Grouse – A road to recovery
Keith Ringland visits two Scottish moors that are enjoying a sporting revival, thanks, in no small part, to two very passionate owners.
Glenturret and Monzie (pronounced Monnie) estates lie to the north of Crieff in Perthshire, just beside the Highland Boundary Fault which created the mountains clearly differentiated from the lowlands of the Earn Valley. Glenturret Estate has some very beautiful scenery with Glenturret Dam nestled between rugged, boulder-strewn hills.
Current owners Alex and Mary Seldon purchased the 6,000-acre Glenturret estate back in 1997 and, over the past 10 years they have also rented the sporting rights over the adjoining 2,000-acre Monzie moor.
August 21, 2014 saw me setting off from home in Perth to observe and photograph a day's sport, split between Glenturret and Monzie. Both estates had recently recommenced commercial grouse shooting after a break of several years. Pre-season counts for 2014 had been promising – a welcome contrast to the recent years of ill fortune and setbacks suffered by many Perthshire moors.
Indeed, there has been a steady decline in grouse shooting across Perthshire since the mid-2000s, with poor brood numbers commonplace due largely to unfavourable weather conditions and a decline in keepering staff across many of the moors in the area. The latter has placed a great deal of extra pressure on those owners – such as the Seldons – who have sought to continue employing their keepers for vermin control. They now have two full-time keepers who look after both moors.
In the past, the estate has also offered grey partridge shooting, but this proved very labour intensive and challenging to run alongside the grouse, and hence ceased. The moors were shot lightly between the years of 2009 and 2012 to maintain stocks, but have since picked up noticeably, helped by an excellent breeding season in 2014.
Despite the promsing signs, and a certain air of hope, the whole shooting party – Alex and Mary included – remained uncertain as to how the first day of their 2014 season would unfold.
We started at Monzie, and the morning was misty, but cleared steadily as the Guns gathered. For the rest of the day, the weather was variable – sunshine mixed with showers, with conditions growing kinder as the day proceeded.
As we travelled up to the hilltops, the Earn Valley provided a magnificent backdrop and soon the sunshine started to break through the dark grey clouds, lighting up the dew drops like a million jewels lying in the heather. A few coveys of grouse rose as the vehicles meandered along to the first drive, gently stoking the atmosphere of expectation.
The dogs, especially, were as keen as mustard to get working, leaping to the ground in a writhing mass as soon as the pickup rear doors were opened. For many of them, it was their first day out on the hill. Little energetic cocker spaniels mixed with springers and labradors, all working their patches like robotic noses on legs.
I joined the Guns as they settled into the line of butts. A light shower of rain distracted no-one except me, as I was kept busy wiping the raindrops off my lens and camera. The grouse started to arrive soon after, flying low and fast as the shots rung out along the line, but the Guns at either end of the line saw most of the action.
The drive that followed was in deep peat with stream-cut gullies exposing the 12ft or more of peat lying on top of the glacial boulder clay. This time it was the middle butts that saw most of the action. With so many grouse flying through at times, committing to one bird proved a stern challenge for the team. True to form, the grouse didn't hang about, the thumping flurry of their wings clearly audible between the shots.
By the third drive, the sun had come out again and was pleasantly warm as the Guns awaited the arrival of the first birds. I had positioned myself to the right-hand-side of the line, which was unfortunate as the butts furthest away from me saw most of the action! Still, everybody got some shooting.
The team lunched at a bothy beside a picturesque lochan in the hills. Every member of the party seemed bouyant with the morning's sport.
At the end of the day, the bag was 75 brace of grouse, representing a marked improvement on previous years. With luck, the population will recover to the levels of years gone by.
I have no doubt that with Alex and Mary's passion as a driving force, both Monzie and Glenturret will continue to offer sensational sport for years to come.
the post season report
The 2014 season saw records broken on several estates in Perthshire and at long last left good breeding stocks on Glenturret and Monzie. Bag sizes on the two estates are now typically in the region of 70 brace per day (to single guns) and plans are in place for approximately six to eight days of driven shooting in 2015, plus a few walked-up days.
Three years ago, Alex and Mary also purchased Glenlethnot, a grouse moor in the Angus Glens. At just over 3,000 acres in size, it is nestled between several large shooting estates. Bag sizes are usually in the region of 80 – 100 brace. Last year saw a record day of 106 brace to single guns – made, rather fittingly, on Alex's birthday in August. Ten days of driven shooting are planned at Glenlethnot for 2015.
Shooting at Glenturret, Monzie and Glenlethnot
All three estates offer days for complete teams or single Guns. Bookings for grouse shooting, both walked-up and driven (also walked-up mixed bag shooting and stalking), are handled by Managed Estates.
Tel. 01786 462519.