THE start of the grouse-shooting season - the Glorious Twelfth - turned out to be a damp squib for many sportsmen and women on North-East moors.

Those few who ventured on to shoots in North Yorkshire, Northumberland and County Durham were faced with cold winds and driving rain.

And they managed to bag only small numbers of birds.

Gamekeepers all over the region reported a devastating drop in the number of birds shot - a fall-out, they said, from last year, which was the worst season recorded for 100 years.

Lindsay Waddell, head keeper for Raby Estates, in County Durham, and chairman of the Moorland branch of the National Gamekeepers' Association, said: "Very poor, mainly wet weather, over the last two years has polluted much of the ground, leaving the young grouse very little to feed on.

"This year, we have been left with almost nothing, except for a few pockets of old grouse, which have managed to survive. The result, as what happened in 2005, is that we have been left only a handful of young birds."

Mr Waddell said: "It was a fact that we had the worst grouse shooting season for 100 years in 2005.

"Since then, through careful management, we have been trying to build up stocks again.

"And although it has got a little better in some places, it will be a long hard haul before we can hope to return to some kind of normal sport next year."

Mr Waddell said the first shoot of the season on Raby Estates would take place tomorrow at Pikelaw, in Upper Teesdale.

"We will have to see how this goes before deciding on any further shoots," he said.

One shoot did take place in Upper Teesdale on Saturday - the official Glorious Twelth - at the Birkdale Estate, which is owned by a North Yorkshire business family.

Shooters managed to bag 22 brace of grouse.

But in nearby Weardale, no shoots have so far taken place at either Catlin Estates, at the Burnhope reservoir, or at Weardale Estates, further up the dale, near the village of Killhope.

But a small shoot at Catlin Estates is planned for today.

As he reflected on the Glorious Twelth, Mr Waddell described how he and his family sat outside their home on Saturday evening.

"Normally you can hear the pop, pop of the guns," he said. "But this night, there was not a sound to be heard. It was eerily quiet."