A DECLINE in the number of birds due to bad weather means shooting days have already been cancelled just days before the Glorious Twelfth – the traditional start of the annual grouse shooting season.

But the Moorland Association, whose members are responsible for thousands of acres of grouse moors, believes the season will still be an improvement on last year.

Organisers say grouse shooting across the country generates £67million for rural economies – with the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales and parts of Durham and Northumberland among the major grouse shooting areas next to Scotland.

But bad weather in April and May when the chicks were hatching has caused numbers in some areas to be badly depleted.

Chairman of the Moorland Association Robert Benson said: “Chick survival seems better than the calamitous conditions experienced last year, but this is not the case for all. Yet again, we are reminded that grouse are wild birds.”

The association’s North York Moors’ representative, George Winn-Darley, added: “Initially, we were predicting a relatively good season, despite the mild and very wet winter followed by a damp spring.

“However, due to snow in late April and early May, grouse counts indicate poor chick survival on some moors and we are now much less optimistic.

“Shooting usually stops well before the official end of season in December, but every day is a bonus to the local economy.”

He said managing moorland for grouse shooting brings many economic, environmental and social benefits with around £52.5million spent on conservation and grouse shooting creating 42,500 work days a year and over 1,500 jobs.

“During a good season associated spin-offs are worth in excess of £15million to local businesses,” he said.

“Grouse shooting therefore generates £67million for local rural economies, as well as conservation.

“We are proud of significant wildlife gains.

“Careful moorland management has made a real difference to some of the country’s most endangered species.

“While lapwing, curlew, golden plover, ring ouzel, merlin and black grouse are in serious decline elsewhere, they can still be found in good numbers on our moors.”

He added: “There is no plausible alternative land use to driven grouse shooting that will deliver these benefits.

“Short-term licensing of driven grouse shooting, advocated by the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds, could also foreshorten the generation to generation planning and investment that is inherent in managing moorland, leading to less successful conservation management.”

Some conservationists argue that moorland management for grouse shoots has a negative impact on the environment and also leads to persecution of predators.

The shooting season officially starts on Friday, August 12 until December 10.