Contrary to previous year the winter was very mild through to late February/March. A wet period in December/January would have usually resulted in an increase in Strongyle worm uptake due to lack of cold. However as young grouse had lowest recorded worm burdens going into winter there was little measurable increase. Dry February and March with frosts meant a sustained burning period was possible which was remarkable given some Autumn burning had been possible.
Whilst the warmth in late March and April pushed plants forward there was no significant sign of early sitting. Grouse looked well and those moors where spring pair counts were taken in North Yorkshire seemed to have good average stocks with most of the large high moors with low stocks last spring reporting grouse on most of the ground.
Because of low worm burden and beneficial weather, grouse were in peak condition hence above average clutch sizes were expected. All Keepers are reporting brood sizes to reflect that – nines/tens not uncommon where most seasons around sixes/sevens the norm.
The next fortnight is crucial. Whilst more chicks are desirable, hens cannot brood more than four or five chicks as they grow, hence until chicks can develop their waterproof flight feathers at three/four weeks they are vulnerable to local storms/hail showers.
Given next week is due to be warm with some localised rain showers, another good week of weather should result in encouraging July counts.
North York Moors:
Last year good numbers of broods were seen, but these seemed not to show in August/September, mainly due to high temperatures/humidity. If the summer is another scorcher I am not confident prospects will be significantly above last years as it does not suit these lower/drier moors. However three of the last four years have been long, hot, dry ones, so statistically we are due a favourable damp summer.
One other factor, which may be playing a part, is resurgence of sheep tick on some moors due primarily to milder winters giving ticks a longer period to search for hosts and with the reduction of flocks this limits scope to increase control of tick in some areas. The Managers are aware it is an issue and more positive, even possible direct, management of a flock retained by the moor owners (as in Scotland) could be possible in future if this trend continues.