Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust scientists have published a paper which says that ‘Respiratory cryptosporidiosis is a new and rapidly spreading disease in red grouse.’. This is a disease normally found in captive birds but the first case in the ‘wild’ was found in the North Pennines in 2010. Worryingly, this paper also states that there is evidence that the disease has spread to Black Grouse too.
The protozoan responsible, Cryptosporidium baileyi is normally found in poultry and is not thought to be infectious to humans (unlike other Cryptosporidium species).
The disease does appear to be spreading and it seems to have its highest incidence in the North Pennines at the moment – though the first Scottish case was recorded in 2013 in the Lammermuirs (how did it get there?).
As the authors say, driven grouse shooting, which involves flushing birds out of their territories and towards waiting guns, is a way of mixing up birds and potentially increasing transmission rates of diseases. Cryptosporidium is now added to the potentially important diseases of Red Grouse alongside strongylosis (caused by infection from a parasitic worm) and louping ill ( a viral disease transmitted by ticks).
One has to wonder, doesn’t one, whether the unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse which are necessary for driven grouse shooting to be economically viable (in the bizarre world of this ‘field’ ‘sport’) are a reason for the incidence of disease? If only there were a few predators to take out the sick individuals as would happen in natural populations….
It makes you wonder whether the average Red Grouse wouldn’t vote for a ban to driven grouse shooting.