The UK’s grouse shooting season is due to officially begin on Thursday, marking what game hunting enthusiasts call the “Glorious Twelfth”.
However the practice faces questions about its impact on the environment, with the Scottish Government due to bring in a licensing system to control grouse shooting.
Ministers have cited ongoing problems with illegal raptor persecution on or around grouse moors, as well as concerns about muirburn – burning heather moorland to provide fresh growth for game and livestock.
The protest group Extinction Rebellion is demonstrating against grouse shooting by placing a large “don’t shoot” message in the hills near Dundee Airport.
Supporters of grouse shooting say it is worth millions to the economy each year, with around 2640 jobs in Scotland supported by the industry.
At Roxburghe Estates in the Scottish Borders, head keeper Drew Ainslie and assistant factor Ed Brown were out on Byrecleugh Moor on Wednesday making their final assessments of the number of adult birds.
Mr Brown said: “After the past 18 months of disruption, the revenue from the grouse season will be a lifeline for small businesses, hotels and pubs in the area.
“The expenditure during the season provides a much-needed boost outwith the peak tourist season in the summer.
“Like many estates our main shooting programme will start in September.
“It’s not unusual to have a slow start to the season, and the cold weather in April and May will have affected early nesting birds.”
Mr Ainslie said: “Well-managed moorlands provide habitat for at least 57 bird species in Scotland, as well as mountain hares, reptiles and amphibians.
“Curlew, lapwing, meadow pipit, oystercatcher and golden plover, as well as a range of birds of prey, including golden eagles and hen harriers, all thrive on grouse moors.
“We are proud of our year-round conservation work.”
The grouse season runs for 16 weeks until December, drawing visitors from Europe and North America.
Extinction Rebellion says it will be placing its large “don’t shoot” message near Dundee Airport on Thursday, in protest against the impact of grouse moors on land and biodiversity.
The group says the airport is near several large hunting estates which shooters will be flying in to visit.
The protest group says grouse moors have left Scottish hills “ugly, barren and virtually devoid of life”.
In November, Scottish rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon announced the Scottish Government’s intention to bring in the licensing system for grouse shooting.