A POOR grouse season is looming, with the latest counts showing reduced numbers of both young and old grouse, resulting in a limited shootable surplus in many areas.

“When the annual summer grouse counts commenced in early July there was a great deal of optimism for the 2018 season,” said Bidwells head of estate management, Ralph Peters. “It came as something of a shock to then hear that even while grouse counts are continuing, the 2018 season looks likely to be poor across much of the country.

"Often you will have pockets of good grouse breeding success in amongst poorer areas but this year it looks as though the poor results will be the norm. The cause of this decline is hard to pinpoint and there are any number of theories, but undoubtedly, despite every effort by the gamekeepers, numbers have dropped due to the weather conditions."

Last year had ended well for the species, noted Mr Peters, but a long, harsh and particularly late winter followed, resulting in the birds being in a poorer condition than hoped and delaying emergence of the young heather vital for their diet.

Thus, when nesting commenced in April (and in some places later as a result of the snow) the hens were in poor condition, resulting in a lower number of eggs and the mothers struggling to look after those that hatched.

“There then followed the incredibly dry and hot summer, leading to a shortage of water on the hill and insect life for the young grouse to feed upon," he added. "Evidently both young and old grouse suffered and the early summer optimism turned to concern as it has become apparent that both the parent birds and their young have struggled.

"Although limited shooting is expected in some areas much has already been cancelled. This impacts upon not only the grouse moors but the wider rural economy as well with hotels losing bookings," he warned.

“Despite the considerable concern there are grounds for hope and optimism with a few reports of later, successful hatches of grouse that will aid the recovery of the birds going forward and grouse, like most wild birds, can bounce back pretty quickly given the right conditions. In the meantime the hard work of the gamekeepers will continue and it is pleasing to hear of the ongoing success of other moorland wildlife and birds benefitting as a direct result of their efforts,” added Mr Peters.