The Glorious Twelfth: A celebration of grouse shooting

The Staff Canteen

For keen game shooters and chefs alike, the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ marks the first official day that they can finally get their hands on some quality grouse.

The 200 year old tradition sees shooting enthusiasts head to the heather moorlands to try their luck at one of the most challenging countryside sports. The first grouse of the season is always in high demand from top restaurants to be the first to have the glorious bird on their plates.

Tom Kitchin - Scottish Grouse with bread sauce and game chips

The grouse season is short, starting on 12th August, and finishing on 30th November in Northern Ireland and 10th December in mainland Great Britain. In just 16 weeks it is estimated that up to half a million birds will be shot. The season could set individual shooters back a fair amount, but each year thousands of jobs are created and rural businesses thrive.

When was the Game Act established and what does it mean?

Based on recent years, an estimated £30 million could potentially be generated for Scotland’s economy alone during one season. Since the Victorian times, grouse has been subject to this controlled and expensive time. The Game Act of 1831 established this closed season in which game could not legally be taken.

This act still covers game today. These restrictions could possibly be part of the appeal to many people, making the start of the season an event to eagerly anticipate. Whilst other game, such as wood pigeon and rabbit, have an open season the red grouse needs time for its population to replenish.

Tom Kitchen
Tom Kitchin

If grouse numbers do not exceed 200 grouse per kilometre when counted in July, then the shooting may not go ahead. The wild mallard duck, snipe, woodcock, and pheasant also have closed seasons, yet it is only the native red grouse that is the source of such excitement on this day. As a low flying, agile bird the grouse is a notoriously tricky target, a great challenge for the annual shooters.

A concern is that, in the spirit of the tradition, inexperienced shooters will take to the heather moorlands and fail to cleanly shoot and kill the grouse. If the birds are not killed instantaneously it could cause the birds great pain. In terms of game meat, shot damage and bruising can alter the flavour; a novice shooter may try shooting several times due to the difficulty of the hunt and therefore lessen the quality of the meat. 

Why is Glorious Twelfth controversial? 

As with any subject of hunting, there is some controversy and some concerns. While some can’t wait for the ‘Glorious Twelfth’, others see it as a blood sport, an inhumane activity for the wealthy few. However, it could be argued that if game is shot properly and is destined for plate, surely it’s no different to the free-range farming of beef, chicken and pork? Grouse are one of the only truly wild game birds in the UK, the majority of which inhabit the Scottish heather moorlands; attempts to raise the birds artificially have never been successful.

Their habitat is managed by gamekeepers and the careful rotational burning of the heather to produce new shoots which make up the majority of the grouse’s diet. These moors are becoming increasingly rare; around 75% of the remaining moorland is in Britain and this is largely due to the grouse season.

The thousands of pounds eager shooters could spend each year helps pay for the upkeep of the moors. If grouse hunting were to be banned, it is likely the moors would suffer greatly as a direct result. The manipulation of the landscape provides a heather-rich environment, tailored specifically to the needs of the grouse which can cause the population to grow.

Paul Gayler - Image by Guy Hinks

Paul Gayler, Consultant

Chef for Braehead Foods

While this may seem like a good thing, the birds can overburden the landscape, grow weak, and therefore become more susceptible to the disease stronglyosis.

The parasite can lead to a dramatic collapse in the population, affecting breeding and killing the birds directly. Additionally, in the conservation of one breed of highly sought after bird, animals who are perceived as a threat to grouse shooting are killed as a precaution. Animal Aid notes that even wildlife that poses no threat can be harmed by the large quantities of poisonous lead left by hordes of shooters.

Why do chefs look forward to grouse season?

But it’s not just for the sporting enjoyment of the shooting enthusiasts, chefs worldwide keenly await the arrival of grouse to their kitchens and the birds become celebrated, delicious dishes.

“As a chef there are certain landmark dates during our culinary year that we look forward to with great anticipation, one of those being the mystical start of the game season.” says Paul Gayler, Consultant Chef for Braehead Foods.

Among chefs, there is little dispute that the grouse is a wonderful game bird to cook and eat. Adam Smith, Head Chef of the Burlington Restaurant at the Devonshire Arms Hotel in Skipton (now head chef at Cowarth Park), looks forward to the start of grouse season every year.

“I think it is because grouse is unique to the UK and it is such a fantastic product to work with!” says Adam. “The smell and flavour is so memorable!” 

Why grouse is one of Michelin-starred Chef Tom Kitchin's favourite ingredients

Michelin-starred Chef Tom Kitchin, of The Kitchin in Edinburgh, is a keen advocate for grouse which, for him, symbolises all that is great abut Scottish produce.

He said: “One of my favourite foods is the very first grouse of the season. At The Kitchin, we pride ourselves on serving the freshest, most seasonal food possible and being one of the first restaurants in the country to serve grouse on our menus that very day is, for me, as fresh and seasonal as it gets.”

Adam Smith
Adam Smith

You can’t get much fresher than grouse straight from the moors and Tom’s team will busily pluck and prep the birds for the evening’s service each year.   On the 12th, The Kitchin serves a celebratory seasonal menu, dedicated to showcasing the bird which has proven extremely popular over the years, with diners booking a year in advance to sample the first grouse of the year.

Tom added: “Scottish grouse with bread sauce and game chips - when it comes to enjoying grouse, for me, it’s best to keep it simple.” 

It seems as though it may be a plentiful season due to the recent warmth and sunshine. “Seasons vary from year to year; this year is reported to be very promising by people in the know,” Paul Gayler says. “I for one can’t wait for the big day to arrive.”  

What are your thoughts on the Glorious Twelfth, do you agree or disagree with this shooting season? 

By Jessica McComish

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th August 2014

The Glorious Twelfth: A celebration of grouse shooting