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Grouse on the Moors - A veterinary update on the season so far.

Matthew Balfour BVM&S MRCVS 

A lot of our work at St David’s Game Bird Services focuses on preventative veterinary healthcare for partridge and pheasant clients across the UK and Ireland, however the location of our Edinburgh practice means our team of local veterinary surgeons are often busy with the monitoring and managing of grouse across moorland during the season. The veterinary and field services team, based in our Edinburgh office, cover the whole of Scotland and have clients across the country. The majority of our work in this area focuses on effectively managing the wild habitat of grouse to protect and encourage their numbers, and to monitor any risk of disease within the birds.

We carry out a number of post-mortems on shot carcasses, either on site or in our practice base, which involves carrying out a number of tests to assess their general health, and to review the levels of parasites such as worms, that are present within the birds. Through close monitoring of the worm levels within the bird population, we are able to prescribe medicated grit, if necessary, to feed to the birds to ensure that any infestations are kept under control. We can also take samples to look for diseases which they may have been exposed to. Of particular importance is blood sampling in order to assess for Louping ill antibodies.

The results of this testing are used to make decisions on grouse management. So far this season we are seeing variable worm levels within the Scottish grouse population, sometimes with marked differences across different moorland within the same estate. We are also seeing lots of positive Louping ill antibody results, which indicates exposure of the bird to this disease previously in its life. Louping ill affects both sheep and grouse and has been shown to cause high mortality in grouse chicks. It is important to control the disease within grouse, and this is done most effectively through giving tick treatment to sheep grazing the same moorland.

Despite cancellations from many overseas shooting parties, and challenges providing catering due to social distancing, the industry appears to be resilient. All game seasons are now off to a good start, and similarly to the rest of the UK, Scotland are seeing low Mycoplasma levels which is a big improvement on last year. A continuation of preventative testing this year will help to keep this figure low for the next season, which is a stark contrast to a few seasons ago when the disease posed a threat to the bird population.

With disease and worm monitoring an ongoing task in the management and monitoring of the grouse population, it is important to continue to record numbers and treat where necessary to maintain the wildlife and their habitat for years to come.


As published in The Scottish Farmer