The thermometer is predicted to hit more record highs this summer ? great news for sun-worshippers and beach resorts, but the sweltering temperatures will present the countryside and the animals dependent upon it with a new set of hazards. With many keepers around

the country looking after their poults in anticipation of the coming season, and grouse populations trying to recover after a disappointing season last year, the hot weather has implications and precautions must be taken.

NFU Mutual, the UK?s leading rural insurer, has warned that the hot spell could cost millions of pounds in lost crops and expensive machinery. Over a 24-hour period in Essex, 40 fire engines were called out to deal with dozens of fires in crops, grass, hedgerows and open countryside. With more people visiting the countryside over the summer period, such things as glass, cigarettes and hot car exhausts are all fire hazards and should be avoided.

David Leavesley, of NFU Mutual, said: ?The heatwave and tinder-dry conditions pose a major fire risk to the countryside, threatening crops, equipment and personal safety. Every precaution needs to be taken by farmers and visitors alike.?

Despite the uncomfortable working conditions the hot weather brings, keepers and birds are generally glad of the warm spell. A spokesman for the National Gamekeepers? Organisation (NGO) told ST: ?All the keepers we have spoken to are hot, but pleased: the weather means bad conditions for disease and good ones for game. The biggest difficulty keepers face comes when trying to cultivate gamecrops: the young plants? growth is slowed down by drought, so they need special attention. Generally speaking, though, keepers would far rather have a hot, dry summer than a wet one. The birds are fine provided they have adequate shade and water, but that should be standard.?

Following a wet spell in April, grouse moors and grouse are benefiting from the current hot period. Simon Thorpe, director of The Heather Trust, told ST: ?Provided we aren?t short of water, a bit of heat will do the moors good. They have just imposed an access ban across the Yorkshire Dales in order to stop the fire risk ? the less walkers, the better for grouse. The birds will simply have to hide and keep out of the sun when it gets too hot. Young birds in particular will suffer if we have a prolonged drought, as they need water to grow. A short-term spell is good; it?s the muggy, wet conditions that are more of a concern, as the bugs and worm thrive in them. Fingers crossed for a better season. At this time of year, there?s a lot of wishful thinking so we?ll have to wait and see how things turn out.?