Black grouse at zero

Atholl Estate, landrover safari.'Weekend Life mag. Scotsman
Atholl Estate, landrover safari.'Weekend Life mag. Scotsman

Anew report on the status of the black grouse population on the region’s moors has made for some alarming reading.

The number of male birds attending leks - competitive displays in front of their prospective mates - in the Lammermuirs has plummeted to zero over 23 years.

The report, a joint production between Scottish Natural Heritage, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and South Uplands Partnership (SUP) research project, confirms that black grouse numbers in southern Scotland are in long-term decline.

Where 42 male birds were observed in leks during 1989/99, not a single male was recorded in the Lammermuirs between 2006 and 2012.

The report calls for “greater and more sustained co-operative action” to help save threatened black grouse populations.

Scottish Natural Heritage said the birds faced “continued pressures” across the area.

Scientists predict that the drop is likely to continue unless “strategic action” is taken to address the situation.

The report concluded that black grouse survive where they have large patches of moorland to live in and seeks to lay the foundations for a “landscape-scale approach” which would focus on protecting known “core” populations before increasing the population numbers and connections to other patches on the landscape.

Sue Haysom, project manager with SNH, said: “The report provides a key foundation for strategic action and identifies the next steps to save black grouse in the south of Scotland.

“Black grouse, like many species, face a range of pressures and need our help.

“This report sets us on a firm foundation and identifies how our limited resources could be used to best effect.”

She added that the next step was for everyone with an interest in the black grouse to work together to develop a “strategic conservation plan”.

Pip Tabor, project manager with the SUP, said: “The SUP is really pleased that this study has confirmed the need for a landscape-scale approach to black grouse conservation.

“We sincerely hope that funds will now be found to deliver the necessary actions so that we can keep this charismatic species thriving in the Southern Uplands.”

Dr Phil Warren, senior scientist at the GWCT, said the black grouse of southern Scotland had “severely declined” and now only occupied “a fraction of their formerly occupied range”.

He added: “This project provides an important evidence base and we look forward to working and engaging with land managers and other partners to develop a landscape scale plan to conserve black grouse here.”