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Black grouse estate relies on ATVs

ATVs essential to conservation work

Holme Rose and Nairnside estates, near Inverness, rely on three Yamaha ATVs to carry out essential conservation and maintenance work. The Kodiak and Grizzly models are used by head gamekeeper Edward Jaundrell, and his team, to manage the 10,000-acre estate which is home to a healthy wild bird population of grouse and other wild birds such as golden plover and lapwings. 

The estate has a flock of 800 black face breeding ewes that graze the land and help protect the birds. “We use the sheep to reduce tick numbers by treating them with Dysect and Crovect. This helps to protect the birds from louping disease. Without our ATVs to reach the sheep quickly in difficult to reach parts of the estate we would really struggle to achieve this,” explains Mr Jaundrell.

He rides the Kodiak 700 which has electronic power steering (EPS) and a winch as standard. “The Kodiak will travel far faster than I need it to. The attraction of the model for me is the automatic gearbox with low range that is perfect for the high ground here. It is good for the wet ground and, importantly, it is light enough to handle well and move if I get stuck. The winch is excellent, and to have it as standard is a real tick in the box for me.” 

The larger 700cc engine also helps when carrying feed and towing. The flock is fed during the winter months and into lambing, so many journeys are required. “We can load the quad and a trailer so that as we feed, if our shepherd Murdo finds a problem ewe or lamb, we can bring them back after we have fed the rest of the flock. The Kodiak handles the weight very well and gives me the confidence to utilise the full 140 kilo carrying capacity and 600 kilo towing capacity.”

The estate it private and does not sell shooting days commercially, which keeps the demand for birds is significantly lower than those providing regular daily shoots. “It is not like pheasant shooting, we don’t sell any day shoots to the public. This helps us to concentrate on our conservation work which enables the black grouse to thrive,” he says. This work also extends to helping other local farmers with crow and magpie control as part of his efforts to protect the estate and the birds.

An ongoing integrated pest management program is continually reviewed by the team. Foxes, stoats, weasels, and rats all need to be controlled to enable the birds and other wildlife, such as hares, to thrive. “We check traps for small predators and code compliant snares for foxes every day. This would be inconceivable without the ATVs. The bulk of our mileage is spent setting and revisiting traps. We would not be able to maintain the balance of birds and predators on the estate without them.”

A careful balance between allowing the sheep to graze and using controlled burning helps the moorland to flourish. Mr Jaundrell describes the heather as a ‘crop’ and gives it the same level of care and attention a farmer would any other forage. “If you don’t manage heather properly there is no food value. The birds, sheep and other wildlife depend on it, and our job is to make sure that it remains sustainable.” To prevent overgrazing, the size of the flock is unlikely to increase. The team also controls the number of predators to help offer the birds an ideal home. 

Mr Jaundrell is passionate about conserving the land and believes that controlled fires, as part of a wider conservation strategy, are essential. “We could cut the heather, but on hot days any debris left behind is like a tinderbox. It is better to mark out an area to burn and confine the fires to that area to prevent wildfires. We don’t want to burn the moss or the seed beds of the heather. It is important the root systems stay intact to allow the plant to recover. The cool burning is just to reduce the size of the plant and take off the leaves.” The heather burning finishes in April to allow the ground nesting birds to nest.

The ATVs are once again essential to monitoring this process but must not be taken on open ground. “It is the time of year when we need to use our tracks only. We don’t want to risk disturbing the birds during nesting. The Yamaha machines are relatively quiet, and we have planned our routes to enable us to reach the popular nesting areas quickly and easily, with minimal disruption.”

He is unapologetic about the harsh life his ATVs endure. All three are used every day, travelling through wet and challenging terrain. “We put them through pain and hell, but they just keep going. The peat is acidic, and we are constantly travelling through water, but all of our Yamaha ATVs have performed well despite the conditions. We have superb support from our dealer. The ATVs haven’t missed a beat and, if any servicing or repairs have been needed, he has always provided us with a replacement.”

The team can cover in excess of 20 miles a day over very challenging land, so comfort is an important factor that Mr Jaundrell considers when choosing his ATV. “Having an automatic gearbox is a luxury that I would not be without. We do so much hill work that it really makes a difference. In low range the ATV also descends very well and doesn’t pull away like some automatic machines I have experienced in the past.”

To cover the most challenging areas of the estate in the worst of the weather he fits dual wheels to the Kodiak. The suspension on the ATV can also be adjusted to allow for tricky terrain. “I always feel confident on a Yamaha. They are an excellent tool for our work and have always delivered us home safely,” he concludes.