Disease hits grouse season

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The Independent Online
THE 'Glorious Twelfth' this year is set to go off with hardly a bang. Grouse across the country have been dying in thousands from disease caused by two separate epidemics of worms and ticks.

'That bloody worm has killed nearly all our grouse,' said the head gamekeeper of an estate in Lancashire. His manager is now contemplating cancelling the shoot.

Dr Peter Hudson, manager of upland research for the Game Conservancy, estimates that the worms have killed more than 30 per cent of grouse in northern England, while the ticks and a late spring have affected 80 per cent in some areas of Scotland. 'It will take years for the grouse population to recover,' he said.

The 'grouse disease' is caused by the trichostrongyle worm, which lives in the bird's gut. A single bird can be infested with more than 30,000 of them, causing internal bleeding and reducing the number of eggs. The infection is spread through the worm's eggs in the grouse's droppings. When they hatch they live on the heather, which forms 90 per cent of the grouse's diet.

Dr Hudson believes it can take up to four years for the cycle to stop. 'Many grouse moors have just recovered from the last epidemic and are sitting on a knife edge, knowing they will fall over next year because of this worm.'

In Scotland, the number of grouse with ticks have increased fourfold in some areas, killing thousands of birds.

Many landowners feel that the 'glorious' grouse-shooting days are now over. Some moors which could have expected pounds 30,000 a day from shooting parties will be lucky to take pounds 5,000. Other owners will not be able to host any shoots this season because there are simply no grouse.

John Drysdale, owner of a 25,000-acre estate in Inverness, said: 'Last year we shot 11,000 brace. This year we will be lucky if we shoot half of that.'