It really was a Glorious Twelfth this year with young grouse speeding through the butts and raising smiles all round — despite the rain
It was so good to be loading on the Glorious Twelfth this season after missing out last year due to low grouse stocks. The heather was in full purple bloom and I have never seen such strong young grouse flying with such vigour; some were even tending to pack a little. They were speeding through the butts like late September grouse and we had to work hard to catch up with them.
When we first arrived in the morning we could see at least 30 Land Rovers and fourwheel drives of different descriptions parked up. The main contingent, which we followed on to the moor, consisted of a dozen Rovers. Why, oh why, does Land Rover never give keepers some sponsorship, when we must be its main purchaser in spadefuls?
It was good to catch up with old faces, some of whom we had not seen for two years due to last season’s low bird numbers. All in all, there must have been more than 70 people turning out for this first day of the grouse year. What a massive boost for the local area, which has very little other means of employment.
The major thing that struck me, after I had shaken hands with dozens of people, was the social cohesion that exists among the keepers, beaters and Guns. The rain was coming down like stair rods but the smiles on the faces of everybody were testament to this part of our cultural heritage.
The local game dealer had turned out and, after the first drive, he was heading down to London to help promote grouse around the different chefs and restaurants. We must all do what we can to promote game, especially in our local areas. If we had even more access to small processors we would maximise the supply and benefits of game.
The married couple I was looking after were both keen hunters and we had many tales to tell each other. We got on to the subject of the medicated grit boxes that we saw throughout the day and I explained how the double-sided box was designed to give the grouse the medicated grit earlier in the year, which helped control the number of worms in their gut; the boxes are shut off well before the shooting season and the grouse can be safely shot and entered into the food chain.
We also had a long discussion about Lyme disease, which has become common here in Scotland. Everybody who works in the country either knows a family member or friend who has, or has had, this horribly debilitating disease. Many years ago when the Scottish Government passed our open access laws, we informed everybody who would listen that this was a ticking time bomb but nobody took heed. 42 • SHOOTING TIMES & COUNTRY MAGAZINE
Some doctors, particularly in the towns and cities, still have no idea what the symptoms are and can be quite naive when it comes to making a diagnosis. People have tragically died due to the disease.
The couple who were with me had no idea that keepers and estates are helping to stop the spread of Lyme disease by controlling some of the mammals that carry ticks and by treating sheep, which act as “tick mops”. Nobody else seems to be actively trying to deal with this problem.
We could also see a large tract of forestry in the distance a few miles away. This gave us a chance to discuss how vulnerable all our ground-nesting birds are, especially the poor waders. Controlling predators on open moorland is very hard work, but when commercial forestry blocks run alongside your ground it becomes almost impossible to keep on top of the predators.
We have been lobbying our Government to make forestry owners responsible for controlling vermin. Currently, they have no obligation to keep on top of foxes or crows, which leaves our waders with no protection whatsoever. These are big problems but sometimes small changes can go a long way.
“We had to work hard to catch up with the birds, which were like late September grouse”
The social cohesion that exists among the keepers, beaters and Guns on a shoot day is striking