The circle of the seasons seems to revolve at an increasingly faster speed year upon year, but then that is an age thing, isn’t it? It is with some comfort then that my young keepers noted that this season had shot past rather quickly, and no sooner is it done than we begin the merry-go-round once again.

For most moors with high stocks, for yet another winter the medicated grit work is priority number one, as there is little point in spending weeks at the traps if the worm is going to kill all your grouse, and believe me, the worm can kill more grouse than any predators we have knocking around. So grit it is, despite what the weather may throw at us. The GPS technology now available is a major boon when it comes to grit stations, as they can all be logged, stored on a memory stick, and downloaded section by section to enable the sites to be found even in thick fog.

This year, many keepers got quite a shock when they ordered their grit. The chemical normally used, Fenbendazole, was in short supply throughout Europe, and there was quite some lag time before orders were met. At the time of writing, I gather everyone has managed to obtain some grit, but given the importance of this now standard practice, the possibility of no grit for months caused quite a stir.

The downside to a good grouse season

No-one knows what the coming spring will hold for us on the hills, and that is of course if the winter is kind, but the vast majority of moors do have good stocks which, if they get a fair wind, will see plenty of grouse once more next year.

The downside of that level of production of birds is the price now being paid for the end product. There was a day, and not that long ago, that the birds shot paid the beaters’ bill. It is true that, relatively speaking, game was expensive, with a brace of grouse at source around the £4 or £5 mark in peak season. However, there was always a percentage of the country that had no grouse, another piece which was a little better, and then the lucky ones who had a lot. That sort of system ran for generations, with most moors having their ups and downs — some more than others — but there was always enough of a supply of birds to keep the market happy without flooding it.

Feast or famine

The new generations of bags boosted by the grit means that there are plenty of birds, which will make them available to many more outlets, but the price in comparison to former years is poor. We have also to consider the fact that the moorland shoots are basing their daily pay packet on the national minimum wage, and that has also widened the gap between the return from the game sales and the beaters’ bill. There is always a downside to having a feast, but I suppose it is better than having a famine!

Once the grit is done, despite snow, rain and freezing temperatures, the lads on every moor will be trying to catch with all those traps that have lain idle for so long. It’s easy to do the ones you pass on shoot days on a regular basis, but there are so many which are well out of the way that they must wait until the shooting’s end before they are cleaned out and set, ready for another season’s work.

Tending to traps

The first time round is always the one that takes the longest, as there is always some work to do to the site. The entrance of the trap nearly always requires a good going-over to remove the surplus vegetation, and if it is a stone tunnel, a slight rebuild is often necessary. Even the much-used bridge or rail-traps require some sort of tidying, as the wire cover is often squashed a bit out of line. This year has been a particularly difficult one for those traps as, by definition, they are often set over watercourses, and boy, have we had some water. If other moorland keepers have experienced the same as us, then the trap salesmen will have had a good time this autumn. Trap after trap has gone off to a watery grave, that despite the fact many were anchored. Lumps of bank gave up the fight and headed seaward, complete with trap and post.

Under normal weather conditions, the standard galvanised trap suffers rather badly up here on the moors anyway, as the acid soil corrodes the metal far faster than the same trap set in the lowlands. Four or five seasons will often render a trap useless on the moors, while the same piece of kit may well last 20 years on the pheasant and partridge beats lower down.