The joint owner of William Powell on the grouse season so far, and how shooting can best deal with the periodical shooting threats it faces.
Have you been out relentlessly since the Twelfth?
“I was out on the Twelfth and have been out a fair bit since as we keep going as long as we need. As well as letting days, we also manage quite a lot of moors so that involves a lot of extra days out, making sure things are running smoothly.”
I’ve heard of a few days being cancelled; what is your snapshot of the grouse season so far?
“Overall, England is generally good but there are patches of weakness. Scotland is the place where there is massive variation, but there are a good lot of grouse in parts, just sadly not in many parts! The normal Scottish powerhouse, the Lammermuirs, is pretty quiet but bits of Perthshire, Invernessshire and Aberdeenshire are surprisingly good.”
Are some moors suffering because they aren't using modern techniques?
“No. This is a throwback year when the simplistic truisms that people have believed for the last eight or nine years have been proved wrong. The Lammermuir moors for instance are run very well, managed to a very high standard and yet have few grouse this year.”
Are they using modern techniques?
“Absolutely. Owners, agents and keepers all thought we had cracked grouse moor management a few years ago with modern medicated grit and we would never have boom and bust again… just like Gordon Brown did with the economy. This year and last year have proved that not to always be the case and we can still have poor or even disastrous years if the right (or wrong) circumstances occur.”
There is no silver bullet, surely? It also requires the staggeringly hard work of the keepers?
“It is seldom that grouse fail due to a single factor. We all tend to think it is one thing that causes there to be few grouse; poor spring weather or high worm counts, but this year confirms this is not so. Compounding factors seem to account for there being no shootable surplus. This could be bad spring weather and may be the poor condition of the hens in the spring, which could be due to poor weather affecting the heather the previous summer, or perhaps late hatches of insects at crucial times, or a building worm burden and poor spring weather. Take the moors above Alston in Cumbria, which includes the highest driven grouse moor in England. A pretty bleak place and yet this year they have a really good lot of grouse. If it was purely weather-related this spring, why did these and indeed other high moors “escape” and have done well whilst other, much more sheltered moors have fared badly?
“We are involved in a moor along the A9 in Inverness-shire and here the grouse have done very well on the high Corrie ground. This is a very odd year – a real throwback to the boom and bust years of old.”
You seem to have an insatiable thirst for understanding grouse?
“It is a platitude but the more I think I understand exactly how it all works, the less I actually do and the more surprises I get. However, I am amazed how some people seem absolutely confident they know the answer, because I don’t!”
What do you make of Chris Packham's latest assault on grouse shooting?
“He has a point of view. It is not one that I believe is correct. We will all see things we want to see from our own perspective. He believes, provided there is a representation of bird species in any given area, then that's acceptable. I think that is extraordinary because if you only have two birds, a male and a female of a species, it is almost certainly not a sustainable population. Therefore, it is farcical to suggest this is what we ought to be satisfied with.
“Conservationists like Chris Packham often do not see the bigger picture and neither does the RSPB. I think that's very strange. Surely what we want is a sustainable population? That means you have to have all birds in multiplication; there cannot just be a pair of stone curlew or whatever they may be. You only have to lose one and you have no sustainable population.
“Chris Packham is charismatic, he is knowledgeable, he is personable, he comes across well, his command of the facts is good and grouse shooting is pretty unattractive to non shooters, isn’t it? It involves killing things… for sport. It includes killing predators so we can have a bigger shootable surplus. Even worse it involves rich people killing things. It is incredibly difficult to make it sound and look attractive. As a result it is easy to criticise and whip up public opinion against. It is very unfortunate that someone with his platform is able to use it to denigrate moorland management.”
So, if you were made ‘Minister for Grouse’ tomorrow, what would you change?
“Conservationists do not see the bigger picture and neither does the RSPB.”
“First I would try to get our side to become much more joined up, more supportive and cohesive, and more focused on understanding that we face massive threats that will not go away, merely by ignoring them and hoping they will. We will have to defeat our opponents like Chris Packham et al and we won’t defeat them by being selfish, stupid, greedy, isolationist, arrogant and all the other things that we in the fieldsports world have on occasions a tendency to be. We have seen it with hunting. We know that if we had tackled the antihunting lobby earlier and better, we would not have had the Hunting Act. We need to make sure we do not go that way with shooting. We have tremendously rich people in the grouse moor community, but we are nowhere near as joined up or as focused as we should be and we need all our supporters to really get behind “us” in every way possible, otherwise we will lose it and reared pheasant and partridge shooting will follow.”
Do you think it is the fault of any one organisation or just a massive lack of foresight between groups?
“I do not think it is the fault of one organisation.