THE grouse shooting season looks set to be delayed in parts of Scotland due to the unusually cold spring weather.

While the sport traditionally takes off on the Glorious Twelfth each August, some moorland estates have chosen to delay after spotting younger grouse on the land.

It is thought the chilly spring, which saw snow fall at the end of April, may have meant the first chicks born this year did not survive. As a result some birds had a second brood later on and their offspring are still quite young.

Robert Rattray, head of Scottish sporting agency Sporting Lets, said: “We are now hearing of a few moors adjusting their programmes for a later start, possibly the result of the end of April snow leading to reliance on second broods, but in general we are optimistic for a good season ahead.”

Gamekeepers count grouse before the shoots commence as a way of ensuring they are sustainably managing the species.

Rab MacVarrie, head gamekeeper at Corriegarth Estate - part of the Loch Ness Rural Communities group, said: “Here at Corriegarth we have just spent five consecutive mornings counting grouse with specially trained pointer dogs and cocker spaniels, which are instinctively good at sniffing out grouse and alerting us to their location. To cover the ground and in order to record an accurate count, neighbouring estates will work together during the grouse counting period.

“Our grouse count has demonstrated that moorland estates are at the mercy of the unpredictable Scottish weather. Whilst numbers look good we have seen a lot of younger birds which are perhaps the second brood of chicks as a consequence of the first brood being affected by the late April snow and colder spring months. This is not an unusual occurrence and we expect a slower start in our region but remain hopeful for a successful season as a whole.”

Ralph Peters, head of estate management with Bidwells property consultants, painted a slightly more pessimistic picture. He said: “Up until mid-July there appeared to be a reasonable level of optimism across the country that this season would be a good, if not record-breaking, one. However, now there is a feeling that it will be far from a great year despite the fact that in many areas there was a good, healthy stock of grouse remaining to breed after last season.

“Although May was a reasonably warm month for much of the country, the weather during the crucial hatching period and since has been far from ideal with significant snow falling and lying on the higher ground - in some areas well into May and beyond. There have even been anecdotal reports of grouse hens laying their clutch of eggs on top of snow.

“Much of the rest of the country’s grouse areas have suffered as a result of deluges of rain. That said, there are a number of reports from across the country of very young birds which have been the product of second clutches which is likely to result in a delayed start to the season for some but a shoot programme going ahead nonetheless.”

Counting birds to understand the number, age, size and location of the birds is a key step in planning the shooting programme each summer. An initiative known as the Gift of Grouse campaign has been highlighting the importance of grouse counting and the sustainable management of the species. They have launched a new video to raise awareness of the efforts by gamekeepers and trained working dogs.

Mr Rattray said: “Grouse shooting in Scotland is a unique experience, and attracts interest from all over the world. In addition to the USA and Europe which have always been traditional overseas markets for grouse shooting, we are also seeing a growing interest from non-traditional markets such as China and India."

He described UK bookings as steady, but said there were often bookings later in the season.