1st June 2019
The Spring Pairs Counts that took place across the North of England and Scotland seemed to be very positive. The Moors that did not shoot last season did the right thing and left a healthy stock of grouse rather than shooting into their stock and the Moors that had grouse left relatively large stocks too.
We had a mild winter leading up to the nesting period with minimal rain. This posed an issue with the already malnourished and stressed heather conditions across some of the UK ’s moorland areas. Fortunately the was an abundance of cotton grass in March on the Higher Pennine Moors which gave those Hen Grouse a boost as they settled down to lay their eggs.
We then received reports from most of the Moors that the hatches were good and the average brood sizes were extremely encouraging.
BUT, then came the rain… It rained and rained solidly for around 2 weeks, this weather front brought with it cold winds with which temperatures in Yorkshire dropped to around 5 degrees and wet in the night and in Scotland it was below zero with rain turning to snow... This I am afraid was critical for the young Grouse. Frustratingly if this weather front had been a week or so later the grouse would have been fine, but as it happened it hit the North of England and Scotland at the worst possible time for young grouse before they had grown their adult feathers.
Consequently, Scotland is not looking good for this season we have already received plenty of phone calls asking for availability in Yorkshire because most teams have already been cancelled up North of the border before counts have even taken place.
We were not affected as badly South of the border, but the rain was definitely more damaging than we first assumed… The Moors we had spoken initially thought they may have lost a couple of young grouse per brood to the rain, but it turns out they lost a lot more than that and across all their broods.
Another serious issue similar to last year is the amount of Heather Beatle on Moorland areas. We spoke with Dave Newbourne of GWCT and he said he had never seen Heather Beatle like this in over 50 years… Heather Beatle thrives in hot/dry conditions which have been the norm for the last 3 summers here in the UK. It kills the heather and for young grouse once they stop feeding on insects, they need the heather to eat and grow and without this protein source they will simply die.
It’s certainly not all doom and gloom, but there will be certain areas who will not be shooting this year, other areas will be doing there best to re-build a suitable stock for the next season… As always there will be a number of shoots who will shoot their full schedules of course, but across the UK it is not going to be a Bumper Year, that’s for sure.
If you are lucky enough to get out on the Moor then you might be shooting reduced bags in places throughout August, but this is fine at least you are out on a moor in August enjoying yourselves and that’s the key!
Again like we always say each year, we must remember we are dealing with a wild bird, all we can do is manage an environment for which they can thrive in, but at the end of the day it comes down to weather and it seems our cold, wet weather was extremely badly timed this year.