Glorious Twelfth: Extreme weather takes its toll on rural business as grouse season begins

IT is an integral part of the countryside calendar, providing ample opportunity for evocative images of the flat-capped and booted, shotgun cocked, ready for the shoot.

Paul Klein with grouse from a local shoot destined for tonight's diners at the Blue Lion, he has run the Blue Lion in East Witton for 28 years. Picture Bruce Rollinson

But the start of the Glorious Twelfth yesterday came amid warnings of decimated grouse stocks, moorland resembling “the Sahara desert” and widespread disruption for those who rely on shoots.

On Saturday, The Yorkshire Post reported that around half of all grouse shoots planned for countryside estates across Yorkshire had been cancelled, after a cold wet spring following by a scorching heatwave took its toll on grouse stocks.

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And it is not just the estates that suffer.

A member of a shooting party on Jervaulx moor, North Yorkshire, as the grouse shooting season gets underway. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

The Country Land and Business Association’s (CLA) director for the North, Dorothy Fairburn, said the loss of shooting days during a season disrupted hugely by the weather conditions would be “keenly felt” by a wide range of small rural businesses, such as local workers who supplement their income by being employed as beaters.

“Local inns and hotels often rely on the grouse season to ensure their viability and now face a testing period, so too the caterers who do superb lunches for the guests, frequently using local produce,” she said. “Local shops, where non-shooting partners spend significant sums, will also be badly affected. Even local garages that benefit from cleaning and servicing the extra 4X4s will all feel the financial impact of a substantially reduced shooting season.”

In the Yorkshire Dales, Paul Klein has run the Blue Lion pub and hotel in East Witton, near Leyburn, for 28 years.

He has lost 39 nights of bookings as a result of cancellations from people who would have been heading to nearby estates to take part in shoots.

A member of a shooting party holds grouse on Jervaulx moor, North Yorkshire, as the grouse shooting gets underway. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

“A few of the moors around us are shooting, but a lot have called off,” he said. “We’d usually have a couple of nights a week where we’d be fully booked, right up until December, thanks to the grouse.

“The last few years, grouse numbers have been very good, but the really high moors nearby have been particularly affected.”

Caterer Georgina Anderson, of Lady G’s Cookery, which is also based in East Witton, said bookings had dropped by almost a third.

“Normally I’d have between 80 and 90 shoot lunches across the grouse and pheasant season - but this year, I have 67,” she said. “There is a very big question over how the grouse will be.

Georgina Anderson, prepares food for a shooting party, she runs Lady G's catering, which provides catering for shoot parties on moors and dinners for parties too. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“However. I have taken on two extra shoots this year - so although I’m down, I’m still growing in that sense.”

Ms Anderson caters for evening dinners for those taking parts in shoots, and has run the business for eight years.

She added: “I grew up around a grouse moor so I know how changeable it can be. It is the first time in the years I have been doing it that the weather has had such an impact, but if you look back 20 years, it was more like you’d have one great year, then two terrible ones.”

The picture is different in the North York Moors, where the extreme weather has had a lesser effect on grouse stocks.

The co-ordinator of the North York Moors Moorland Organisation, Tina Brough, said that a second brood of chicks born later in the year means stocks should be plentiful around September.

“Some shoots have been put back a month, but the majority of estates in the North York Moors are OK,” she said. “It’s the Dales, and everyone from drivers and loaders, to hotels and garages, that have been particularly hit.”