We should all try game when we see it on a menu, advises Duncan Thomas the Regional Director of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC North) as he introduces us to the shooting season
The traditional start to the game shooting season is 12th August, called the ‘glorious 12th’ as it’s an iconic date in the rural calendar and a celebration of a magnificent all year round effort, keeping our beautiful uplands in great condition.
The red grouse is considered the ‘king’ of the gamebirds and a true wild bird, its habitat is the heather clad moors which in Lancashire, in late August, are a stunning purple colour as the heather comes into full bloom.
A year-round effort from the gamekeepers ensures the grouse has an enhanced habitat full of nutritious new-growth heather, invertebrate/insects and a rich mosaic of bio-diversity. The chicks hatch in late May and in the right conditions thrive, eating small insects for the first 10 days and a warm, humid atmosphere is favoured. Too dry, too cold or heavy rain can be catastrophic to these tiny chicks in the first few weeks.
We can’t control the weather, but we can ensure that the youngsters are kept safe from crows, stoats, rats and foxes all of which can be legally controlled. The objective of course is to provide a harvestable surplus of grouse and the by-product is that many other species, including red listed ground nesters also thrive in the environment. Curlews, golden plover, ring ouzels, lapwings and many others use the uplands as a last bastion of both safety and a food-rich place in which to rear their young.
Other species further up the food chain also benefit including the merlin, short eared owl, hen harrier and peregrine. One of the Bowland Moors behind Dunsop Bridge had a hen harrier nest in which its young were tagged and fitted with radio trackers in a joint effort between Natural England and the gamekeeper. Hen harriers have had another great year breeding in the English uplands.
Alas this year the dry hot weather over the summer and an ongoing challenge in the heather beetle, which eats the bark of the heather stem, has had a real negative impact on the grouse population and only a small number will be shot this year. But the investment in the moor will have been the same and that’s the amazing value that grouse shooting provides.
Restaurants across the North will be serving this amazing, nutritious, low fat and delicious meat and if you see it on the menu snap it up – you’re supporting a fragile rural economy and communities that are isolated and rely on the revenue that this iconic bird generates. Enjoy!