The Peak District grouse moor that organises shoots for local people to help a village pre-school pay its rent

While the North of England and Scotland has largely seen one of its worst years for grouse numbers, the moorland of the Peak District has fared better than most and its good fortune has come to the aid of a South Yorkshire pre-school.

A fundraising shoot at Bolsterstone near Stocksbridge

John Tatchell has been gamekeeper on the Broomhead estate, on the east side of the Peak District, for the past 15 years and his partner Laura works at Deepcar Pre-school which earlier this year found itself with a massive increase in rent to have to fund.

John said that he, Laura and many other farmers, gamekeepers and rural-based families have benefited from being able to send their children to Deepcar and that it seemed appropriate to help out, as well as at the same time controlling grouse numbers.

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“For lots of estates it has been a very poor season for grouse numbers but we found ourselves in a position where we had a surplus, so as a fundraiser we offered a day’s shooting earlier this week on four grouse drives across four private moorland estates.

The shoot is for locals rather than commercial clients

“These estates don’t offer commercial shooting. They are family-run grouse moors and the people attending were all people like gamekeepers, upland farmers and people local to the estates.”

John said one of the reasons behind the success in this year’s numbers in contrast to the previous two years was the bloom of the heather and its quality.

“For the past two years on these moors we have been at the mercy of the heather beetle and heat stress from the dry summers which has led to poor heather condition. We’ve had very little young grouse that have made it through. Some hadn’t hatched at all, others had wilted away.

“The heather beetle starts as larvae and eats at the root and then ring barks the heather. It knocks it all back and looks as if it is dying.

Gundogs at Bolsterstone

“This year was the first we’ve had since then when the heather has come into bloom. It is the heather, grass seed, bilberry buds and insect life that get the grouse growing.”

All of the grouse on Broomhead estate’s moors are bred naturally. There is nothing released or brought in. It’s a source of pride to John who decided when he first started helping out on the Midhope estate in his teens that this was where his career was to be.

John said it was the predator control and the good that came out of it that enthused him originally.

“I’m now head gamekeeper at Broomhead having learned a lot from gamekeepers David Beaumont and Keiran Logan. The success I’ve had here has been not just in the number of grouse that now thrive but also waders and many species. We have curlew, golden plover, lapwing, snipe, merlin and short-eared owls.

“We’ve done so much work on making these moors really regenerative with extra scrapes on the fringes of the moor and the estate has also funded quite a lot of gully blocking that has rewetted areas and has encouraged a lot more waders.

“Our main threats are stoats and foxes. They are the predators we mainly control and they are at their most damaging around nesting time when they attempt to pick off the eggs and the chicks and when the hens are at their most vulnerable.

“I’m really proud of what we have done in increasing birdlife and all wildlife on the 3,800 acres of moorland that make up the estate.

“Because we have had such good numbers of grouse this year and because Deepcar Pre-school was struggling to cope with its heavy increase on its rent it seemed quite a useful exercise to keep our numbers of grouse where they need to be, as well as raising funds through the day’s shooting.

“The Peak District Moorlands Group run by local keepers and their families to educate and promote the benefits of grouse moor management were in charge of the day.”

John said that he was pleased that after a year that also saw a parliamentary debate on a potential ban on driven grouse shooting; and then the University of Northampton’s review that found that under the UN’s sustainable development goals driven grouse shooting came out on top as the best way to manage the English uplands, that the community event could take place.

“We were grateful for the support of many local businesses, all of which may have been adversely affected if the potential ban hadn’t failed. There are so many people whose livelihoods would have been affected from people who work on shoot days to those other businesses that would lose income without the sector.”

Laura said Deepcar Pre-school has seen its rent more than doubling and its numbers dropping since Covid and the funds raised are much needed. Deepcar Pre-school is a charity-run private pre-school and we have restrictions on numbers, but we have also suffered as more people are now working from home.”