MOORLAND managers say chick numbers are down so the season will be hit, but the reality is that thousands of grouse will still be shot.

Supporters argue only surplus stock are killed and the industry generates over £67million for rural economies, provides thousands of jobs and is the best way to preserve vital heather moorland.

But opponents say the sport is cruel and destructive and are calling on people to sign an on-line petition which so far has 80,000 names.

he we present the key arguments from both sides of the debate.

Animal Aid (AA): Killing birds for sport is cruel and uncivilised.

Moorland Association (MA): Only surplus numbers are shot, ensuring healthy populations the following year. If there is no surplus, there is no shooting, yet the management of their habitat continues.

AA: A large number of native birds and mammals perceived to interfere with grouse shooting are trapped, poisoned or snared. Victims include stoats, weasels and even iconic raptors such as hen harriers, red kites and golden eagles.

MA: Foxes, crows, stoats and weasels are legally controlled for conservation, livestock and game birds throughout Britain – including nature reserves. On grouse moors predator control means that birds such as the curlew and lapwing are 3.5 times more likely to fledge chicks and the populations are up to five times more abundant than places with no predator control.

AA: An unnatural, heather-rich environment is created because grouse thrive on young heather shoots. To create fresh young shoots, the heather is burned, which can harm wildlife and damage the environment.

MA: Heather moorland is globally protected. However, as conditions have dried, there is huge commitment to rewet the deep peat. 18,000 hectares have been restored on grouse moors with much more to come.

AA: Some 350,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year is emitted from upland peat in England, the majority due to burning on grouse moors. Moorland used for shooting has seen an 11 per cent increase in burning activity year-on-year between 2001 and 2011.

MA: Burning, mowing, grazing and bog plant inoculation are all tools being used to reduce CO2 emissions in the long-term. Our work helps lessen the effects of climate change and aims to improve water quality for millions. It could potentially achieve climate change targets for the UK set at Kyoto without adverse consequences for land use.

AA: Burning the peat-rich moors to produce dry ground suitable for growing heather, reduces the moorland’s ability to absorb and retain water. People living in towns and villages below have argued that such burning explains devastating flooding they have experienced.

MA: Water needs to be kept in the hills and the flow slowed. Our aim is to help mitigate against some of the devastating effects of floods. Far from exacerbating the problem, our ambition is effective water retention in the uplands through our work to create healthier peatlands.

AA: The harsh management of moorlands causes grouse numbers to boom. But as they overburden the landscape, they become weakened and fall prey to a lethal parasite, Strongylosis, which leads to a collapse in the population.

MA: Wild red grouse can lay up to 14 eggs, with varying degrees of success in fledging from season to season. They are vulnerable to natural pressures from weather, disease, predation and food availability. Predation control and vegetation management benefits grouse and other ground nesting birds, boosting their survival.

AA: A cycle of population boom and bust is the norm on Britain’s grouse moors.

MA: Modern management techniques have lessened the boom to bust nature of the grouse population due to Strongylosis which in turn ensures continued investment in long term conservation efforts.

AA: Large quantities of lead shot are discharged, which is toxic to wildlife.

MA: Following an in-depth independent review, Defra recently rejected recommendations to ban or restrict the use of lead ammunition for health or wildlife reasons as there was insufficient evidence to change policy.

AA: Grouse shooting estates use the Countryside and Rights of Way Act to restrict public access to mountains and moorland.

MA: The Act opened up every inch of heather moorland for millions of walkers and wildlife enthusiasts. Provisions were made in the Act to ensure the internationally protected habitat and its wildlife continued to be safeguarded.

AA: Grouse shoot operators – whose clients can each pay more than £3,000 for a single day’s shooting – receive millions of pounds annually from the taxpayer via the Common Agricultural Policy.

MA: Grouse moor owners spend £52.5m a year on conservation. Nine out of every £10 spent comes from their own pockets and any revenue for shooting days goes a small way to defray these costs. In England, grouse shooting creates 42,500 work days a year and over 1,500 jobs. Associated spin-offs are worth in excess of £15 million to local businesses and economies. Funding from the Common Agricultural Policy goes to maintaining land in good agricultural condition.