Counting down to the Twelfth

WEATHER EYE: Edward Bromet chairman of the Moorland Association, said the pre-Christmas freeze thinned out weaker birds.
WEATHER EYE: Edward Bromet chairman of the Moorland Association, said the pre-Christmas freeze thinned out weaker birds.
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A NEW grouse shooting season begins next week. Mark Holdstock considers the prospects out on the moors.

While last year’s grouse season may have been one of the best in recent years, moor owners say that this year will be good, but not as good, following some poor weather in the early summer.

The season starts on Friday, the 12th of August, the Glorious Twelfth.

There may have been some poor weather in the early summer, but according to Edward Bromet, the chairman of the Moorland Association, the severe cold snap before Christmas did the grouse a lot of favours.

“That was extremely useful because it meant the weaker birds were thinned out quite naturally,” he says.

“It will have reduced the worm burden going into the breeding season in the spring.”

During April there was a spell of very hot weather, which started to cause problems for the birds. It meant the insects on which the newly hatched chicks feed appeared before they did.

Then came a spell of wet and at times cold weather in the early summer which brought further problems once the chicks hatched.

Mr Bromet says the weather has been worse in the west, particularly over the border in Cumbria

“Yorkshire itself is that bit further east and is pretty good in most of the dales. The broods were knocked but not so badly that there isn’t going to be a good season.

“Indeed numbers are propped up because last year was such a good year and there was a greater stock on the ground going into the winter.”

The shooting season is short, from August 12 and finishing in December. This is after the birds have finished nesting and the chicks have left the nest.

Red grouse only live wild on heather moorland and nowhere else, so landowners have to look after the moors to suit the grouse. The birds need some patches of young heather with plenty of tender, new shoots to eat and some patches of taller, older heather to shelter and nest.

Tom Wheelwright owns a small grouse moor in Upper Nidderdale and he has seen how the variable weather in the early summer affected chicks.

“Imagine you’re a small grouse, you rely for the first fortnight of your life on insects. If there’s a severe frost at night you wake up and breakfast. No insects. The frost stops the insects hatching out. It doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t some later in the day when it warms up. But if it gets very hot, small birds don’t particularly enjoy it and if they get a frost afterwards they get pretty chilly at night.

“As the grouse start to grow, cold nights can cause problems because of their size,” adds Tom Wheelwright.

“The mother can’t brood. She can’t spread her wings over the whole brood so those on the outside aren’t as warn as those in the middle.

“Then in the morning they look for breakfast and if there isn’t any you end up with a situation where the broods have dwindled in size.”

The weather during the past couple of months means that this ‘Twelfth’ will be quiet, rather than glorious, on Mr Wheelwright’s moor at least.

“We won’t be shooting because I think we may find that there are some smaller birds about, later birds.

“I’ll give them an extra week.”

Adrian Thornton-Berry who manages seven grouse moors across Yorkshire is more optimistic about getting started on time.

“On the twelfth we will be shooting on two of the moors that I manage. One’s going to be slightly up on last year, one’s going to be slightly down.

“It’s like a curate’s egg really.I think it’s generally going to be good. Some moors are going to be better than others, but we have got localised problems with the heather beetle.

“The grouse pick the heather shoots they’re going to eat. They’ve got UV (ultra violet vision) which they use to select which ones.

“Any stress on the heather, like the heather beetle, moves them off. So your grouse might have been there in the spring, but if it gets heather beetle then they go elsewhere.

“The heather beetle attacks the plant which is the primary diet of the grouse and the grouse are aware of that before we are, and they’ll move because they’ve got this UV eyesight.”

It’s not just the moor owners who are keeping their fingers crossed. A lot of local people are involved in grouse shooting or in providing accommodation and food for the people who go shooting and this is very important for the local economy in the winter months.

If the weather and the heather beetle look like having a small effect on the grouse, what about the impact of the well-publicised economic troubles in European countries? This is where a large number of well-heeled grouse shooters come from.

“There are certainly foreign parties who come,” says Edward Bromet. “There still seems to be a sufficient number of parties prepared to buy the available days.

“They’re still at prices that have held up over the recession and they seem prepared to book early.”

It’s up to the grouse themselves now. The owners, and managers of the moors will be suffering from the usual mix of anxiety and expectation.

Tom Wheelwright in Nidderdale says he’s being realistic.

“Like all keepers and moor owners, I get a bit cautious at this time of year. I don’t think it’s going to be above average.”