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Knowledge exchange, medicated grit and Scottish grouse moors

We are delighted that in this blog Dr Beth Wells from the Moredun Research Institute discusses how her fellowship is helping with the effective use of medicated grit on Scottish grouse moors.

A SEFARI Gateway Fellowship seeks to improve the flow of research, knowledge and expertise to and from the Strategic Research Programme to our stakeholders and Beth was our first successful fellowship applicant back in 2016 but her work is still having an impact today. Fellowships provide support for a member of staff to undertake a new knowledge exchange role to facilitate these interactions and activities with key partners.

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, has commissioned the Werritty Committee (Grouse Moor Management Group) to examine areas of concern in moorland and grouse management (specifically peatland restoration, muirburn and the use of medicated grit) and to inform on the advantages of licensing these moors. This report is due to be published imminently, having gathered evidence from all relevant sectors involved in upland land management.

Our previous commissioned research has also examined the socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts of driven grouse moors in Scotland.

Currently 10% of Scotland’s land area is managed for shooting grouse, the success of which depends on control of the roundworm, Trichostrongylus tenuis. This worm causes fewer chicks to hatch and can kill grouse. The most practical and common technique used to control worms in grouse is by medicating grit.

 

 All about medicated grit

  • Grouse consume grit naturally to aid digestion of their highly fibrous heather diet and manufacturers of medicated grit mimic this by coating quartz grit with one of the “white drench” wormers, flubendazole.
  • Medicated grit is available by veterinary prescription only and as flubendazole is not licensed for use in grouse in the UK, prescribing it is achieved through application of the cascade mechanism (Veterinary Medicines Directive, VMD).
  • The medicated grit is then made available to grouse in grit boxes or piles placed strategically over the grouse moors.
  • As grouse are territorial, a grit box is required for each breeding pair, so there is a requirement for many of these over a moor dependent on grouse densities.
  • Current advice is that there should be no more than 500g of medicated grit per box – enough for a pair of grouse for seven months - but this is an area which needs clarification for promotion of best practice.

 

How gamekeepers use medicated grit was one of the topics I explored through a fellowship supported by SEFARI Gateway and in collaboration with the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA). By building connections with land users, and in particular gamekeepers, it was apparent that there was a lack of understanding on what constitutes responsible and sustainable use of medicated grit. As a consequence, two workshops were held, supported by SEFARI Gateway and run by Moredun staff, in collaboration with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT). This knowledge exchange programme was very timely as I had also been asked to appear as an expert witness by the Werritty Committee on the use of medicated grit on Scottish grouse moors.

The workshops, held in Carrbridge and Perth, were attended by over 130 gamekeepers and were designed to provide information, but more importantly to give the keepers an opportunity to discuss what constitutes sustainable and best practice use of medicated grit, as highlighted below.

 

For best practice sustainable control of roundworms in grouse:

  • The use of diagnostics for proving the need for medicating grit is advised and can be done by your vet or GWCT.
  • Therefore, medicated grit should not be used as an insurance policy, but only when need is demonstrated by the use of the available diagnostics.
  • This is an important point in slowing down the development of resistance in the worm population and in minimising the environmental impact of medicated grit.
  • Flubendazole is highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates and, following best practice guidelines, keepers were advised that grit piles should be placed well away from water courses.
  • Grit should be delivered in grit boxes and regulations require that it must be removed at least 28 days prior to the start of the shooting season, so that there is no chance of any residues entering the human food chain. 

 

At both workshops, the keepers were proactive in asking questions and in contributing to following discussions on progress towards sustainable use of medicated grit across Scottish Estates. The atmosphere was very positive with many of the represented Estates already using diagnostics and following best practice guidelines and others starting to do so. Clearly this is a responsible attitude which, once adopted throughout the country, will demonstrate sustainable use of a product essential for the continued health and welfare of grouse. Requests have been made from attending keepers for further workshop events to keep them updated on this topic and any others that are relevant. Actions have been identified for the industry to look into, including certification courses on best practice use of medicated grit for both gamekeepers and prescribing vets, and in filling research and knowledge exchange gaps, which are currently being discussed within industry bodies.

This fellowship has had a real impact (my full report can be accessed here). By working in partnership with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Moorland Groups and local vets, we developed and delivered a series of behaviour changing workshops. Feedback from the gamekeepers confirmed that the combination of expertise from scientists, vets and industry available at the workshops worked very well in putting over important messages for the sector to take on board. Further feedback from prescribing vets over this season, has also been that they have seen large increases in the proportions of Estates using diagnostics. This is great news and illustrates the impact of the workshops!

From a more personal perspective, my time spent on the fellowship was highly rewarding. Although I have a lot of experience in working with the livestock farming industry, I had little experience of working with gamekeepers and Estate owners. I soon found out that an interest in their work and a real desire to help yielded results. I was able to work effectively to build relationships which have lasted, as another series of Scottish Gamekeepers Workshops will be run this November to build on the work of the previous season. I have learned a great deal during this fellowship and enjoyed the challenge very much. Not only did I enjoy my visits to the Cairngorms but so did my dog Sula!

 

Dr Beth Wells, KE Specialist/Research Scientist, Moredun Research Institute

 

Beth’s fellowship has proven so successful, SEFARI Gateway have very recently decided to extend her valuable work and are delighted to support an additional workshop this November – so watch this space!