On the eve of the traditional grouse shooting season, rural communities have been gearing up to make the best of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plans have been put in place to ensure that restaurants receive the first grouse from the moors tomorrow.

A widespread safety initiative, including the use of personal protection equipment, social distancing measures and food hygiene measures, has been implemented to ensure adherence to government COVID-19 guidelines.

An estimated £2bn is made to the UK economy by shooting and research has shown that there is a direct economic benefit of nearly £70m to rural communities in England.

For game dealers, the go-ahead given to the shooting season is a source of major relief. They remain aware, however, of the challenges they face in securing consumer confidence in the middle of a pandemic.

Andrew Dent, Director of L&A Dent Game Dealers, says: “The fact that we’re going to be able to get our business up and running is the most important thing, but it’s not going to be an easy start.

“Up until a few weeks ago, we didn’t even know if the season would be able to go ahead, so we’re just grateful for the opportunity to get things moving. We have orders for 100 grouse that’ll be eaten on the evening of the 12th, including 60 for London, which is really encouraging. We just have to hope that as the season gathers momentum, people’s confidence in going out to eat increases and business picks up.”

Game dealer, Nick Lister, from Ox Close Fine Foods, near Wetherby, attended a recent training session on Swinton Estate, where protective equipment was tested and socially distanced lines were practiced by beaters. He said: “The fact that we’re going to be able to go ahead with the game season is great for the rural economy. It’s been a daunting year but this could be the beginning of a positive period for many local businesses.

“If we can show people that things can resume safely then hopefully we’ll begin to see a sense of normality appear, with customers going out to restaurants and enjoying healthy wild game.”

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said: “Like everywhere, this has been an incredibly tough year for rural communities, with jobs being lost and local economies suffering. The revenue and buzz generated by the shooting season gives us an opportunity to reverse some of the damage whilst reigniting the sense of belonging and community spirit amongst those that take part.

“Although there will be COVID regulations in place on all shooting and accommodation arrangements, we’re confident that once it becomes clear that shooting can restart safely, we’ll soon be welcoming great numbers of shooting enthusiasts back into our communities to stay in our hotels, buy goods in our shops and eat delicious game in our restaurants.”