As we move towards the mid-point of our summer here in the U.K. all eyes turn towards the North of England and Scotland where our grouse moors will take main stage in the first chapter of our sporting calendar – the question on everybody’s lips – how is this season looking?
Whilst I have seen early reports, predictions and forecasts, I genuinely think it is far too early to tell. The Red Grouse in Northern England especially, lay their eggs earlier and earlier each year, due to our warming climate and increasingly favourable nesting conditions – which in turn are thanks to our proficient modern management techniques. In years gone-by the hen would nest down in mid-spring and lay her eggs a couple of weeks later; the chicks would leave the nest in late spring and by the time 12th August came around, the hen would have either successfully raised all her chicks to a shootable age or lost some or all of her brood.
It seems the hen grouse is capable of having chicks off the nest considerably earlier, leaving much more time for them to succumb to bad weather or predation before that crucial date in August. Another increasing modern phenomena is the prevalence of ‘second-broods’. When the hen unfortunately loses all the chicks in her brood, if she is in sufficient condition, she may mate and lay again. This is a double-edged sword in as much as the hen is given a second chance but the chicks will then be ‘late’ and unlikely to be mature enough by the start of the shooting season, thus leading to some moors cancelling early August dates and opting to start shooting in mid to late September to allow the chicks to mature.
We cannot overlook the fact that in early Spring, the Yorkshire Dales, North Pennines, and Northumberland were subject to some horrendous weather, with temperatures plummeting, persistent rainfall and in some cases, snow or frost for weeks at a time. The ability of a hen grouse to successfully raise chicks through this period is testament to just how hardy this upland bird is. It must also be a reminder of how lucky we are to be able to witness and pursue them.
Unfortunately, moors with higher ground will have felt the effect of this weather. However, the lower-lying moors to the East should have enjoyed a less bitter Springtime and should see more successful breeding. There are also good reports from further north of the border where later-hatching grouse in parts of Scotland effectively ‘missed’ the poor weather allowing the hens to raise their broods in much more favourable conditions.
A recent spell of warm-weather in the South has seen lowland ‘keepers off to a good start with many having taken delivery of their first batches of pheasant poults, where some shoots struggled to get their cover-crops out of the ground due to the long, dry -spell (in many cases having to re-plant). A short spell of rain, followed by an increase in temperature, has meant I see many a healthy, thick plot of bird-cover on my journey into the Shooting School.
On a side note, I was kindly invited to join BASC at the Holland & Holland shooting ground to talk (and shoot!) lead-alternatives. It was heartening to see the support and development into the inevitable move away from lead and I was more than impressed with the alternative cartridges we tried. There will need to be such an accurate education with regard to which cartridges can be shot in which guns and anyone involved in shooting will need to be aware of the related dangers of getting it wrong. More to follow on this subject in future reports.
The season will be upon us before we know it and it will be so refreshing and enjoyable to get back out in the field with like-minded people doing what we love. The Sporting Agency is as busy as ever with bookings so please enquire for single-gun and full-team availability – but do not hang around! Shooting is selling fast for this year and the following season.