The 2014 season began with the headlines very much filled with talk of Bulgy Eye in Grouse and its likely effect on the numbers for the forthcoming season. Various Moorland Estates monitored their breeding pairs and then as May led into June, the brood sizes and their health. There was a great deal of worry at what would happen to the young Grouse in particular as the year progressed, but as the July counts subsequently revealed, the disease ended up having very little effect on numbers for the majority of the Moors in England and Scotland.
Further south, the Lowland Estates had also experienced good weather up to when they established their game covers and for the arrival of the young Partridge and Pheasant poults.
Although August did produce some heavy downpours, generally it was reasonably dry and the weather relatively benign. The driest September for many years followed and the weather played a major part in some large bags of Grouse being shot on Moors from the Peak District to Inverness. 2014 will go down as one of the great Grouse seasons in the middle of an era which may well become known as the “Golden Age of Grouse Shooting”. Numbers were spectacular in many places and the recent capital investment in infrastructure in the shape of new roads and tracks as well as the many other facets including highly motivated Gamekeepers, led to record bags on a number of Moors. Bransdale in the North Yorkshire Moors, saw its annual bag almost double to 8,500 brace for the year. Many surrounding Moors also had a great season in that area. The Pennines produced some spectacular days and August to September was full of 300 to 400 brace being shot in a day on a variety of Moors. All in all as described above, a great year.
One of the lesser discussed side effects of this very dry period from September was its effect on the reared Partridge population in the UK. There was a marked increase in one or two diseases which had not been seen for a number of years. In particular, hairworm which infects the crop of the red-legged Partridge. Keepers needed to be aware of this problem and to quickly jump on it should signs of this or other diseases appear. One or two horror stories of large losses were reported but on all of our Shoots, we fortunately passed this period without problem.
The relatively “soft” weather did not perhaps help the September Partridges but did lead to some spectacular days in October once the weather cooled down and the wind picked up, with great days being enjoyed on Estates from the South Downs to the Angus Glens and many places in between.
As is often the way, the end of October heralded a change in the weather and warmer still days followed with foggy mornings causing problems in one or two areas of the Country. The early Pheasant Shooting was made harder by these weather conditions but again once this period passed and, there were more birds to create spectacular shooting on many Shoots up and down the Country. Snilesworth, Pennyholme, Mulgrave, Murton and Duncombe Park all showed some amazing Pheasants in December in the Yorkshire area, whereas further south Colesbourne, Farmcote, Foxcote all produced some great days. In the West Country the usual suspects were right up there with one or two new Shoots coming to the fore and the success of the new team at Upcerne in Dorset is a great credit to them.
By the time Christmas arrived, most Shoots were hoping for the usual period of hard weather to help them focus the birds in the drives and accordingly help keep the numbers up. However, this only seemed to occur in Scotland and the North of England with the South starting to struggle with numbers in early January.
Later in the month, a different problem arose with the conditions becoming so poor in the North that the logistics of running a Shoot Day in heavy snow became too much for some and a number of days were cancelled. We believe it is always worth stressing to people shooting throughout the year that bad weather cancellation cover is worth having and those Low Ground days in January are as important to insure as Grouse days earlier in the year.
Once the colder weather did arrive down South, albeit towards the end of the month, the bags immediately benefited and Keepers reported more birds on the feed ride and Guns saw more of them during these later season drives.
In summary, 2014 will be remembered as one of the all-time Grouse years. In terms of the Low Ground Pheasant and Partridge Shooting, it will I suspect be recalled by most Keepers as one of the most awkward they have experienced, due to the warn benign weather causing some different disease issues and then problems with presentation on early season Shoot Days. This righted itself in the end, but not before there had been one or two issues in certain parts of the Country!
William Powell Sporting
Carrs House, 1 Tramway, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX16 5TD
Telephone: 01295 701 701