Sporting estates that offer shooting and fishing should receive Scottish Government support to help them through the coronavirus crisis, landowning Tories have said.
Their plea came amid signs that Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing intends to offer help to country sports businesses.
But it also triggered a furious row with rival politicians objecting to “lairds” being given “handouts” to maintain “blood sports” businesses.
Highlands MSP Donald Cameron is supporting the call for help, which has been made in a motion tabled by his Tory colleague Murdo Fraser.
Mr Cameron, who owns Achnacarry Estate in the Highlands, said country sports businesses were facing “unprecedented” challenges.
Mr Fraser’s motion has been signed by Edward Mountain, the Tory MSP who owns 50% of Delfur Fishings in Moray, which has a market value of more than £8 million.
Mr Cameron said: “No-one can doubt the contribution that gamekeepers, ghillies and estate staff make to rural communities across the Highlands and Islands.
“Like other sectors, country sport businesses and the people who rely on them for employment, are facing unprecedented challenges which threaten their jobs and way of life.
“The Scottish Government should extend the same support to them that it does to other business sectors which require help to see them through this crisis. They must not be overlooked.”
A 2015 study found that the overall value of country sports tourism to Scotland is £155m. Those calling for support also point out that a host of other businesses in rural areas depend heavily on country sport trade.
The Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group (SCSTG) has been lobbying for support, claiming businesses catering for pastimes like grouse shooting, deer stalking and fishing had been overlooked by ministers.
After a conference call with Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing, the SCSTG claimed it had assurances that sporting businesses had been “inadvertently excluded” from schemes to assist struggling firms.
Sarah Troughton, chairwoman of SCSTG, said: “Support for sporting businesses at this difficult time will be crucial if they are to survive. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that they deliver on this support.”
Mr Fraser’s motion acknowledged concerns raised by SCSTG and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) that their industry had been excluded from grants available to the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.
BASC political officer Ross Ewing said: “Today’s reassurance from the Cabinet Secretary is extremely welcome. For weeks sporting businesses have been facing an increasingly uncertain situation following the widespread cancellation of bookings and a lack of support from the Scottish Government.”
Mr Fraser’s motion was signed by a handful of Tories including Mr Mountain, whose register of interests shows he has a 50% share of a rod and line salmon fishing in Moray, operated by Delfur Fishings, which has a total market value of between £8,200,001 and £8,300,000.
Mr Cameron’s register of interests shows he owns Anchnacarry Estate which has income from deerstalking and shooting. Although the estate is valued at around £6.5m, he does not receive any taxable income from it.
But Highlands MSP and Green rural economy spokesman John Finnie objected to cash being used to support “blood sport” businesses.
Mr Finnie said: “While rural jobs must be protected, lairds in vast estates should not have to beg for government handouts to pay their staff.
“If the Conservatives cared about rural jobs, they would be advised to look at the research that shows grouse moors generate fewer jobs per hectare than almost any other use of their land. Emergency funds for businesses should be keeping our vital community small businesses afloat at this difficult time, not provide further handouts for wealthy landowners to maintain their blood sport businesses.”
Mr Mountain said: “Country sports are a valuable and integral part of rural life and it is right that the Government looks to protect these valuable sources of employment. It is a pity that some people look for opportunity to divide the countryside when we should be looking at ways of uniting it.”