As far as I am concerned, the Chayne is a big piece of land. Highlanders might sniff and say that there is scarcely enough room to park a land rover, but to me, one thousand six hundred acres is quite a sizeable area. Roughly circular in shape and bordered on three sides by forestry of various ages, the farm rolls upwards to a nameless four hundred metre peak. From the summit, the Isle of Man, Cumbria and the huge ramparts of the southern uplands sprawl out in a vast carpet below, and on a clear day it is one of the most spectacular views in the south of Scotland.
Aside from the livestock, an inventory of the Chayne might run something like this:
1,600 acres of farmland – approx 1,000 moorland, 590 wasted grazing pasture, 9 pine plantation, 1 mixed woodland
3 houses – 1 habitable, 1 ruin, 1 barn
between 20 and 30 red grouse
1 black grouse – although a basic knowledge of biology would suggest that there is at least one more around somewhere.
I must admit to being a bit of a sporting snob. For me, the best shooting available to British guns is completely wild. I certainly do enjoy a day’s shooting pheasant and partridge, but I find myself secretly holding on for when the beaters shout “woodcock!” and the day suddenly shifts up a gear. Shooting wild birds is the purest and most thrilling sport, and I have been fortunate enough to have a go at an enormous variety, from teal to ptarmigan.
The opportunity presented to manage a grouse moor, even on an extremely small scale and limited basis was too exciting to ignore. My main obstacles were my own jaw-dropping ignorance on the subject of moorland ecology and the state of widespread neglect which had consumed the farm.
Returning from the moor on the 12th August 2009, my friends and I carried two young grouse in our pockets. As we stepped over the gate and walked up the last few yards for a chance at a snipe, I saw two black ears and the very top of a red back trotting away along the path infront of me. It was a fox cub, and I fired two of the best at a range of around thirty yards. I didn’t know it then, but that moment set in motion a vast chain of events that is still unfolding even as I write. It was my first action to preserve the grouse on the Chayne. Needless to say, I missed.