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It won’t be a vintage year for red grouse

After several bumper years, it is back to boom and bust? Shooting interests are quick to point out the season won't be a complete write-off

Grouse moor keepers and sporting agents across England and Scotland are warning that this year’s grouse shooting season will be a disappointing one thanks to the bad weather that hit the first half of the hatching period earlier in the year. Keepers are reporting reduced covey sizes — in some cases, two to three birds rather than the hoped for seven to 10 — and many survivors are still small or are from second clutches.

This is in stark contrast to last season, which was a vintage one for red grouse across the country

Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association chairman Alex Hogg said: “In Scotland, last year was excellent because everything really came together. This year looks to be a different picture, largely due to the cold and wet weather.

“Many moors still had a lot of birds from last year, so there’s certainly grouse about, but the coveys are smaller and the insect hatch has been poor. There were a few decent weeks in April but it didn’t last. It struggled to get above 12 ̊C in the height of summer, with above average rainfall.”

He said there would still be good shooting in Scotland but some estates may decide to walk-up in August and some driven days in the early part of the season had been cancelled.

Ralph Peters, from property consultancy Bidwells, said many grouse moor keepers across Scotland had witnessed severe losses of young birds — estimated by some moors to be 25 per cent of each clutch.

“Excellent stocks of grouse survived the relatively mild winter and were in good condition heading towards the 2015 breeding season,” he said. “But the dreadful spring and summer has resulted in major losses of juvenile birds on many moors.”

But Mr Peters was quick to point out that the season will not be a complete write-off. “Though one or two have cancelled their whole programmes, most moors still plan to shoot, but the schedule has been much reduced. A few estates will start their shooting programme towards the end of August or beginning of September to give young birds time to grow.”

It’s a similar story in England. Ian Grindy, chair of BASC’s Gameshooting and Gamekeeping Committee, said: “This year’s grouse season has been badly affected by atrocious weather in the spring. Because owners and moor managers are concerned to preserve grouse, the number of days on which shooting takes place in England will be a fraction of the total in 2014.”

National Gamekeepers’ Organisation chairman Lindsay Waddell said snowfall in May did serious damage on the very high ground in the north Pennines.

“A high number of barren pairs have been reported as well as some second broods, which will be too late for the 12th,” he said. “Below the snow line, there is, in places, a nice scattering of broods, though they are smaller in number than many would have hoped for.”

Derbyshire gamekeeper Fred Mitchinson said the season’s prospects were “grim”, describing it as the “biggest crash I’ve seen in 30 years”. He told Shooting Times that the heather was “bouncing with birds in April” but bad weather resulted in the loss of a lot of young. “The western side of the country appears to have borne the brunt of it,” he said.

James Chapel of William Powell Sporting said the situation was slightly more positive on the eastern side of the country with “some moors in County Durham still reporting good if not great numbers, and the North York Moors also suggesting that there could yet be some good-sized days similar to last year”.