MOORLAND owners fear a new EU ruling threatens the centuries-old tradition of grouse shooting in the run-up to the Glorious Twelfth.

They say a ban on the pest-icide Asulam, seen as the only effective bracken control herbicide, will change the face of Britain’s countryside.

It is claimed the ban will devastate wildlife and destroy land management worth ar-ound £100 million a year.

The legislation means this is the last summer land in Cumbria can be sprayed with Asulam, leaving huge tracts of precious countryside vuln-erable to massive bracken infestation.

Asulam was banned by the EU’s European standing committee following worries over aerial spraying by spinach growers in some continental countries.

Robert Benson, sporting and wildlife conservation manager for the Lowther and Lonsdale Estates, said it was bureaucracy gone mad and asked: “How can herbicide which has been safely used here for 35 years be sacrificed in the name of spinach?”

“Rare wildlife and habitats, including red list endangered species, will face extinction once bracken swamps their breeding ground. The impact on grouse management, jobs and ultimately how moorland looks will be dire.

“Around 5,000 acres of our land is at risk. We’ve already been hit by some of the wettest weather on record, bad news in itself for breeding birds.

“Game can’t be shot on Sunday, which means the Glorious Twelfth gives way to the 13th this year, and you can’t help thinking there’s an unlucky resonance.”

Mr Benson added that last year might have been the last good season for wild red grouse.

Moorland Association vice chairman George Winn-Darley, who manages 6,500 acres of North Yorkshire heather moorland, said three quarters of the world’s hea-ther moorland was found in the UK.

“Without Asulam, we would have already lost 50 per cent of it,” he said. “MA members spend vast sums of money managing the moorland habitat. So much is at risk, including 46 upland bird species.”

Meanwhile, a project to double black grouse numbers over the next 18 years has been launched.

Increasing the breeding success of hens, maintaining levels of the birds surviving over the winter and improving habitats are among the plans.

Among the key areas for the species in Cumbria is the Geltside nature reserve, near Brampton, and other county strongholds include Alston.

Richard Benyon, minister for natural environment and fisheries, helped to launch a new strategy document created by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the RSPB to help spearhead the drive to improve the endangered red-listed species in northern England.