Grouse numbers up this year, but raptors take a beating on England’s uplands.


25th July, 2011

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In speaking about the importance of biodiversity throughout England’s heather moorlands today, both Dr Helen Phillips (NE)  and Martin Gillibrand from the Moorland Association remain silent about the Iconic raptors which in most cases are missing altogether.

The British trait of soldiering-on regardless in our unpredictable weather is mirrored by the wild Red Grouse; a game bird so British it is not found anywhere else in the world, says the Moorland Association. The breeding season for this bird, found high up on the beautiful but exposed heather moorlands, has been a roller coaster with temperatures rocketing only then to plummet, winds blowing from wild to mild, and the hot, dry spring causing crucial insects to hatch too early to feed the chicks. All this follows a harsh winter with deep snow and temperatures of – 20? C and below, and yet prospects for this shooting season still look good.

In the lead up to the start of the shooting season – 12th August – the grouse moor managers have to work out how well the grouse have survived and bred before they can decide how many days of grouse shooting should be held to harvest a sustainable surplus for the plate.

Explains Edward Bromet, Chairman of the Moorland Association whose members manage grouse moors covering over a fifth of the uplands in England and Wales: “As always, the weather this year has played a huge role in the success of breeding for the wild red grouse and other important ground nesting birds. Despite another very harsh winter, the grouse have come through it in healthy condition helped by strong populations left from the very good 2010 breeding season. In April, counts of pairs of grouse getting ready to breed were very good, even surpassing last year’s ‘record counts’ in some places in Yorkshire and Durham.”

From then on, the driest and warmest April on record brought several problems. The first was that the fantastic weather and additional bank holiday for the royal wedding attracted many extra visitors and their dogs to enjoy honey-pot moorland locations when the red grouse and other iconic moorland birds were incubating their eggs. Unintentional disturbance by visitors and their dogs can cause the hidden birds to desert the nests leaving the eggs to chill and die.

Second, the moorlands were so dry that the threat of wildfires was severe and scores of fires blazed in the uplands consuming all wildlife in their path. If these had badly affected grouse moors, renowned for their wildlife conservation, up to five times as many ground-nesting birds, like the curlew and lapwing, would have been destroyed.

Third, the good weather is thought to have triggered the annual insect hatch to happen early, leaving chicks up to 10 days old with little to eat in mid to late May.

Continues Mr Bromet: “By late May, just when the chicks had hatched, the weather turned on its head. Temperatures plummeted from the mid 20s to just 5 or 6?C in the day with night frosts, lashing rain and hail, and storm force winds blowing remaining insects out of reach. The chicks are tiny and only weigh a few grammes at this stage so searching for food in these conditions would have been very hazardous.”

Despite everything the British weather has thrown at the wild red grouse, it survived the winter well and in good numbers thanks to its sub arctic plumage, feathered feet and ability to burrow in the snow to find the heather that the adults rely on for food and shelter. Many pairs means many broods, and fantastic parenting skills have helped five or six chicks per brood to survive through to adulthood meaning that shooting prospects for the season remain positive.

The final scientifically based decisions on how many shooting days will be run per grouse moor will be made in the next few weeks following grouse counts using highly trained pointer and setter dogs. So far the word from the moors is as follows:

North Pennines: Generally good populations of grouse across the area with a few localised patches that report brood sizes have been reduced. Durham, in the east, not so badly affected by the wet weather and looking promising.

North York Moors: Spring counts were as good, or better, than last year but hatching success has varied across the North York Moors. The brood sizes have varied significantly in parts but generally there is cautious optimism for an average or better than average season. Being in the East of the country the wet and cold weather was not so severe.

Yorkshire Dales: Many moors reporting high populations of grouse and broods of 5 or 6 for a good, if not very good shooting season.

Derbyshire: Very good Spring pair counts with large broods seen at first, but latterly, there have been reports of brood sizes now varying greatly following localised very wet weather recently. Smaller brood sizes particularly in the west.

North West. Spring pair counts were generally very good, but the dreadful weather from May 12th until mid June seems to have greatly reduced or wiped out many broods. The moors in this region are at very high altitude and being in the west catch most of the wet weather. There are exceptions with pockets that look good, even very good, but generally an average season for most and poor for others.

People and businesses involved in a grouse shooting day, such as local accommodation providers, catering staff, beaters, flankers, loaders, gun dog handlers, drivers and local shops, all now hold their breath and cross their fingers that their services will be required for many days of shooting boosting their own pockets and that of the local rural economy.

Natural England Praises Grouse Moors

[singlepic id=131 w=150 h=150 float=left] Natural England’s Chief Executive, Dr Helen Phillips said: “Heather moorland, brought about by centuries of management for sheep and grouse, plays an essential role in maintaining the wildlife richness and much loved heather clad landscapes of Northern England. Natural England appreciates the very significant benefits that current best practice management on these grouse moors delivers and we applaud the members of the Moorland Association for their continued careful guardianship of these special places.”

What Dr. Phillips failed to mention only 4 Hen Harrier nests each restricted to a single estate in the Forest of Bowland were productive this year, and 14 Peregrine territories (74%) all failed in the same region. No one should be proud of these daming statistics.

View Video  “Natural England appreciates the very significant benefits that current best practice management on these grouse moors delivers, these are special places for wildlife.”  but not for raptors  so it seems .

9 comments to Grouse numbers up this year, but raptors take a beating on England’s uplands.

  • John Miles

    She is only trying to keep her job. Sadly majority of the staff below her are also trying to keep their jobs and will not ‘rock the boat’. The real story is that upland management is a ‘play thing’ for the rich and has caused £ billions of damage especially in flooding down stream just so they can have a few more Red Grouse.Not one penny has been given by these estates to block up the drains to stop flooding and protect the blanket bog.Yes its all tax payers money!

  • harrier man

    Here here John, god help you if you rock the boat you may topple overboard or best jump before it gets too rocky or pushed.

  • che

    The Great Money Trick (The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists) When the carrot at the end of the string reads sshhh……

  • Monro

    At least Dr. Phillips knows what she’s talking about!

    • Andrew

      I could not agree more and this is one of the problems, Dr Phillips does know what she is talking about or she would not hold the important job that she does – but is she telling the truth? I for one do not think so here. There is very little if any biodiversity on the majority of England’s red grouse moors despite what the lady says.

  • che

    Dr Phillips is also paid very well to be selective with her comments. I see there is no mention of Hen Harrier or Peregrine Falcon persecution that happened on a massive scale this year on moorlands in the Forest of Bowland, or elsewhere on England’s morland SSSi’s and SPA’s.

  • sh23363

    We just have to remember who the party of Government is. There would be no sense in anyone making a ‘futile gesture’. Anyone who put their head above the parapet and spoke the truth would soon be removed and almost as soon forgotten.

    The party of the landowners in in power and they, and especially the moor owners, are in the ascendant. The answer is constant reminders to those in power of their responsibilities for biodiversity and steady publicity of illegality. The self-rightous propaganda of the moor owners must be undermined at every opportunity. Those in power must understand that there is an alternative view to the raptor-hating monotheism of the moor owner’s and their cronies.

    There is a big initiative coming that will devolve responsibility to local people. Make no mistake that the moor owners are positioning themselves to take that responsiblilty. Heaven help us if they succeed. If we want upland management to be no longer ‘the play thing of the rich’ , as John Miles puts it, then an alternative local agenda has to be established. Moors for the many not for the few? If that happens then we will not need senior bureaucrats to stand up and be counted.

  • Paul Walker

    My wife and I spent 5 days last week on and around the North York Moors, in 5 days we spotted 1 raptor – a lone Kestrel near to Whitby and nothing else. Coming from the Cheshire/North Wales border we see many large groups of Common Buzzards, further south and west Red Kites, Hobby’s etc., and we have 2 or 3 Sparrow Hawks in our area. This paucity is worrying – who’s clearing them?

  • paul williams

    I went up into the North Yorks Moors earlier in the year, Absolutely NO raptors, however there were plenty of Fox snares and Weasel/Stoat traps. Who’s clearing them? Natural England’s Gamekeepers.