Why sheep flocks and grouse can mean two birds with one stone

The past decade has been marked by a reduction in the number of hill sheep being kept in the highlands of Scotland. In many cases hefted flocks have been dispersed because the landowners believed the full-time sheep flocks reduced the grouse shooting potential.

However, just two days before the start of this year's grouse shooting season, the manager of one shooting estate in Angus said he believed there was room to have both a successful sheep enterprise and a first-class grouse shoot.

Tom Stewart manages the 3,200 acres Glenlethnot Estate on behalf of Edinmore, an Edinburgh based property investment company. In the past six years under this ownership sheep numbers have been doubled to 600 Blackface ewes and grouse numbers have also increased with 276 brace taken last year; the highest number shot since 1988.

This two-pronged success "does not just happen" he said, as it required rigorous management of both enterprises on this estate, which is small by grouse moor standards. But the net result is that there is more employment and economic benefit for the area when it is achieved.

The sheep flock has to have routine treatment against tick infection and this requires collection and treating on a six to eight week schedule during the summer season.

Stewart said there were real benefits of having an established flock where the ewes spread over the hill and are actually much more effective in attracting ticks away from parasitizing young grouse. He compared his system with that of neighbours who buy in old ewes or wedder lambs to act as tick "mops" for this parasite.

"Bought-in sheep tend to go around in groups and while they may clean up ticks from some parts of the land there are other areas where they do not go.

Apart from that, having a regular flock could well ensure financial support in the future if the reformed CAP only supports active farming. This is important as even with two successful enterprises on such a hill unit, subsidies are required to balance the books.

The grouse enterprise, which is keepered, has five or six shooting days between now and the end of the season. In addition to Hannam and his assistant, the enterprise requires a team of up to 25 beaters, pickers up and flag men on shoot days.

"Again this provides employment in the area," said Stewart, who admitted that such is the value of sporting enterprises in the Angus glens that there are now more gamekeepers in the immediate area than there are shepherds.

He stressed that increasing numbers of grouse took effort. Stewart said it required a combination of issues such as tick control, strict heather management, exclusion of deer and predator control, to ensure a useful bag when the shooting season started.

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