Cold spring could affect Scottish grouse shooting season
Scotland's grouse shooting season will begin later, with cold weather hitting bird numbers this year.
Several estates have postponed shooting as many of the early chicks did not survive the cool spring conditions.
Marking the start of the season, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) said grouse shooting sustained more jobs than the Edinburgh festivals.
But animal protection charity OneKind called for an end to the "brutal slaughter" of the birds.
The organisation's director Harry Huyton said: "The effort which goes into maintaining a rich supply of game birds for shooting is huge and invariably involves some extremely controversial practices.
"It is not surprising the public is turning their back on this so-called sport and calling the government to account on a cruel, unnecessary practice which is enjoyed by a very small minority of people in Scotland."
But landowners insisted they were committed to conservation and that grouse shooting was vital to the rural economy.
The SGA's chairman, Alex Hogg, said the industry supported 8,800 full-time jobs per year in remote areas and was a "rich seam of employment" in uncertain times.
He said: "Compared to many other European countries, Scotland does not have an embedded 'hunting' culture and chunks of the population don't know the impact the shooting seasons have to the country, economically."
Mr Hogg said the number of full-time jobs relying on shooting exceeded the posts created by the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe, Tattoo and Hogmanay combined.
He added: "There are real concerns for employment in rural Scotland at the moment, particularly in oil and gas, so gamekeepers and their families want to see the industry grow. We want to work with the Scottish government to make sure hard working people can continue to rely on these posts in future."
Many gamekeepers acknowledge that grouse shooting is not universally popular, but the SGA said the industry had made "significant strides in terms of best practice".
The opening day of the grouse shooting season is traditionally known as the "Glorious Twelfth".
However, the sport remains controversial and the management of grouse shooting moors has been linked to the persecution of raptors by some wildlife bodies.
On Thursday, RSPB Scotland said eight tagged golden eagles had disappeared in the Monadhliath mountains, south-east of Inverness, in less than five years.
The wildlife charity believes they were killed illegally around grouse moors and their satellite tracking tags destroyed.
Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the reports were "very disturbing and disappointing".
Ms Cunningham has ordered officials to analyse the evidence of about 90 surviving and missing eagles with the tags, to determine if there is a pattern of suspicious activity.
The Scottish Moorland Group accused the RSPB of trying to whip up anti-shooting feelings ahead of the grouse season and said there was no clear evidence of the birds having even died in the Monadhliath area.