After a cold spring the grouse season looks doubtful.

The Glorious Twelfth is under three weeks away now but the grouse season in 2021 looks set to be rather less glorious this year.

Keepers at The Game Fair were reporting hens still sitting on the nest just three weeks ago.

To clarify the situation, Shooting UK spoke to Lindsay Waddell, former chairman of the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) and a retired gamekeeper.

Grouse season in 2021

He confirmed that in general things looked pretty quiet, saying: “We’ve had horrible spring frosts. In the North Yorkshire moors and lower reaches of the Pennines there are a few grouse about but in general it’s going to be a pretty bleak season, there are a lot of moors not shooting at all.” (Read more on who buys grouse moors.)

Asked how this would affect the grouse season in 2021, Lindsay replied: “The moors will be trying to conserve the stock they have already got but I’m hearing that on some moors they’ve counted less grouse now than when they did the spring count. They are not going to have even as big a stock next year as this time.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean this will be a disaster as long as we have reasonable stock – as long as we don’t get another spring like the last two we’ve had. That’s two in a row now. A lot of places have shot very few grouse for two years now and in recent history that is pretty unprecedented, since the advent of the wide use of medicated grit.”

“There’s going to be a lot of fat, bored gundogs at the end of the year. There will be little for them to do.”

Of course, this does not bode well for youngsters who are seeking to earn money by working on grouse shoots. The hospitality sector will also be hit but fortunately have been busy due to summer ‘staycations’ this year.

Poor heather quality

Head keeper Ian Sleightholm from the Bolton Castle estate said to Shooting UK: “Certainly is a depressing season, with many estates in the middle of their counts the early reports are that estates are either cancelling August due to a lot of late broods or cancelling the season altogether.
“As far as spring counts go we’re looking good, with moors carrying good numbers through the winter but with the heather quality at its lowest due to the previous two years of drought and the largest heather beetle outbreak in living memory. The grouse were on slim pickings and we’re not in as good a condition as we thought. When the terrible weather came in April and May (rain,snow and -10 frosts) it was too much for many of the birds, especially the hens who were having to put energy into laying eggs. What grouse survived produced either very late broods or the early broods dwindled due to poor weather and lack of insects at hatching time.

Not all bad news

On a more positive note Ian said: “The silver lining to this season is that there are very few sightings of heather beetle and the heather has recovered fantastically well with an early bloom on the cards.”
A spokesperson from BASC was also optimistic, commenting to Shooting UK: “Although grouse counts have fallen below par, there are certainly exceptions and there will still be some shooting on the 12th August. Work is currently being undertaken to be able to offer an experience of walked-up grouse shooting.

There will be more news on the forthcoming grouse season in next week’s Shooting Times.