Scotland could be in line for one of the best grouse shooting seasons in years, gamekeepers are predicting.
The season gets under way today, the Glorious Twelfth, and experts believe the recent heatwave has helped game birds recover from a series of icy winters and wet summers.
That could provide a “vital” economic boost for the UK and rural communities, they say.
Freezing conditions during winter and last summer’s heavy rain have blighted the birds with many chicks dying of cold. The insects on which they feed also died in large numbers.
But this summer’s sunshine and record temperatures have revived populations, prompting hopes that the multi-millionpound shooting business will see a bumper year.
Robert Rattray, of rural property and sporting letting agents CKD Galbraith, said: “Although Scotland endured a cold and long winter, in recent weeks this has made way for sunshine and almost unprecedented warm weather.
“Careful assessment of grouse stocks is revealing potential for one of the best seasons for many years, with some unusually large broods being seen.
“Grouse shooting on average generates around £30 million for the Scottish economy but I would imagine figures this year will be much higher, with all the knock-on benefits of seasonal employment in local communities.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “There were concerns in the early part of the year that the lateness and length of the winter was slowing everything down … but the broad viewpoint now is that the warming weather has made a real difference, combined with the insect hatch, and that the birds are growing quicker.
“They are also not standing around shivering in the wet like last year because the recent weather has been drier. The overview seems to be there are good prospects for the season.”
He added: “Many rural communities rely on the grouse season and the flush of new visitors it brings to give them the injection they need to keep going or to invest in their businesses. It is, without doubt, vital.”
The Moorland Association agreed that a good grouse season was “massively important” to the uplands economy, bringing a further estimated £67m to England and supporting hundreds of jobs.
Association chairman Robert Benson added: “With the prospects of a better season ahead, associated spin-offs will be in excess of £15m, essential earnings in these challenging economic times.”
A recent report stated that in addition to direct financial benefits, shooting estates in Scotland spend £43m a year on improving habitat and controlling predators which helps endangered wild birds such as the curlew to survive.
Meanwhile, animal welfare groups branded gamekeepers’ claims that the sector helped to protect wild creatures a “joke”.
Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “The hidden reality is that … protected species such as birds of prey are routinely persecuted to protect the shooters’ stock of grouse … I fail to interpret this as ‘glorious’.”
Late autumn to boost berries
AUTUMN is set to be late this year, but when it arrives it should bring a bumper crop of fruits and berries in the countryside, wildlife experts have predicted.
The autumn fruiting is expected to be delayed as a result of the late spring, but the recent warm weather means wild berry crops will flourish, according to early data collected by the public for the Woodland Trust’s nature’s calendar project.
Dr Kate Lewthwaite, the nature’s calendar project manager, said: “Although our records suggest that autumn fruiting will be late this year due to the delayed onset of spring flowering, if the warm weather interspersed with occasional wet spells continues, this should mean the fruiting of shrubs like bramble, rowan and blackthorn is abundant.”