Grouse Moor PR
Will Pocklington takes a closer look at the online presence of moorland groups, and the strides they are making to publicise the many benefits of grouse moor management.
It would be quite easy for a person with no experience of fieldsports - or more specifically, grouse moor management - to be sucked into believing what is so often peddled by the mainstream media.
For every story recognising the invaluable contributions from our moorland keepers to the environment, the local economy and biodiversity, are dozens which portray the shooting community as blood-thirsty, greedy and narrow-minded with not a care in the world for anything but the red grouse. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. But how are the general public to know?
Mistruths, emotive campaigns and petitions can now spread like wildfire. All thanks to the internet and social media. And seeing such condemnation of a sport we know brings such benefit, and watching as its online reach grows, is as frustrating as it is worrying.
Thankfully, though, we now have a real presence on the same stage ourselves - a growing presence, and one which, crucially, is being felt outside of the shooting fraternity and reaching the general public.
We have moorland groups - many of them, in fact - that have been set up over the past year or two to promote the truth about the vital and intrinsic role of grouse moor management to our precious upland areas.
A quick search on Facebook yields 12 separate moorland group pages, hailing from the Yorkshire Dales to the Highlands of Scotland. Between them, they have over 16,500 followers who can comment on and share the words and photographs posted by the keepers themselves.
"At last we have a forum for sharing our life on the hill with the wider public!" said Abercairny Estate owner, Daniel Parker.
"The [Facebook] posts have reached thousands of people with comments and questions coming in from all walks of life including townsfolk, walkers and wildlife enthusiasts.
"All our social media followers are active or potential tourists to the Scottish countryside. And we now have the opportunity to talk about some misunderstood aspects of a keeper's work, such as muirburn and predator control, and show why this is so important to conservation. It's also great that other rural businesses such as butchers, restaurants, hotels, and outfitters have been so keen to join in with our initiatives and reciprocate the support that grouse shooting has given them."
Mike Reddington, headkeeper on the Glenturret Estate agrees: "The most important thing for me about our regional moorland group pages is that they were set up and are now run by gamekeepers and their families. This comes across really well and I think the wider public and even those abroad who visit the pages can engage with them more as the words and pictures come straight from the men and women working on the moors.
"We can engage with one or two people on the hill but via the Facebook pages we are able to reach a huge audience. This helps to get the truth about us and the facts about our moorland management across.
"We have been able to share results of official bird counts on moors all over Scotland, highlight the plethora of raptor species that are found breeding successfully on many of our moors, and explain fully that the traps we are trained to use are both legal and well recognised as being critical tools for wildlife conservation."
Indeed, the pages are a great way for keepers to gauge feedback from meetings in person on the moor, too. "The positive feedback on our Facebook page that has been generated from the keepers' interaction with walkers and the distribution of business cards on the moors is immensely positive and testament to all of their hard work," said Jimmy Brough, headkeeper at Rosedale and Westerdale.
But perhaps most impressive is the growing connection between the keepers and their online audience. No fabricated stories, no exaggerations, just reality - keepers going about their daily routine and sharing their experiences with the world via the web.
"Most keepers in the group now carry a camera and capture pictures on a daily basis of the myriad of birds and wildlife that thrive on the moors and hills. These pictures are passed to the co-ordinators and within minutes the public can see the reality for themselves," continues Mike Reddington.
"One recent feature on our page was able to cover some critical points with a short video and a paragraph or two. The video was filmed by a keeper on his rounds and showed an oystercatcher and two chicks, one of which had been killed by a carrion crow. We explained how a crow trap in the immediate area had been the target of vandalism recently, and that the predation of wader chicks was one of the things we are trying to reduce. It reached over 28,000 people."
The posts offer a fascinating mixture of content: reams of photographs of flourishing red-listed species; informative pieces on heather burning, trapping, and other habitat management practices; ringing of birds for research projects; community and charity work - the list goes on.
So, the content and effort on the part of the estates and keepers involved is there Ð no question. Now we must all get behind them in number and help spread the word - the way it really is.
Find them online
These moorland groups can be found online via your search engine or from the search bar in Facebook. A search for 'Facebook moorland groups' will yield numerous results. Choose to follow these pages and you will receive their updates and keep track of their sterling work.