The moor has a very well equipped Shoot Box which was purpose built during the 1850's. It includes a spacious room for the guns and their guests, which the Estate and myself have recently renovated and will now seat up to 20 people, it has a kitchen, toilet and a separate room for the keepers and beaters.
During 2010, my landlords, Mountgarret Estates, entered into a HLS, Higher Level Scheme Agreement which is administered by Natural England. This agreement has a number of restrictions not previously imposed so we must wait and see if it affects our grouse in any way. So far this has not been a problem.
The High Moor, which borders the B6265, will stand up to 10 guns but I prefer to field no more than 9 guns. It has 4 lines of stone butts in excellent condition and a line of pegs, giving an option of 5 main drives together with a gill which gives 2 drives when driven either way producing some outstanding birds. There are also a number of small gills, some of which I have still yet to experiment with!
The Low Moor, which will stand 6 guns, has 2 lines of stone butts with 4 lines of pegs in small gills, giving an option of 6 drives. The infamous Harrison's Gill will test even the most competent of shots!
We normally field 8 or 9 guns. A wide gill and stream divides Hardcastle and Heathfield Moors known as Merryfield Gill.
I have been very fortunate to shoot driven grouse for over forty years but have only been involved with the management of grouse moors since I took the leases on both Moors in 2001. To say I have been through a steep and sometimes expensive learning curve is something of an understatement!! However, having taken on two moors in need of time and effort spending on them I feel I can confidently say the results are at last beginning to show through.
The Red Grouse is a truly wild bird which fortunately cannot be successfully reared in captivity, it is also native only to Great Britain. Everything is against its survival from the day it is hatched. It must survive the harsh conditions of the moor and attack from all manner of predators: foxes, raptors (hawks and owls), corvids (crows and magpies) and mustelids (stoats, mink and weasels). Two other particular aggressive forms of attack are by a parasitic nematode known as the Strongyle worm and sheep ticks.
The former worm lives in the peat but when it rains it travels up the stem of heather. When the grouse eat the heather they also ingest the worm which attaches itself to the gut of the bird and slowly eats it away, eventually killing it. In order for the worm to survive, its eggs are deposited on the peat in the birds foil (excrement) and the whole cycle continues. Ideal conditions for grouse are snow and periods of hard frost at night and warm sunshine in the day which explodes and kills the eggs of the worm when it thaws.
As you can appreciate it is a science in itself trying to control this particular problem. We try to combat this by distributing medicated grit in grit trays over both Moors
Sheep tick are another parasite which can prove deadly to grouse, particularly young chicks. These ticks emerge during the spring and some in early autumn. When young larvae they are microscopic in size and attach themselves to their host, which in the case of grouse and other ground nesting birds is normally around the eyes and under the beak. They feed off the blood in the grouse, when over infestation can lead to the death of the host. We combat this by using sheep to sweep the Moor with their fleece to mop up the ticks. The sheep are then dosed three times a year with pour on similar to that we use on dogs and cats. It does not eradicate the tick but certainly does help.
Hardcastle Moor is free from tick, however the lower part of Heathfield Moor suffers from tick. We are working closely with our farmers to combat this problem.
At present we are expecting an arctic bird to live and breed in our increasingly tropical climate and do feel that unless our climate returns to harder winters and dry springs the abundance of grouse on Hardcastle and Heathfield Moors, being wet moors which will become even wetter due to the grip blocking required by Natural England under a Higher Level Scheme recently entered into, may fall from this present acceptable level.
In past seasons we became accustomed to variable returns including some blank seasons. However in 2011 our fortunes changed.