The number of noughts trailing the figure in the headline ? the value of live quarry shooting to the UK?s economy ? cannot be overstated, but what does a figure like that actually mean in real terms?

During 2004, the financial benefit our sport had in the UK was £1.6billion. To put that in perspective, the leading national supermarket giant Tesco, which employs more than 380,000 people, had annual profits in 2004 of the same amount. More crucially, what does the figure of £1.6billion mean for sporting shooting and how was it arrived at?

The most influential survey into the economic and environmental impact of the sport in more than a decade has recently been concluded and the findings are due to be launched to the wider public today. Shooting Times has gained advanced access to the report?s results and can reveal to the shooting community some of the major findings.

In 2004, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Countryside Alliance (CA) and the Country Land & Business Association (CLA), in consultation with the Game Conservancy Trust, committed more than £100,000 to an in-depth study into sporting shooting?s value to the economy and the environment. They engaged a well-respected third-party Cambridgeshire-based consultancy firm, Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC), to conduct the research, which included analysing more than 2,000 detailed questionnaire responses sent out to the different sectors of the shooting world. The finished report runs to more than 100 pages with several hundred pages of appendices.

The purpose of the PACEC survey was, in part, to update figures obtained more than 10 years ago in the last comparable exercise, the Cobham report, which has over the years become vastly outdated ? its equivalent headline figure in the Nineties was just 653million. Of more value to shooters and their organisations, however, is the detailed assessment of the contribution of the shooting sector to the UK economy, the evaluation of the conservation and management activities arising from game and wildlife shooting, and the resultant identification of issues relevant to the future development of shooting.

While the headline figure of £1.6billion will undeniably raise a few eyebrows, it is the wealth of details that support it which really serve to bolster shooting?s rightful claim to be an integral and vital part of the rural fabric. The PACEC survey makes for welcome reading for anyone with a passing interest in the future of shooting. The picture it paints is of a thriving and economically important industry that supports the equivalent of 70,000 full-time jobs. It is estimated that shooters spend a massive £2billion a year on goods and services related to their sport, from gunsmithing to hotel bookings.

Cash for conservation

Shooting?s benefit is felt not just in retailers? and suppliers? pockets, however, but also by the nation?s wildlife. According to the PACEC survey, shooters spend £250million on conservation each year ? that figure is five times the annual income of the UK?s biggest wildlife conservation organisation, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Shooters account for some 2.7million work days on conservation a year ? the equivalent of 12,000 full-time conservationists? jobs whose annual labour bill would come to roughly £140million. Two million hectares of land (an area the size of Wales) is actively managed for conservation as a result of shooting ? this compares somewhat favourably with 87,900 hectares of National Nature Reserves and 80,000 hectares of local reserves managed by the wildlife trusts.

Pest control plus

The PACEC survey not only gives an indication of the value of shooting, but it also provides a detailed breakdown of what shooting goes on in the country. Some 970,000 shooting days are enjoyed each year with by far the largest sector being in avian pest control, principally pigeon shooting. The UK has approximately 48,000 providers of pest shooting who account for 340,000 days? shooting each year, in the process bagging an estimated 3.6million pigeon carrying out their important crop protection role. Economically, pigeon shooters provide an invaluable service to landowners. The estimated price an individual landowner would have to pay for professional pest control in the absence of shooting is a staggering £9,800 per year.

The numbers game

How many people shoot regularly? Approximately 480,000, with the most popular type of shooting being driven lowland game and pest control, both of which have 330,000 regular practitioners. What do they shoot? The total number of gamebirds and wildfowl shot for sport in 2004 was just less than 19million, with 4?5 being pheasants. In contrast, the UK?s poultry industry puts 750million birds into the food chain each year.

When it comes to deer control, the increasing importance of stalking is evident in the results showing that as many days? stalking (150,000) are undertaken each year as are driven lowland game days. In 2004, unpaid stalkers accounted for 120,000 deer.

Future proof

While all the figures themselves are thought-provoking, what do the report?s instigators make of the finished article? ?The thousands of new jobs shooting has created have been crucial to the sustainability of many rural communities at a time of huge social and cultural change,? commented Simon Hart, chief executive of the CA. But from his organisation?s perspective the report is also a political weapon: ?The PACEC report confirms the vital part that shooting plays not only in the rural economy but in ecological and social terms ? for us, this should flag up to political parties the size of the shooting community and its organisation. All of the main political parties should now recognise that the fieldsports community is not only significant economically, but also politically, in that it is well organised, well structured, motivated and keeping a very close eye on the changing political landscape. The report demonstrates that there are plenty of people across a broad geographical and social spectrum involved in shooting. They are increasingly politically aware ? this isn?t just about how much they spend. These are the sort of people who will play an active part in local politics and an active part when it comes to election time.?

Alan Buckwell, chief economist at the CLA, explained how it confirms members? impression of the scale of the industry: ?Our members have always felt that this is a sizeable industry in terms of its income, but didn?t know just how much. The Cobham report was published quite a few years ago, so it?s worthwhile to update it now, while the opportunity to quantify the environmental impact meant we were very keen to get involved with the other organisations in this survey. I?m surprised at just how big the headline figures are. If you reckon there are about 500,000 in the agricultural labour force, 70,000 shooting jobs form a large proportion of that. The gross value added of agriculture to the UK economy in 2005, according to DEFRA, was £5.2billion. The whole shooting chain is worth £1.6billion ? more than a quarter of agriculture. It validates to those who are in the industry that it really is important. The full report breaks down into various sectors that take a long time to digest: there?s a significant level of detail. The report exemplifies what we feel Government doesn?t understand ? these traditional activities engage nearly 500,000 people in the sport itself. They?re big numbers, which we feel are beyond the understanding of those not based in the countryside. I hope it has the effect of making people realise shooting is not a trivial activity.?

The PACEC survey provides a highly detailed analysis of our sport in its various forms and while the number-crunching may be best left to the organisations whose co-operation prompted the research, what is clear is that for the future of every beater, stalker, fowler, grouse Shot, keeper or game dealer, what the report says is far from trivial.

Estimated number of shooting providers

Avian pest control 48,000

Mammalian pest control 39,000

Driven lowland game 26,000

Walked-up lowland game 25,000

Deer stalking 17,000

Inland wildfowling 16,000

Coastal wildfowling 3,800

Grouse 1,600

Total providers 61,000

Estimated number of shooting days

Avian pest control 340,000

Driven lowland game 150,000

Deer stalking 150,000

Mammalian pest control 150,000

Walked-up lowland game 110,000

Inland wildfowling 39,000

Coastal wildfowling 19,000

Grouse 5,700

The economic value of sporting shooting by UK region (£m)

South East 250

East 140

Gr London 76

South West 270

West Midlands 92

East Midlands 120

York/Humber 110

North West 160

North East 61

Wales 73

Scotland 240

Northern Ireland 45

UK 1,600

Paid jobs supported by shooting

Beaters and loaders 15,000

Managers, gamekeepers 16,000

Indirect jobs supported 39,000

Annual expenditure

Tree planting £8million

Fencing £11million

Roads and tracks £7.7million

Charitable giving £7million

Conservation facts

155 days – the number of days? conservation a typical shoot undertakes

£250million – the investment shoots put into conservation each year

20 per cent – the number of shoot providers who would stop all habitat management if shooting was not allowed

830,000ha – the extent of woodland habitat management on land for sporting shooting

12million ha – the area of land over which shoot management responsibilities are undertaken, two thirds of the rural land mass