Following the wettest winter for a long time and the driest spring ever, we are now entering a wet and windy ‘summer’. But the mighty grouse have commendably managed to not only breed but produce some good broods in places. Grouse prospects for this year are looking promising. It’s never a definite until the birds are pouring over the butts, but some areas will have enough grouse to sustainably shoot a decent bag this year. That said, as usual, there will be exceptions as we are getting patchy reports from North Yorkshire.
Grouse moor management in Scotland is never far from the headlines these days. Hopefully, however, the hard work of the many hundreds of gamekeepers will be rewarded on 12 August. A combination of factors has come together to create good prospects for the coming season. A mild winter followed by an exceptionally warm and dry spring has seen good breeding and hatching on most moors. Some keepers have also said that the lack of disturbance from walkers, due to travel restrictions during lockdown in April and May, has been a yet another helpful factor. In fact, one stalker in the Trossachs said that he has never seen such good coveys of ptarmigan on his higher ground and attributed this to a lack of disturbance.
On the down-side, there were some cold and wet spells in June. In some areas, large numbers of tick have killed some young grouse too. In other areas, the heather beetle had killed off a lot of heather which resulted in less food available for adult grouse. The restrictions on muirburn in March and April meant that these areas could not be burned and restored. In many areas final counts have yet to take place, so the full picture will not be clear until the first day’s shooting. However, prospects for the Glorious Twelfth do look good – certainly better than last year, even if a little patchy in some areas. Most gamekeepers are expecting a busy season ahead of them. They recognise that there may be fewer foreign Guns attending and the extra guidance that they need to follow with respect to COVID-19 restrictions.
Grouse really are magnificent birds. They are capable of surviving the most inhospitable of conditions. The efforts of our upland gamekeepers result in the provision of ideal habitats and safety from predators. This offers the broods that hatch from mid to late May the best chance of survival. It’s not just the grouse that benefit, though. The value of this enhanced habitat extends to a vast range of other sensitive species. Curlews, golden plover, lapwings and hen harriers all thrive on managed moors.
This year saw exceptional conditions in early to mid-spring. Warm and humid weather ensured a plentiful supply of insects for the grouse chicks to dine on in their first few weeks. The rub of this was that the humidity soon turned into chronic drought. Most of the uplands became a tinder box. Wildfires and arsonists began to plague the north. As COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed, greater numbers of visitors than normal took to the wild open spaces. The vast majority adhered to the Countryside Code, but disposable barbecues were responsible for several extreme fires. The fire service, farmers and gamekeepers fought hard in arduous and sweltering conditions to extinguish multiple blazes. Without the ongoing monitoring and presence of gamekeepers, who provide an invaluable ‘policing’ service to the uplands, the situation could have been far worse.
Heather beetle continues to blight the heather in many areas. And it is thought that this has led to smaller grouse clutch sizes in some places. It’s a shame that the challenge of obtaining consents for burning is preventing the rejuvenation of beetle-damaged areas. Without it, our gamekeepers are unable to create important firebreaks to slow down or arrest wildfires.
BASC is working hard to ensure that shoots will have access to the best possible guidance in order to shoot safely while complying with COVID-19 restrictions. The main challenges are likely to be the movement of beaters and proximity issues for loaders and double gunning. If you would like to arrange a COVID-19 visit for your shoot, please contact your regional BASC office.
For all those lucky enough to be out on the moor this August, shoot straight, shoot safe and take ‘em well out front!