A walk around the moor at this time of year reveals two striking contrasts to the previous few months. Most noticeable to the casual observer is the vivid purple of Heather in full bloom that covers the landscape like a well fitted carpet replacing the dull brown of previous months.
The other perhaps less noticeable change is the relative silence in comparison to late spring! By this I refer to the wading birds the Curlew, Lapwings, Golden Plover that have now left their breeding grounds of the North York Moors having enjoyed yet another successful year due in no small part to the habitat and protection that the managed Grouse Moors offer safe from predators.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to see at this time of year the young grouse are getting more confident and more visible, every spring and watercourse abundant with insects, not quite the barren wastelands being portrayed in the media in the run up to the Glorious 12th. Only recently I came across a Bumble Bee nest nestled in the ground on one of our spring heather burns from a few months ago.
In late July we carried out our Grouse counts, this involves using trained gun dogs to flush the birds, following the same routes as previous years (often decades), to give us an accurate idea of the population size and the number of surplus birds we will be able to shoot. For the most part the signs are good and reports from the rest of the North York Moors suggest another good shooting season.
With nesting activities over it allows the keepers to access the moor with vehicles in order to undertake essential maintenance to the many lines of butts used for shooting from, or the construction of new lines in areas where Grouse of previous seasons have favoured flying.
In order to access these butts, miles of Moorland tracks need to be maintained, requiring many hours of labour from the keepers and local contractors. The time and expense of this work also benefits many other users of the moors with the ever increasing number of people taking to their mountain bikes becoming evident up and down these access routes.
The start of August is also the key period in which to control Bracken on the lower lying slopes of the moors. Bracken is an encroaching plant that forms a dense canopy and smothers the underlying vegetation. It is also a perfect breeding habitat for ticks that carry the dreaded Lymes disease which affects dogs and people, and Louping ill which affects grouse and has massive economic impacts on the sheep industry. Spraying is the most effective method of control and ranges from the small knapsack spray right up to aerial helicopter mounted units for larger areas.
By the time you read this the first shots of the season will have been fired and the shooting season will be in full swing. For those lucky enough to be shooting have a great season.
Information kindly supplied by the Head Keeper at the Wheeldale & Goathland Estate.