Every year me and my team join local game keepers, the third week in April for the spring pair counts, and again in July for brood counts! Me and the team are preparing for some early mornings out in the field next month and we can’t wait.
We plan to meet on the moor at 6am, from there we travel to one of the first counting blocks. Seeing the sunrise as we set off with our team of dogs is amazing, there is nothing like it.
Each counting block is 100 acres these are measured by GPS over a range of different altitudes to get a fair range of ground. This also means we cover the same ground each year allowing us to calculate the numbers and compare them to previous years. Each block is done in two sweeps by four people who have a team of dogs like myself, all different breeds and ages. Grouse counting is a good way to introduce young dogs to life as a working gundog.
Ideally we hope to see 30/35 pairs in our spring counts per 100 acre block, and then in our summer counts, which we will be doing next month, we hope to see an average of 6/7 chicks per brood for a good season. The numbers of the grouse from the counts are multiplied by the average size of the moor to get the total number of grouse. This then gives us an idea of how many days the estate can hold, also allowing the keepers to have an idea of what stock they need to leave for future breeding and the following season.
My job: Once I am placed I will wait for the keepers signal to set off. I will have my dogs sat calm and quiet so we are not to disturb any grouse before we start. “Righto” the keeper will shout up and away we go, the dogs are asked to ‘get back’. They will set off, noses to the ground, hunting hard. I will keep them working in an area so that I can always see the grouse when they get up, allowing me to keep a count of them. When we do our pair counts the cock grouse will normally move off first clucking on with his hen following right behind, this is how we recognize them as a pair and write it down. When we start our brood counts it is similar to the pair counts, again the dogs will be sent out to work the ground, cock grouse usually gets up then his hen followed by her brood of chicks, such a lovely sight to see especially with the sunrise in the back ground, I will write them down as pair and brood size to hand to the keeper at the end of each block!
I feel very fortunate to be allowed to share these experiences with my dogs and I will always be grateful to the estate who give me these amazing opportunities, living and working in the countryside is a true blessing, it is home.