WITH the opening of the grouse season less than a week away, moorland owners fear the shooting tradition could be at risk because of an EU ruiling.

Legislation from Brussels is banning the use of a herbicide which is regarded as the only effective way of controlling bracken.

And the Moorland Association fears it could change the face of Britain’s countryside, devastate wildlife and destroy land management worth around £100m a year.

The ruling - which is being contested - means this is the last summer land can be sprayed with Asulam, leaving vast tracts of countryside vulnerable to bracken infestation.

Moorland Association vice chairman George Winn-Darley, who manages 6,500 acres of North Yorkshire heather moorland, said: “Without the government-approved chemical, successfully and safely used for 35 years, our countryside and rural livelihoods will suffer very serious consequences.

“This will not only adversely affect biodiversity, including red list endangered species, but radically impact on grouse management, jobs and ultimately the appearance of globally important moors.

“Three quarters of the world’s heather moorland is found in the UK. Without Asulam, we would have already lost 50 per cent of it.”

The ban has been introduced to protect food crops, particulatly continentally-grown spinach, buut the Association insists grouse breeding will be badly hit along with the shooting industry.

This year the “Glorious Twelfth” will actually be August 13 - as game cannot be shot on Sundays - and on top of the longer-term fears for the future, the prospects for this season are already mixed.

Association chairman Edward Bromet, from Tadcaster, said: “The wettest May and June on record has played havoc with the red grouse trying to raise its young.”

However the moorland east of the Pennines had good early broods and, with a good number of birds from last year, could have a full shooting season.

The picture to the west of the Pennines looks poorer as it has been hardest hit by prolonged rain and has lost whole broods of chicks and hen birds that have succumbed to the relentless cold and wet.

In North Yorkshire though record numbers of grouse have been reported across local moors, according to Savills of York - which looks after rural estates.

Surveyor Matthew Watson said: “Many moors are reporting strong grouse numbers, some are comparable to last year, some even better. There are inevitably variances to this, however several moors broke their all-time records for numbers last year.”