Rain forces grouse shoots to be abandoned

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The Independent Online
THE Glorious 12th will not be glorious at all this August. The constant rain which has drowned out the summer has killed thousands of young grouse, convincing many landowners to abandon the shoots.

The grouse season traditionally starts on 12 August and runs until 10 December and, while some optimistic landowners are hoping to start the season late, many have decided simply to conserve the little stock they have until next year.

There are around 460 grouse moors in the UK but this year's appalling weather has meant that there are not enough birds to sustain a full season. Those chicks that have survived are too young for sport.

Sir Anthony Milbank, chairman of the Moorland Association, which represents moor owners in England and Wales, said it was one of the worst seasons he could remember.

"We have had a really bad run of springs and early summers and just when the grouse are breeding they are being hammered by this weather," he said. "It is particularly bad this year. I can't ever remember a longer period of such wet and cold and miserable weather.

"Sometimes when the spring is bad the grouse will have a second attempt at breeding towards the end of June but this year they have been hammered again, and it's not just the grouse, it's all the other birds on the moors."

The number of grouse has been in decline for several years. Conservationists blame the destruction of their habitat as well as a particularly nasty parasite which has affected many of them, but they admit that the appalling weather has exacerbated the situation.

The lack of birds does not just affect those who wish to go out and shoot them but also the local economy. The contribution to the Scottish economy from British tourists taking part in all the sporting, shooting and fishing activities is valued at pounds 38m.

Participants spend heavily on the day's shooting, restaurants, hotels and "shopping for the wives". In addition, hundreds of people who would normally work as beaters and loaders will not be needed this season. "It is disastrous," said Sir Anthony. "It has happened before but not as bad as this. Everyone will just have to tighten their belts."

Pamela Morton, of the Countryside Alliance, said the 12th would be a very low-key affair in comparison with other years.

"It is very sad and it will cost the moor owners a lot of money," she said.

"Many people have had to cancel their shoots, their hotels and their travel arrangements and the loss to the national economy is significant."

William Sheepshanks, who owns 2,000 acres of grouse moor in North Yorkshire, will not be shooting at all this year for the first time in 10 years. "Maintaining a grouse moor is a very expensive occupation and most people rely on letting days in order to finance the running of the moor," he said.

"My finances are fairly tight and I have to know that the money is coming in. I tend to let days to regulars and locals so I have not had to cancel people this year but many of the other estates which have tourists have had to cancel the lot.

"It is very disappointing but I am not surprised. Many of the birds were affected by a parasite last year and I already knew that they were not very well but to have the weather on top of that is just a nightmare.

"If the weather had not been so bad then we would have had more grouse but the constant rain has made it even worse."

Doug Ross, of the Countryside Alliance in Scotland, said the situation was not as bad in Scotland as south of the border, but that it would not be a good year.

"Many of the Scottish landowners will not make up their minds until the day before, but certainly some are taking the long-term view and deciding to conserve what stock they have for future years," he said.

"The constant rain and lack of heat has meant that there were not enough insects for the chicks to feed on and that is the main reason they have not survived. Also the fact that they nest on the ground has meant that some of them have simply drowned under all the rain.

"There have been bad years before but usually there has been some shooting in Yorkshire if not in Scotland, but 1998 is a universally bad year."