And what a season it has been!
Whilst there have been specific areas where the Grouse have not done well in 2013, generally it has been an exceptional year, with large numbers of Grouse over much of the North of England and Scotland. After a horrendously wet spring and summer in 2012, we had just the opposite in 2013 and despite late snow on some higher lying moors, the weather was as perfect as it could have been for the young Grouse chicks to thrive. The end result was large broods (often with nine or more young) on many moors.
There were few weak spots and Grouse were in abundance from the Peak District through the main Pennine Belt, across the North Yorks Moors and on into Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. The Lammermuir Moors which lie to the South of Edinburgh were particularly good, as were parts of the Scottish Highlands. Scotland has been very variable in terms of Grouse production for a number of years, but there definitely seems to have been a rejuvenation there on many moors, which is very pleasing to see. The mirror effect of increased Grouse numbers on well managed Moors and the best year recently for Black Grouse and Waders, shows what can be done by good management when the weather is kind! Black Grouse were in desperate need of a good breeding season after two disastrous ones in 2011 and 2012 and fortunately this year and just as nationally the number of Black Game was looking perilously low, they experienced a lovely dry summer which resulted in exceptional chick survival.
The highlights of the Grouse season are probably the significant increase in Grouse numbers on a few Moors in Perthshire, which has with few exceptions been really grim for many years, and the extraordinary consistency which seems to be a feature now of many moors in the heartland of Grouse shooting in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham. Undoubtedly this is in part due to the effectiveness of modern medicated grit which contains a wormer to control the Strongyle Worm, for long the scourge of Grouse moors. Recent advances in the development of Medicated Grit and particularly how long it is effective for when put out on the moor, has allowed much larger stocks of Grouse to be carried, without enabling the Strongyle Worm to build up, which in the past has lead to a Grouse crash. This is the boom:bust cycle which until very recently was the pattern of Grouse production.
The letting market remained good throughout much of the season, despite the need because of large Grouse numbers, to put in extra days in October and November. Early season days were letting at £150 per brace, dropping to £120 or on occasions below, later on in the season. Fortunately there are still sportsmen happy to shoot late season Grouse on Highland Moors in November, (sometimes with snow on the Peaks!), but rightly, they pay less to do so than on a balmy day amidst the purple flowering heather of August. Undoubtedly it is the late season days for the hardy, which produce the very best quality sport, with large packs of exceptionally strong Grouse flying up to 70 miles per hour.
It is at this time of the year, that somewhat bizarrely, we are making plans for next season. Heather burning has started (but the Hills need to dry up before it gets going in earnest) and the grit has all been put out. Whilst snow over the winter months is fine, we are desperate to avoid late snow falls in March or April, when the Grouse are nesting. In the Highlands, it is not unknown for snow to fall heavily in May, and if this happens, it is unlikely young Grouse will survive.
All in all, 2013 will go down as one of the very best Grouse years and most Sportsmen’s (and Women’s) thoughts have now turned to Partridge and Pheasant Shooting.
Mark Osborne is a Chartered Surveyor and Land Agent who specialises in Sporting work, and is a Director of William Powell Sporting, which lets amongst other sport, Grouse Shooting in the North of England and Scotland.
He can be contacted on 01295 277 197 / firstname.lastname@example.org