Widely considered to be the finest game bird in the world both from a sensory and a shooting perspective, the Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) is a medium sized (single portion) game bird. It’s plumage is reddish-brown (less red in the females) with a black tail and white legs. The bird’s most obvious physical features are its plump shape and white eyelids with a bright pinkish-red comb above. It is the only game bird to have feathers on its legs and feet, which help protect it in the cold and snow, and also unique amongst the other sub-species of grouse in that its plumage does not turn white in winter. The flesh is dark in colour and exceptionally rich in flavour, which can make it an acquired taste, but one that has won worldwide acclaim. The diet of the British Red grouse is about 95% heather, providing them with their unique flavour.There are also legislative controls, depending on where the moor is situated (e.g. The Muirburn Code in Scotland). Due to the very special and rare habitat that Heather Moorland provides for numerous plant and wildlife species, about half of them carry EU designations (Special Protection Areas for wild birds and Special Areas of Conservation for plants). Two-thirds are protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and about 45% of Grouse Moors carry all three designations. These EU designations contain the strictest conservation codes. The British Association of Shooting and Conservation (www.basc.org.uk) provides The Code of Good Shooting Practice and EC guidelines exist for handling game. The Red Grouse is native to Britain although a sub-species of the Willow Grouse, a bird found throughout much of the Arctic tundra. It has survived only on keepered heather moorlands, which are expensive to maintain and consequently large swathes have been lost to cheaper land use, making heather moorland now rarer than rainforest. 75% of the remaining heather moorland is found in Britain, and whilst some Red Grouse are found in Ireland (although some consider Irish Grouse a separate species) and also in Wales, its main distribution is in the north of England and Scotland. Before the Industrial Revolution around the turn of the 19th century, much of the uplands of northern England and Scotland were barren heaths covered in hawthorn, birch, conifer, gorse, thistles and bracken, which gave way to coarse heather on higher ground. Comparatively few grouse survived in these harsh surroundings, both because there was never enough nutritious heather to support large numbers and also because, as ground nesting birds, they are very vulnerable to predators unless they are controlled. As more traditional pasture was turned over to the plough (particularly during the two world wars) farmers pushed further north in search of grazing for sheep, reclaiming vast areas of heathland by one of the oldest methods of agriculture – burning on a rotational basis to create new growth. That these methods were also benefiting the Red Grouse went largely unnoticed until the opening of two major rail routes to Scotland (one to the west via Carlisle in 1848 and two years later an eastern one via York and Newcastle). The north of England and Scotland, which had previously taken days of very uncomfortable travel to reach by road, were now accessible within hours.Shooting had become enormously popular in Victorian times and, led by Queen Victoria’s purchase of Balmoral on Deeside, wealthy Victorians poured into Scotland from the beginning of August each year for their sporting holidays. The 12th of August, the official date that Queen Victoria took up residence at Balmoral, marked the opening of the grouse season, and became the greatest day in the social calendar. It is still known as “The Glorious Twelfth.”
The traditional products, local breeds, and know-how collected by the Ark of Taste belong to the communities that have preserved them over time. They have been shared and described here thanks to the efforts of the network that Slow Food has developed around the world, with the objective of preserving them and raising awareness. The text from these descriptions may be used, without modifications and citing the source, for non-commercial purposes in line with the Slow Food philosophy.