LANDOWNERS have hit back at criticism from ramblers over the grouse shooting season going ahead on the North York moors.

Ramblers say that while they are barred from going on to the moors because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, shooters will be allowed.

But Miss Dorothy Fairburn, regional director of the Country Land and Business Association, the voice of most of North Yorkshire's big land and estate owners, said that while she had sympathy with the ramblers, the landowners did have to get special licences from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to shoot on the moors.

All vehicles and people would be disinfected, she added.

Risk assessments were carried out, said Miss Fairburn, and it was felt that there was less risk and potentially more control over organised groups such as shooters.

While the grouse season started in just over a week's time - on the Glorious 12th - most shooting parties did not get under way until sometime later. "Hopefully, by then, the public footpaths and bridleways will be open. Our greatest wish is to see access opened up to everyone on the moors once again."

Miss Fairburn added that shooting parties played a key part in the economy of the moors, staying in hotels, and spending money in restaurants and shops.

Mr Peter Woods, until recently secretary of the influential North York Moors association, and a former member of the national park authority, said parties of up to three shooters could operate within 3km of a foot-and-mouth area, but larger groups had to keep 10km away. "Each shoot has to have a licence before it can go on the moors," he added.