Simon Lester's gamekeeping diary

November 2010

OCTOBER saw our intrepid male hen harrier move from France down to Spain, while his female sibling remained in the Lammermuirs.
We have all seen a lot of harrier activity here at Langholm recently; one day, I saw three adult males in the sky at the same time. I have also watched ringtail harriers – female or juvenile, I could not say which – hunting red-legged partridges at a release site opposite my house. I did not witness this intensity of hunting behaviour here in the summer, but it did remind me of the hours I used to spend watching marsh harriers hunting wild game in Norfolk.

We managed four afternoons’ burning in October, getting rid of quite a lot of rank heather. One of the previously sprayed areas of Molinia also burned well. It was good to get out and make some smoke but, unfortunately, the weather turned, and we have not had another opportunity to get out again since. It has been so wet!

We cut some heather on areas of blanket bog that have been damaged by heather beetle, as we cannot, and do not want to, spray and burn there. Similar areas of heather on blanket bog that we cut two years ago are now showing signs of good recovery, encouraging us to cut some larger areas.

I have also asked our contractor to cut tracks through these areas to enable us to put out grit trays in a bid to get the grouse to find – and therefore use – these quicker. The cutting also helps to create edge and changes the structure of this dense vegetation. When checking some of the grit trays recently, I noticed that the plan seems to be working, as some of them had been used within a week of being put out.

When not out lamping for foxes, there is another nocturnal job to be done: catching grouse and fitting them with radio tags. It is still difficult to locate grouse on some areas of the moor because the numbers are still quite low. This makes it all the more important to fit radio tags to birds in these locations so that we can find out what’s happening to the birds. Spending several hours in the Argocat to catch one bird – or sometimes none – is soul destroying, but we have to keep trying.

We have just taken delivery of five new Yamaha Grizzly ATVs. These quads allow easier travelling across our tough terrain – thanks to better suspension and a differential that has helped to get us out of some boggy places, which we would previously have got stuck in. So, we are on the move more easily, and hopeful that the winter will not be too unkind to the grouse – and us. And the odd shaft of sunshine even on the windiest of days reminds me that spring will come again.





Simon Lester