worth five times the economic value, supports around 2700 (direct) jobs and only requires wildlife to be shot with a camera rather than a gun. Other land uses like forestry and renewables may be expanded to help us reach our goal of a “Green New Deal” Scotland and the climate crisis demands land reform and significant change that we must deliver. The solution to grouse moors can be an opportunity for us all.

The Scottish Government has committed to reform. In fact, its stated aim according to the SNP/Green policy agreement in 2021 is to support a “transition to more economically and environmentally productive uses of land where appropriate”. Well, it’s more than appropriate.

Grouse shooting is due to be licenced by the government which means that estate owners will need to apply for a licence and if the terms of a licence are broken – such as evidence of golden eagles being killed – then they may lose that licence. But this must go much further than tackling the killing or “disappearance” of Scotland’s birds of prey, a symptom largely associated with the problems of grouse-moor management because, quelle surprise, they affect grouse numbers.

The entire circle of destruction needs tackled. Should a licence for muirburn be given when the purpose is grouse shooting? Should toxic pharmaceutical medication be spread across the countryside? Should hundreds of thousands of animals on top of grouse continue to die?

The grouse-shooting industry thinks this should all continue. Revive simply believes that all the negative things which take place, just so more grouse can be shot for sport, must end and the Government needs to do this when licencing grouse moors.

This would lead a transition towards more sustainable and less intense land management practices over time – even less intensive walked-up grouse shooting if you’re fine with that – and could help with land reform and buyouts too.

Grouse moors get their value from “high bag numbers”. According to a government-commissioned report, every brace of grouse killed can add £5000 on to the value of an estate. Reducing estate values by reducing or eliminating sport shooting will make buyouts easier and more affordable.

So the Scottish Government should not hold back from doing what needs to be done and should not be afraid of upsetting large-landed interests in the process.

Independence begins at home with you, your communities, our wildlife, our environment and the land we live on. It’s time to take it back again.