Grouse chicks have starved to death as a result of the driest start to a British summer for 57 years, despite best efforts of estate managers who have left extra water supplies out to save wildlife.
A lack of rain and an absence of morning dew has left heather, a source of food for grouse, “like cardboard”, while numbers of craneflies, which are eaten by grouse chicks, have been entirely absent in some areas, one moorland shooting agent said.
Some species have fared better than others. Numbers of black grouse and grey partridges thought to have rallied but a dramatic drop in grouse generally has decimated the game shooting season which starts on Monday.
The Moorland Association said around a half of all grouse shoots in Yorkshire have been cancelled.
The result will be a “ruinous” effect on the rural economy, with businesses due to lose out on millions of pounds generated as a by-product of shoots, with spending in rural restaurants, hotels and pubs set to be severely hit.
Adrian Thornton-Berry, a shooting agent in the Yorkshire Dales for Dales Sport, said: “We have cancelled about 50 per cent of our programme so far and we consider ourselves lucky, most agents have lost nearly 80 per cent of their days.
“We all thought (grouse) hatching time was perfect but grouse on higher ground, with the condition of the heather with the late spring, they’ve had cardboard to eat. And with the dry weather and there being no dew in the morning, it’s the first time we have known grouse chicks have starved to death.
“Gamekeepers have been carrying water onto higher ground and putting drinkers out.”
Philip Scott-Priestley, who is involved in the management of upland sporting estates on behalf of GSC Grays in North Yorkshire, reported a tough situation for the region’s rural economy, saying: “It’s a big impact on everybody that works on the estates and the local economy. There have been peaks and troughs for grouse shooting historically which every estate has but this year a huge number have had downs.”
Liam Stokes, head of campaigns at the Countryside Alliance, said this year’s shooting season will give a sense of what the future would be if campaigners succeed in getting shoots banned.
He said: “When people think of grouse shooting, they think of the individuals pulling the trigger. They often forget the money those individuals are spending in local hotels, pubs and restaurants, and the average of 40 local people employed on every shoot day, and the money those people spend in local shops and pubs whenever they get together.”