Early Reports from the Counting Teams
After two years of near perfect conditions in late May, June and July which assisted other factors in producing vast numbers of grouse on many of the moors particularly in England and in some cases in Scotland which led to many records being broken, 2012 has seen the weather once again play a vital role but this time in other ways. The extraordinarily poor weather conditions throughout the country over most of May (with the exception of one week) June and July, has seen cold conditions exacerbated by very heavy rainfall and often high winds, all contributing to make the hen grouseâ€™s job of rearing as large a brood as possible of grouse chicks the hardest for many years.
It is true to say the weather has been generally worse with the highest rainfall on the western side of the Pennines. However, in Scotland a cold easterly wind for much of the time, has meant that those moors with exposure to that direction have suffered more than those with a more southerly/westerly aspect. In early May, many keepers, agents and moor owners were hoping for another year of record bags, etc. and this with some realistic expectation given a relatively benign winter and excellent Spring Pair counts reported in many areas. Since that time the situation has changed in the majority but not all, cases.
Starting up in Inverness-shire, it appears that with the exception of the area in the western Monadhliathâ€™s which suffered an early season crash due to high levels of worm, many moors are looking for a reasonably successful season. Those with any easterly aspect and therefore exposure to poor conditions from that direction have seen brood sizes tumble from initial eights and nines to twos and threes. At this point in time this seems to be particularly so to the west of the A9 with those moors to the east of the A9, apparently gaining more shelter from the adverse conditions and so, looking for a better season. Positive reports in the Tomintoul area in particular are encouraging.
Further south and east, the Angus Glens were undoubtedly hoping for another year of large numbers of grouse. However, the last six weeks or so has definitely taken the edge off their prospects and a number of Estates in this area have become more circumspect in their predictions for the forthcoming season. We think that those moors with very high numbers of pairs in the spring may still have good early season shooting but it may well not continue to be a long season.
Travelling west towards Dalwhinnie, there appears to be more confidence and one or two moors are hoping for good numbers. Further south again it appears that Perthshire is not going to produce any real numbers of grouse again although this will be for a variety of reason and not just the weather.
The Border region however should produce reasonable numbers of grouse although not as many as last year in most cases. In the Lammermuirs, there was considerable optimism until 2-3 weeks ago. We think some moors will have good to very good numbers and the same is probably the case in the Moorfootâ€™s and further west into the Ayrshire hills, but the likelihood is the further west you go, the worse it will probably be. There will however, be the usual exceptions!
There is more confidence to be found in England particularly those moors on the east of the Pennine range. Whilst Cumbria and western Northumberland are definitely now suggesting they will be down and possibly well down on last yearâ€™s figures, one or two moors to the east in County Durhamare talking of even greater numbers than in 2011. This is not the case throughout the whole region, but once again those providing really top quality management and keepering seem to be receiving their just deserts. Early indications further south within the Pennine region, are definitely mixed. Again those moors exposed to the west talking of heavily reduced chick numbers and therefore potentially heavily reduced shooting programmes whereas those in the east still retain a reasonable level of confidence. But eastern facing slopes even in good areas seem to have been badly affected by very cold temperatures and probably appalling insect hatches which are vital to chicks for the first week or so of their life.
Further east in the North York Moors, there appears to be decent numbers on those moors which have had success in recent years, notably in the mid, west and northern part of the region. One of the GWCT counts, was the highest they had done on that moor for 10 years.
The Peak District if anything intensifies the east west split with the western moors, receiving some phenomenally poor weather (three consecutive continual days rain over the Jubilee weekend) and hence programmes being almost completely cancelled in a number of cases. Further east more confidence with hopes of a good season without it being spectacular.
Overall it is definitely too early to say with any great confidence what the 2012 season will bring, other than it is unlikely to be a boom year again (with a very few exceptions in the northern Pennines) and in many cases the grouse appear to be very late. It is difficult to tell whether that means they hatched later (unlikely en masse) or because of the weather have had to spend most of their life surviving rather than growing, and again there are undoubtedly a lot of second hatches this year. One Highland keeper reported not wanting to undertake his counts until the 12th (if he could get away with it) and another keeper in Yorkshire has suggested cancelling all August days and starting the season on the 1st September, reflecting the lateness of many birds.
We will definitely know more in the next ten days to two weeks and will update you then.