PROSPECTS for the grouse shooting season in East Lancashire look bleak after a debilitating disease struck the game birds.

Today was The Glorious Twelfth which heralds beginning of the four-month grouse-shooting period.

Typically it sees people from all over the country head for the moors of Lancashire, Scotland and North Wales.

But the grouse on the Duke of Westminster's estate at Abbeystead in the Trough of Bowland area of the Ribble Valley have been hit by Louping-ill, a virus infection of the central nervous system.

It is spread by the bite of ticks that affects mainly sheep but can also infect many species of domestic animals, wild animals, and some species of wild birds.

In grouse the virus is responsible for high levels of mortality, with 79 per cent of infected grouse chicks dying from the virus in laboratory and field conditions Martin Gillibrand, secretary of the Moorland Association, which is made up of 200 land owners responsible for almost all of England's heather moorland, said: “People are very optimistic about a good season apart from one exception which is unfortunately in Lancashire around the Abbeystead Estate.

"They are not holding any shooting at all at the moment as the birds have been infected by Louping-ill.

“It is a viral disease and the young birds tend to die instantly after catching it.

"Although the estate is trying to eradicate it they are not shooting at the moment because there is just not enough stock.

”There will be some shooting parties going out but it is a disappointing start.”

Neil Kilgour, agent at the Abbeystead Estate said: “There is a history of ticks and Louping-ill in the Forest of Bowland area.

"Therefore, the programme for the shooting season has not been finalised.”

A spokesperson for the nearby Duchy of Lancaster estate said: “The shooting on the Duchy of Lancaster estate is predominantly low level pheasant and patridge and we only have a very small amount of Grouse shooting which is unlikely to be affected.”