Page last updated at 00:18 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

Concern for Scots moors grouse following big freeze

Red grouse. Picture courtesy of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.
Grouse numbers have been badly affected on some moors

Gamekeepers have raised concerns about the impact of freezing conditions and heavy snowfalls on this year's grouse shooting season on some Scots moors.

Many estates have seen birds leaving as they struggle to uncover any heather.

The Borders, Inverness-shire and Perthshire are among the worst-affected as grouse move away in search of food.

Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said it had been "devastating" for many estates to see so many birds leaving the moors.

He said some areas had seen up to 500 birds abandoning the frozen land.

"Keepers did everything they could to uncover areas of heather to save the birds that were left," he said.

The worry is if they don't come back we won't have any grouse to breed for next season
Edward Johnson
Roxburghe Estate

"Clearly we are concerned about the economic impact because all grouse moors are dependent on a good breeding stock before the surplus can be shot.

"Time will tell what the implications will be."

The Kettleshiel estate near Duns, Berwickshire, was awarded a Game and Conservation Award three months ago for restoring a viable grouse population.

However, head keeper Paul Percival said the birds were unable to find food on the frozen moor and the 1,000-strong flock had dwindled.

He said: "The first lot started to go between Christmas and the New Year and then they all went.

"Some of the lads have seen them in groups but the groups are getting a lot smaller now and the grouse are losing condition.

"They have been feeding on hawthorn hedges and whatever else they can find but it isn't their natural food - they are not surviving and they are too weak to get back."

'Looking bleak'

Edward Johnson, assistant factor on the nearby Roxburghe estate, said some birds had headed for "pastures greener".

"They have been seen on the beaches in Berwickshire," he said.

"The worry is if they don't come back we won't have any grouse to breed for next season.

"The keepers have been busy clearing snow so that the grouse that are still here have something to eat but we are talking about a miniscule percentage - at the moment it is looking bleak."

According to a Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust report, grouse shooting supports 940 full-time jobs north of the border.

Sandi Hellowell, regional director for VisitScotland, said she recognised the key role of the outdoor pursuit.

"Country sports play an important part in tourism for rural regions such as the Scottish Borders so it is disappointing to hear that the grouse shooting season may be affected in this way," she said.

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