Game­keeper

It re­ally was a Glo­ri­ous Twelfth this year with young grouse speed­ing through the butts and rais­ing smiles all round — de­spite the rain

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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.

So­cial co­he­sion

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

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