Grouse shooting.

Red grouse numbers in northern England are higher this year than they have been since accurate counting started in the early 1980s, according to the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust?s (GWCT) annual report.

This year?s counts showed an average 23% year-on-year population increase.

The GWCT?s Dr David Baines said: ?Since the late 1970s our research programme has shed more light on the role played by ticks and the periodic outbreaks of the parasitic grouse disease strongylosis. Our research is helping to limit the impact of diseases and we believe this is helping to reduce the regular population crashes that occur in the uplands.?

Dr Baines attributed this year?s record to better breeding success.

He said: ?We believe that birds entered the breeding season in good condition following our recommendations to moorland owners on how to reduce parasites in autumn 2010. This was achieved in spite of the long snow-bound winter, when many of the moors were abandoned by virtually all grouse, thus confirming the hardiness of the species. Birds appeared to breed earlier and chicks appeared to grow faster.?

Grouse moors in central and southern Scotland are generally expecting a good season but prospects are not so good in the north of Scotland.

The bad weather and consistent rain in late May and early June, when the grouse chicks were hatching, limited their chances of survival.

In addition, the warm, dry spring meant that insects required to feed the chicks hatched too early.

Strutt & Parker?s Robert McCulloch said: ?There is optimism that grouse populations in some areas have escaped relatively unscathed, with the moors of the Angus Glens, the Lammermuirs in East Lothian and Berwickshire and the Lowther Hills in Lanarkshire anticipating successful seasons. These moors were spared the prolonged periods of rain and cold weather experienced by those further north.?

?The highest chick mortality will have occurred on those moors where there was no break in the bad weather with several moors in Inverness-shire and the frequently productive Upper Findhorn Valley cancelling their shooting programmes for 2011.?

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