A shoot day and the culmination of a full years work, looking back on our Grouse season, I can once again say it has been a real success, we have been very lucky to have had some great weather and the bird numbers again have been consistent so we have managed to have a good number of shoot days. The work we undertake as gamekeepers throughout the year is geared towards making the shoot season a success and this doesn’t stop for a day and our jobs just vary greatly depending on the time of year.
The start of a shoot day morning, the behind the scenes work is undertaken first, the weather check, what’s the wind direction and a check around each line of butts that will be in use on the day. The beating trucks are out, started and filled with fuel, the game cart, the butt sticks, all the preparation done then off to meet the beaters, flankers and pickers, the paperwork next on the list, all employees listed in the book and then we can finally get up on the moors. A good team of beaters, well driven drives, good shooting from the guns and all the birds picked make the game dealers visit at the end of the day worthwhile.
The grouse season has now come to a close and most estates will have been finished for several weeks.
One of the main focus points now is making sure that the correct grit is put out onto the moor, the use of medicated grit or natural grit and this is determined by the worm counts that are obtained. The presence of the trichostrongylus tenuis (also known as Strongyle Worm), has been acknowledged for more that 100 years and is a parasitic thread-worm which lives in the gut of the red grouse. The most crucial factor in the control of the strongyle worm is knowing what the worm burdens are in the birds, this is so parasite control can be targeted at the appropriate times. Parasitic worms should be counted from samples of 20 adult grouse randomly selected at the start and the end of the shooting season.
As a guide we know 2,500 worms per adult grouse can impact on productivity and ultimately survival, levels greater than 1,000 worms per adult grouse in the tests taken at the end of the season which triggers the need to use medicated grit. Medicated grit is only available by licence and a vets prescription is required to purchase it. Grit is required by grouse to aid the digestion of heather shoots which make up 80% of their diet, the grit is required more in winter as the heather becomes more “woody”. Grouse consume approx. 35g of grit per month and the grit goes round in their gizzard and breaks down the heather.
Over the last few weeks I have started putting medicated grit out, a process that’s been quite intermittent due to the inconsistent weather with jolting fog covering Westerdale on a regular basis. I have been reducing the distance between the grit stations from the original 100 metres to 75 metres and additionally putting new grit trays out, trying to do everything I can to reduce the spread of disease within the grouse. It is quite visible that whilst out on the moors now a good number of the grouse seem to be getting paired up especially in the places which have been left quiet for a longer period of time.
Several estates have already had the chance to get some early heather burning fires in, which is extremely beneficial when the soil is still very wet and this ensures that there is no chance of burning into the peat, these are known as cool burn fires. The burning season runs from the 1st October to the 15th April and is required for the regrowth and healthiness of the heather, our burning cycle used is in accordance with our agreement with Natural England, and both myself and my colleagues have all attended an NGO ran burning course.
Getting round my traps again is next on the agenda and I’m currently using rabbit in them for bait as now the weather is getting colder the rabbit will last longer. Every stoat or weasel caught now is very beneficial as it means fewer litters to catch in spring when the ground nesting birds are hatching chicks. We use a variety of traps on the estate and each trap has their own target species, Fenn traps aim to catch predators such as stoats, weasels, rats and squirrels, with Larsen and multi-catcher traps trying to catch Magpies, Carion Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws and Jays. All these animals and birds are damaging to the ground nesting bird for very different reasons, stoats, weasels, rats and squirrels prey on the birds, whereas the magpies, crows and rooks suck the eggs so both can affect the breeding possibilities by different methods.