The 2016 grouse season certainly started with high hopes for moor owners on both sides of the Scottish Border with good healthy stocks of grouse over wintering in relatively strong conditions despite fairly mild weather at that time of the year. There were relatively few reports of problems with worm levels during this period and this was no doubt in part due to the availability of strong medicated grit as well as dosing being used on a number of moors.
In the Spring there were some weather issues reported before and during the hatching period in both Scotland and England but overall expectations were generally high with hopes for another good grouse season in many places. However, once brood counts started in mid-July it became apparent that not everywhere would have the grouse numbers they had hoped for earlier in the year.
In Scotland the majority of the Eastern Moors in the Angus Glens, Aberdeenshire and further North appeared to have suffered badly with this being attributed to poor conditions and a strong easterly wind in late May and early June (peak hatching time) resulting in very low brood numbers. Travelling further to the West the picture was rosier and there were some excellent reports either side of the A9 in Inverness Shire. One or two places in Perthshire also looked very good but at the same time the Scottish Borders, which have been so strong for so many years, reported disappointing counts.
Heading South into England, Northumberland and County Durham were much more bullish and this trend continued in most areas in exception of the Peak District and parts of the Western Pennines. In England it appeared that the more Westerly moors had, with a few exceptions, suffered a large drop in brood size in many areas due to heavy rainfall and cold conditions for the young chicks trying to survive in June.
Armed with this information there was the usual cancellation of booked shooting days in some areas and rebooking of days in others.
Once the shooting season started large numbers of grouse were reported particularly in Northumberland and Cumbria. Indeed 2016 has proved to be a record year for a number of moors in the vicinity of Alston on the boundary between these two counties. It’s fascinating to note that only a few miles further to the south however moors at lower elevations had fewer grouse and partially curtailed seasons. The prophecies of doom and gloom in the Peak District where not wholly accurate but the majority were disappointing enough to see partial cancellations on a number of moors.
In the Eastern Pennines the position was better and although records were harder to find they still had very good stocks of grouse providing a good quantity of days shooting of 150 brace or more on many moors. The North York Moors found itself in this category with populations on the high ground being stronger than the low in many areas. The numbers on Snilesworth at the Eastern side of the North York Moors have increased and the grouse seem to be particularly healthy and this bodes well for 2017. Hawnby, next door, had a record year as did one or two other beats of other moors. Some of the lower lying moors however proved to have no weight of grouse and this did lead to some cancellation of October days in one or two places. The Eastern side of the Northern Pennines were good with some serious numbers again being shot at Allenheads and other moors in the vicinity. Other moors failed to fulfil their early promise and the further to North this was increasingly the case.
Sadly the Scottish Borders proved to be generally very poor with nothing like the numbers counted in recent years. However some moor owners have carried out a very light shooting programme in hope of getting an immediate “bounce” and subsequent successful shooting season in 2017.
North of the Edinburgh/Glasgow line the Angus Glens were generally disappointing but further North those South Inverness moors such as Phoines produced massive quantities of really exhilarating grouse to show that shooting driven grouse in the Highlands has no equal when the numbers and conditions are right. Sadly further North and East this was not the case and shooting programmes were cancelled fairly promptly.
Those moors which have had serious quantities of grouse have been shooting them as hard as possible well into November and at least one into December meaning that they have had difficulty in getting the numbers down to where they want them. However the relatively benign weather over this period has been helpful. Others have stopped their shooting programme a little earlier but have relied on medicated grit and dosing (to come) to ensure the populations remaining on the ground are healthy.
There is general optimism about prospects for next year but much will depend as always on the weather and we will all keep our fingers crossed that the Grouse Gods will smile upon us in 2017.