A day’s sport for 100 peo­ple at Wem­mergill

The guns are just one part of a team de­voted to the thrill of grouse shoot­ing and the habi­tat it sup­ports

The Field - - Contents - writ­ten BY janet men­zies ♦ pho­tog­ra­phy BY andy hook

Janet Men­zies meets a team of peo­ple de­voted to grouse shoot­ing

When does a day’s driven grouse shoot­ing start? Is it when the con­voy sets off up the moor, snaking be­hind and in front of you up the es­tate road into the heather? Is it when you get up in the morn­ing, full of ex­cite­ment and rush down for a mas­sive shoot­ing break­fast? Or did it be­gin months ago with the chicks hatch­ing and the keep­ers anx­iously watching the weather? Per­haps even ear­lier than that, with the heather man­age­ment and es­tate main­te­nance all year round? Re­ally, the day at Wem­mergill Moor, Tees­dale, started 175 years ago with the first recorded shoots on the moor, then owned by the Bowes fam­ily.

Yet there is also a good case to be ar­gued that my day’s shoot­ing at Wem­mergill last sum­mer had be­gun only a week or so ear­lier, when the es­tate, now owned by Michael Can­non, en­tered a new era of grouse shoot­ing and moor­land man­age­ment by sign­ing the first ever long-term Man­age­ment Agree­ment with the Gov­ern­ment body Nat­u­ral Eng­land.

Robert Ben­son, re­cently re­tired as chair­man of The Moor­land As­so­ci­a­tion, ex­plained: “Wem­mergill is the first of the big moors to sign up to a 25-year man­age­ment plan, which is agreed with Nat­u­ral Eng­land. We are hop­ing that it will pro­vide a blue­print for how deep peat moor is go­ing to be man­aged. It has been re­searched in huge de­tail with Nat­u­ral Eng­land to tick all the boxes in terms of man­ag­ing the blan­ket bog, which is the unique nat­u­ral re­source of these moors.”

Ben­son uses the word “unique” ad­vis­edly. Heather moor­land is rarer than rain­for­est as a nat­u­ral habi­tat and equally threatened glob­ally. Three-quar­ters of the world’s heather moor­land ex­ists in Bri­tain, mak­ing our up­land es­tate own­ers the guardians of some­thing very spe­cial. Sav­ing the moors doesn’t just mean the preser­va­tion of all the many rare birds and wildlife species, how­ever, it is also some­thing that may save us hu­mans in the end. The moors are the home of the hum­ble sphag­num moss – that charm­ingly

lurid green and pink spongy an­ti­sep­tic moss you can clean your hands with af­ter gral­loching a deer – which also has a rather more im­por­tant role to per­form, in cre­at­ing blan­ket bog. Ben­son ex­plains: “Sphag­num in blan­ket bog en­sures bet­ter func­tion­ing peat, which ab­sorbs car­bon. I think most of us are agreed now that this car­bon cap­ture is one of our great­est weapons against climate change. The peat also cleans the wa­ter and it fil­ters it into the reser­voirs nearby, which is sav­ing the wa­ter com­pany mil­lions in cleans­ing pro­cesses. In time we also hope to pro­duce a slightly rougher sur­face, which helps to slow down the flow of wa­ter and pre­vent flash flood­ing.

“And, of course, moor­land birds are ben­e­fit­ting enor­mously be­cause of the man­age­ment, al­though it is very hard to mea­sure. When curlews don’t lose their brood to pre­da­tion and you end up with four more live curlew chicks than you would have had, what is that worth? The buzz phrase for all this is ‘nat­u­ral cap­i­tal’. That is some­thing that we are strug­gling to quan­tify but we are be­ing asked by Gov­ern­ment to try to mea­sure that.”

nat­u­ral cap­i­tal

To­day, on top of Tees­dale, on a glo­ri­ous sum­mer morn­ing just a few days into the grouse sea­son, seems like a very good moment to start tot­ting up all that nat­u­ral cap­i­tal – and adding in a bit of old-fash­ioned eco­nomic value as well. My mis­sion was to dis­cover the full ex­tent of the role played by driven grouse shoot­ing in the area around Wem­mergill – not just to the en­vi­ron­ment and the wildlife but to the lo­cal peo­ple and the wider econ­omy, too. It turns out there is a lot more to grouse than sim­ply shoot­ing and eat­ing it. I am spend­ing the day ex­plor­ing all the ac­tiv­i­ties of a driven grouse shoot. Dur­ing the four drives planned for the day I will be beat­ing (only for one drive, thank­fully); wav­ing a flag with the flankers; stand­ing with the guns; and pick­ing-up at the back with the dog han­dlers.

Richard John­son, Wem­mergill es­tate’s man­ager and long-time grouse shoot part­ner with Michael Can­non, briefed me: “A

Heather moor­land is rarer than rain­for­est and equally threatened glob­ally

day like to­day is a mas­sive lo­gis­ti­cal ex­er­cise. We have to fill teams of beat­ers, pick­ers-up, flankers and, of course, the keep­ers and un­der­keep­ers. On a shoot day there are about 70 or 80 peo­ple work­ing em­ployed by the es­tate.”

As we set off to our sta­tion on the flank, I can hear ra­dios buzzing as the var­i­ous teams move into their dif­fer­ent roles. The beat­ers to­day have di­vided into two teams of 25 and there are 12 of us flankers get­ting into po­si­tion. While we are wait­ing for the drive to be­gin, John­son con­tin­ues adding up the eco­nomic in­put of the es­tate: “We have seven keep­ers in all – head­keeper John Pinkney plus six un­der­keep­ers. One of them dou­bles up on main­te­nance and re­pairs be­cause we have so many ve­hi­cles. There are four Po­laris, sev­eral 4x4s, five or six quad bikes and three Häg­glu­nds [tracked, ar­tic­u­lated, all­ter­rain car­ri­ers].”

The job of look­ing af­ter all this kit be­longs to Mark Crack­les, who has just put me into po­si­tion on the flank. He warns me: “The beat­ers start from about two kilo­me­tres away, de­pend­ing on how much ground we want to take in, it can be far­ther. This is an enor­mous drive and we need the flankers placed ac­cord­ing to how the grouse are be­hav­ing – the wind will have a lot to do with that. The down­wind flanker has more to do be­cause the grouse will nat­u­rally want to drift down on the wind. We need to stay down now so we don’t scare the grouse, and the wind is do­ing our job for us, keep­ing the grouse fly­ing over the butts.”

Crack­les gets on the ra­dio and shouts “in­com­ing”, let­ting the rest of the shoot know what the grouse are do­ing. Green Fell drive has be­gun. The grouse like to fly along ridges, hug­ging the nat­u­ral con­tour lines, but on com­mand I try to do some­thing about that, leap­ing up and wav­ing my flag to whoosh the grouse to­wards the guns – though the birds are not eas­ily de­flected. Luck­ily, 72-year-old Bernie Coatsworth and his friend, Derek Ja­cobs, are do­ing the real work. Ja­cobs says: “I have been com­ing up to Wem­mergill for 20 years. It is a good shoot and a great at­mos­phere.”

Coatsworth jokes: “We are the elder states­men – now I am too old for beat­ing I do the flank­ing in­stead.”

I leap up and wave my flag to whoosh the grouse to­wards the guns

Above: cocker spaniel re­triev­ing Right: Sally Ann Can­non with Wem­mergill’s es­tate man­ager, Richard John­sonPre­vi­ous page: Robert Ben­son load­ing for Ge­orge Stu­cley

Picker-up Jac­que­line Kim­ber Be­low: tak­ing them well out on one of the four drives that day

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