Extreme weather could see the shooting season start with a damp squib today, rather than a blaze of glory.

Snow in late spring has decimated stocks of the moorland grouse, especially around Cumbria.

And there are fears that the fallout from lost shooting days will have a severe effect on the rural economy, with visiting sportsmen and women credited with bringing a boost to business.

Details of the likely season ahead have been revealed by Cumbria-based land expert, Robert Benson, chairman of the Moorlands Association, whose members manage one million acres of England’s uplands.

Shap-based Mr Benson said: “Initially we were predicting a relatively good season, despite the mild and very wet winter followed by a damp spring.

“However, due to snow in late April and early May, grouse counts indicate poor chick survival on some moors, and we are now much less optimistic.”

Although early hopes of a relatively good season in Cumbria have been dashed for many, Mr Benson said there is cause to celebrate.

Millions of pounds have been spent on conserving moorland amid hopes that science could help break the deadlock between grouse shooting and conservation.

A massive 18,000 hectares of fragile peatland has been repaired and re-vegetated, with much more to come.

“On the one hand, we are looking at pockets of poor grouse numbers on some moors this year and shoot days being cancelled,” said Mr Benson.

“But, on the other, very positive outcomes for work that will ultimately impact on vast numbers of people.”

He added: “In the wake of some of the worst flooding in recent memory, peatland restoration will help slow the flow of water. We are working with leading conservation organisations on these critical areas.”

Cumbria is home to some of the most important areas of moorland in the country, with areas such as the North Pennines seen as critical for the survival of rare birds, while also being important for grouse shooting.

“During a good season associated spin-offs are worth in excess of £15m to local businesses,” said Mr Benson.

“Grouse shooting therefore generates £67m for local rural economies, as well as conservation.”

Meanwhile the association has pledged its continued commitment to the government’s Hen Harrier Action Plan. Mr Benson said Moorlands Association members were responsible for 860,000 acres of iconic and internationally-recognised heather moorland, loved by millions of walkers and wildlife enthusiasts.

He said those wanting to see grouse shooting banned should be “careful what they wished for”.

Shooting days can be held from today (Friday) until December 10, excluding Sundays. Only the surplus population is shot, ensuring healthy wild breeding stock, supported by the moor, is left.