Grouse numbers look good for Glorious 12th

Gun taking shot at grouse from butt - grouse shoot, Leadhills, Scotland
Gun taking shot at grouse from butt - grouse shoot, Leadhills, Scotland

by Nan Macfarlane

PROSPECTS for the Glorious 12th are looking good in Berwickshire and East Lothian - despite gloomy predictions for the rest of the country.

While forecasts this week are for poor numbers of grouse in the rest of Scotland the shooting estates in the Lammermuirs seem set to buck the trend.

Red grouse numbers appear to be up on last year with some farms and estates possibly even breaking records.

Relieved gamekeeper Craig Bickman who works for the Duke of Northumberland in the Lammermuirs said this week: “It is definitely going to be better than last year which was not good because of the bad winter.

“It should be quite a good season this year as we have had better weather conditions and a better breeding season. The numbers seem good over the whole of the Lammermuirs although I have heard it is not so good further north.”

Rob Fenwick of sporting agency E J Churchill agreed that prospects were looking bright in this area.

“Certain places are looking fantastic and maybe even record breaking and the rest of the estates we deal with on the Lammermuirs are looking very positive,” he said.

“There are a few where the numbers may be a little bit down but others are looking exceptional and generally the picture is good.”

The agency arranges shoots for a number of estates and farms on the Lammermuirs for prices ranging from £1000 to £3000 per head for one day.

“We have a lot of bookings so far,” said Mr Fenwick.

Just Grouse magazine also reported that the Lammermuirs were one of the few areas in Scotland showing promising signs.

“The Lammermuirs were spared the prolonged period of rain and cold weather experienced by those further to the west and north at the end of May and early June. Scotland suffered a prolonged wet period that extended into mid-July,” said Just Grouse.

Dr Kathy Fletcher of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust said the numbers in the rest of Scotland had been hit by bad weather and also heather beetle infestations.

“A lot of areas have had some serious bad weather this year. During the spring, when the chicks have just hatched, they are very vulnerable to wet and cold weather. It is ok with showers because then they can be brooded by the hen and run out and get some insects but when it is continuous rain they have to be brooded to keep warm so that means they can’t get enough food. Also, in bad weather the insects are not so available.”

Heather beetle infestations at various locations had also hit numbers as well as infections from worms and ticks.

Dr Fletcher said: “As well as getting predator control right, you have also got to keep on top of the diseases to keep everything going in the right direction.”

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation says grouse need to be at a density of 60 per square kilometre on August 12 to ensure the moor is commercially viable for driven shooting.

August 12 has been the start of the red grouse shooting season since 1831 when the Game Act came into force to protect game birds. The season runs until December 10.

Red grouse are only present in the British Isles and the number of managed moorlands where shooting takes place has been in decline in Britain from 485 managed moors in 1991 to below 200 in 2005. However that figure is now rising.

Supporters of the sport claim that any further loss of grouse shooting would be a devastating blow to upland conservation.

Dr David Baines, head of the trust’s upland research, said: “Our long-term monitoring clearly shows that management carried out on our grouse moors benefits a whole host of other species as well as increasingly rare and precious heather habitats. Grouse shooting acts as an economic driver to protect our moorland habitats.”