A glorious day for gamey Brits

Stephen Beard Aug 12, 2008
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A glorious day for gamey Brits

Stephen Beard Aug 12, 2008
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Scott Jagow: Today isn’t just the 12th of August. In Britain, it’s the glorious 12th. The start of the Red Grouse hunting season. I doubt the birds think it’s so glorious, but a lot of humans do.

I’m joined by our man in London, Stephen Beard. Stephen, you were telling me how big a deal this is. Why?

Stephen Beard: It is, really, one of the most important days in the social calendar of Britain’s land in aristocracy. And increasingly, the newly rich from Britain’s financial district, it’s a very important day as well for England’s rural economy.

Jagow: And why is that? What is the economic impact?

Beard: Oh, it’s huge. I mean, this hunting grouse — and also pheasant and partridge and other field birds — injects something like $3 billion into the British economy, supports something like 70,000 jobs, and also helps pay for the upkeep of two-thirds of the British countryside. So it is a very big deal indeed.

Jagow: How much does it cost to shoot a grouse?

Beard: Too much for us, I fear. I mean generally what happens, you pay a flat fee, and then at the end of the day they count up the number of birds you shot and you get charged per bird — $200 for every pair, $100 for each bird you shoot. If you’re talking about a hunting party of, say, 20 hunters, they could easily spend $60,000 today alone. So this is for people with a great deal of money. And increasingly on the grouse moors of Scotland and the north of England, we have seen Russian oligarchs and Indian tycoons and Arab billionaires.

Jagow: Are there limits to the number of grouse people can shoot?

Beard: Not formally. However, there is a kind of curious etiquette at work here. If a shooting party kills more than 500 birds, this is considered carnage and not sport. Generally, it’s felt that a party of 20 hunters should not really shoot many more than, say, 300 birds maximum. And that is considered sufficient to keep down the grouse population, and also to bring a pretty good income into the owners of these grouse moors.

Jagow: But I imagine that there are a lot of people in Britain who think shooting any grouse out of the sky isn’t in good taste.

Beard: No, absolutely. The Animal Welfare Lobby targets the glorious 12th every year. I mean, it is a red-letter day for animal rights campaigners, and they often turn up in considerable numbers to try to sabotage the hunts. But grouse moors are very large places, and usually it’s pretty easy for the hunters to elude the animal welfare campaigners.

Jagow: Well, it sounds like quite an event. Stephen Beard in London. Thank you.

Beard: OK, Scott.

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