HIGH up on the moors on the eastern edge of the Yorkshire Dales, fast food is not a phrase mentioned very often.
But yesterday, as the Glorious 12th swung into gear, a group of North Yorkshire hunters may well have come up with the Dales equivalent.
To mark the beginning of the shooting season, Paul Klein, proprietor of the Blue Lion Hotel in East Witton, near Leyburn, and friends Tim Lambert and Nick Moody, set themselves the challenge of being the first shooting party in the country to settle down to their lunch while the smoke was still rising from the barrel of their guns.
And with the first bird shot at 7.15am and an 11.45am lunch of roast grouse, game chips and bread sauce washed down with a bottle of good claret, they may well have hit their target.
“We were invited to go shooting on a local moor and had the idea to be the first in the country on the 12th to get the food to a table,” said Mr Klein.
“Most shooting starts by about 10am but we thought we would start and finish early.
“We shot a five-and-a-half brace (11 grouse), with rough shooting, without using any beaters.
“The grouse tasted absolutely superb.
“I have been shooting for 20 years and it was certainly the freshest I have ever eaten.”
The birds were taken back to the hotel where they were plucked, gutted and prepared by head chef John Dalby.
They were then flash roasted for 20 minutes before being served.
“There is a great satisfaction in eating what you shoot as you are not just going to the supermarket and buying a piece of meat,” Mr Klein, 54, said.
“I certainly don’t shoot for the sake of killing something.
“Grouse are the ultimate game bird, the most difficult to shoot and the fastest. They cannot be bred and they have to be in the wild.”
He added: “The Glorious 12th is a huge day for Yorkshire and a real boost for the region’s economy.”
The annual count by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) is showing an average 23 per cent population increase in grouse numbers across northern England on last year, due to a better understanding of limiting disease among the birds.
Now the organisation is predicting a possible all-time record high.
The findings have been welcomed by grouse moor owners in Yorkshire who say shooting delivers around £22m to the region’s economy.
Dr David Baines, upland research director with the GWCT, said: “This has been a very good year for grouse in northern England, possibly an all-time record.
“Red grouse populations fluctuate from year to year considerably.
“Since the late 1970s, our research programme has shed more light on the role played by ticks and the periodic outbreaks of the parasitic grouse disease Strongylosis.
“Our research is helping to limit the impact of diseases and we believe this is helping to reduce the regular population crashes that occur in the uplands.
“We believe that birds entered the breeding season in good condition following recommendations to moorland owners on how to reduce parasites.
“This was achieved in spite of the long snow-bound winter, when many of the moors were abandoned by virtually all grouse and thus confirming the hardiness of the species.
“Birds appeared to breed earlier and chicks appeared to grow faster.
“Much of the heather moorland across Europe has been lost or seriously degraded over the last century, but in Britain the rate of decline of this threatened habitat has been much reduced because landowners and gamekeepers manage it for grouse.
“Our studies confirm that grouse shooting makes a huge contribution to nature conservation in the uplands and the financial investment in moorland management for grouse provides a highly sustainable form of land use.”
The Moorland Association, which represents moor owners, said about a third of revenue generated by grouse shooting was spent in Yorkshire.
The shooting season runs between August and December and gamekeepers say it is vital for the rural economy as it extends beyond the summer when trade in pubs, restaurants and bed and breakfasts starts to wind down.
A day’s shooting can cost £2,000 for each gun and supporters say it benefits rural businesses which supply equipment and clothing.
Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Figures bandied about by the shooting lobby of the value of their sport to the economy are hugely over inflated and suggest the contribution to rural economies is far greater than it actually is.”
Red Grouse unique to Britain
IT is estimated there are around 1.25m grouse in England and Wales this year.
Many are found in the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors – the largest expanse of heather moorland in England.
Red grouse are unique to Britain and are seen as one of the country’s most valuable gamebirds. They are able to fly at speeds of up to 100km per hour.
They are notoriously difficult to shoot and are nicknamed the “King of Gamebirds” by hunters.
Grouse shooting attracts visitors to Britain from around the globe every year with expeditions costing thousands of pounds at a time.