Is There a Future For Black Grouse
Abstract from the Journal of Applied Ecology
23rd June 1996
Birdwatchers and shooters are both very worried by the rapid decline in Black Grouse - a bigger cousin of the commoner Red Grouse.
During this century they were even found in lowland areas of England like Norfolk, Surrey and Hampshire. Within the last 25 years they have been lost from Dartmoor. Now there are possibly as few as 10,000 individuals left in Wales, Northern England and Scotland and it is one of our red data book species.
Research reported by David Baines of the Game Conservancy in the Journal of Applied Ecology (33, 54-62) confirms what many people thought was the problem. Lightly grazed moorland was very much better for Black Grouse than areas where there were lots of sheep and deer. The study showed that there were almost eight chicks raised on the less heavily grazed moors for every five on the moors with lots of large animals. The way that payments from Europe come to the farmers means that the tenants make more money the more sheep they have on the moorland.
The study also showed that there were three times fewer crows on moors where there was a gamekeeper than on those where there was none. However this did not, in itself, affect the breeding success of the Black Grouse. David Baines is convinced there is a simple conflict. If healthy Black Grouse populations are a priority reduction of grazing intensity essential. High densities of sheep or deer cannot ever be combined with good prospects for birds. The RSPB have managed to double the numbers of the Black Grouse on their Abernethy reserve in six years by reducing the large herbivores.
As a result of this pioneering work a species recovery programme is being formulated by English Nature, the RSPB and the Game Conservancy for the Black Grouse in the Pennines. It is hoped that Countryside Stewardship money will be made available, starting this autumn, to landowners from MAFF to put these principles into action.