Red grouse

  • Conservation of red grouse can and should be compatible with hill sheep farming. The key consideration is achieving grazing pressure of sheep and other herbivores, so that degeneration of the heather plant is avoided. Often there is evidence of overgrazing close to the in-bye (grassy fields near the heather hill) and undergrazing of the more distant parts of the moor. This is caused by uneven grazing pressure.

    Additionally, well-managed moorland for grouse should be providing ideal grazing for hill sheep, especially in the summer months because there will be plenty of interconnected young heather strips provided by recent fires. These are very simple generalisations. The detail in each situation is different.

  • Medicated grit is increasingly being adopted in the fight against the cyclical affects of strongylosis on red grouse populations following research by the Trust which suggested that medicated grit can dramatically reduce worm burdens. Users of medicated grit are, however, reminded of the legal requirement to withdraw the drug a minimum of 28 days before shooting, and for it to remain inaccessible to the grouse though-out the shooting season. Good practice (using double-sided grit boxes or other means of withdrawing it from use) is essential to ensure that medicated grit remains a tool for controlling strongyle worm in grouse.

    Medicated grit uses an anthelmintic and so the withdrawal period is required to ensure that the drug does not reach the human food chain. Unless the withdrawal requirement is closely followed there is a danger of residues remaining in birds and the likelihood of a challenge to this important method of controlling strongylosis.

    Strongylosis is caused by a parasitic threadworm, Trichostrongylus tenuis, which lives in the guts of the red grouse and at high levels can cause significant reductions in both breeding success and direct mortality. Adopting medicated grit to control this disease is not a simple process and requires investment in time and money and correct application. If you have not adopted a gritting regime before then you need to establish a suitable grit grid, allowing approximately one gritting station per pair, and remove alternative sources of grit. Ensure that you make available both medicated and normal grit so that the grouse become accustomed to obtaining their grit needs from your carefully planned grid.

    Using double-sided grit boxes with a flip lid is a good way of supplying the grit as importantly it makes it easy to “swap” from medicated to untreated grit before the shooting season. For further guidance on the use of medicated grit, please contact Grouse Technical Services on 01325 717930.

  • It is important to provide comprehensive acaricide cover of all sheep on the moor during the critical March to October period. Therefore, you should have already started a treatment programme using an acaricide that has a stated protection period against tick such as Dysect and Crovect. A suggested treatment programme would be as follows:

    • March – as hogs go to moor
    • May – as ewes and lambs go to moor
    • June/July – after clipping
    • August/September – as ewes return to moor post-weaning
    • October/November – all sheep on moor

    Whereas the actual timing of each of these activities may vary between moors, it is important to ensure that the persistency of the product used reflects the interval between each treatment. Therefore whichever product you choose, the key is to ensure that complete cover is provided.

    Full advice on treatment intervals are specified on the individual product labels. We strongly recommend that the treatment is applied in optimal conditions as wet weather conditions or a wet fleece at the time of treatment suggests that acaricide retention will be sub-optimal. Do wear suitable protective equipment clothing when applying the treatment.

  • Until research is conducted into this issue, we can only recommend a responsible approach based on existing knowledge. We recommend that tick control strategies incorporate the use of more than one acaricide (i.e. insecticides from different chemical groups and not just different brands). To avoid ticks receiving a sub-lethal dose of acaricide, products should be applied in accordance with the manufacturers’ guidelines.

  • As no commercial product is currently approved for use on red grouse, our researchers adapted existing products which require an off-label prescription from a veterinary surgeon. If you are considering using leg bands, you must involve your local vet in the early planning stages. When deciding whether or not to adopt leg bands, you should be aware that although they can reduce the tick burdens on grouse chicks, they will not reduce environmental tick abundance. This is unlike the use of sheep as ‘mops’ ie. sheep treated with an acaricide which are encouraged to roam the moor. There may also be issues with the drug’s withdrawal period and entry into the food chain.

  • This subject is being studied, but it is already known that ‘bog flushes’ (places where water oozes out of the hill) can be particularly insect-rich. Radio-tracking young grouse broods showed that they are drawn to such areas, and that these areas often support good numbers of crane flies (daddy long legs).

    It is possible to artificially create bog flushes if you have drains or ditches on the hill, by inserting small areas of pipe off these and allowing the water to seep out.

  • This involves doing a sample count of the birds on your moor in late July/early August - our Advisory staff can do this for you if you book well in advance. Representative areas of a kilometre square (250 acres) are selected for counting. Normally counts are conducted very early in the morning when temperatures are cool for ease of flushing grouse and not over-heating the dogs.

    The number of coveys, the number of young and the number of old are recorded, from which an estimate of the total moor population can be made. Depending on the young-to-old ratio and stage of the grouse cycle, a shootable surplus can then be estimated, together with decisions on when shooting should commence.

  • Difficult to answer without seeing and experiencing the ground, but there are some simple features to consider:

    • the prevailing wind
    • the skyline - guns should be out of sight of the grouse until the last 100 yds or so of the flight
    • the natural flight lines of the grouse - best identified by walking an area, flushing grouse and observing their preferred tendencies
    • compound interest – most grouse drives are part of a succession, that is birds are driven from one area to another, and maybe on again, and finally driven back so they go over the butts a number of times, i.e. a grouse drive should not be planned in isolation but as part of a half or full day sequence
  • Heather forms the main diet of red grouse. They prefer young shoots, which are generally more nutritious therefore heather should be burnt on a regular basis to provide these. Also once heather is older and passes a certain growth stage it begins to naturally degenerate.

    If you wait until this stage to burn it, it takes longer to regenerate from the existing plant, therefore heather should ideally be burnt before it reaches the degenerative stage. The age at which heather starts to regenerate varies according to many things, including height above sea level, soil type, exposure and climate and can be anything from 8 to 30 years.

  • Grouse generally select young heather shoots to eat and studies have shown that they rarely feed more than 15-20 metres from tall heather which they use as cover from predators. Therefore fires should ideally be no more than 30-40 metres wide so that they provide food available to grouse across their entire width.

    Additionally by burning, cutting or swiping strips in the heather to provide fresh young regrowth but within 15-20 metres range of tall heather, one can increase the number of potential grouse territories on your moor.

  • There are two commonly employed aids to burning used by grouse keepers. On flat, less rocky moors, a tractor-mounted chain swipe can be a great help in making fire breaks just before burning. It can also be used for cutting heather as an alternative to burning, but this allows litter layer to develop which can aggravate heather beetle and sheep tick.

    Another tool is a fire fogging and/or foaming unit mounted on an argocat, tractor, or tracked machine. This can be an immense help in containing and controlling strip fires.