Upland predator control

Q: Why is predator control necessary?
Camouflaged rail trapA: The modern world has created an environment where generalist predators thrive to the extent that they can seriously impact on the status of a wide range of vulnerable species, especially ground-nesting birds, such as red and black grouse, lapwing and curlew. For example, a large European study has shown that 65% of curlew nests observed between 1996 and 2006 were destroyed by predation.

Q: Why is it acceptable to control one animal for the benefit of another?
A: The justification for predator control as part of game management is that it leads to good conservation of wildlife and habitats in the countryside, as long as it does not threaten the conservation status of our native predators. Many of the prey species are of conservation concern, whereas many of the predators in question are thriving.

Q: Do predators really have such a large impact on prey populations?
A: In some circumstances, yes. Since the early 1980s, the GWCT has published over 150 papers considering predation effects. These clearly show that predation pressure can depress numbers of
game and other wildlife. The reduction in abundance is caused by losses of adults, eggs or young. Reviews of many research papers indicate that predator control can allow the recovery of declining species of wildlife.

Q: Does reducing predators actually help those vulnerable species?
A: Yes, where predator control is done to an effective level, and habitat is suitable. Many of the benefits of grouse moor management, particularly for the grouse and breeding waders, and species such as mountain hares, come directly from legal predator control. For the bird species this has been shown by an experimental study examining the effect of predator control alone. Predator control allowed ground-nesting birds to breed on average three times more effectively than when predators were not controlled.

Q: Did this improved breeding success lead to larger populations?
A: The effect of this on the curlew population was marked – in the absence of predator control, curlew numbers were dropping by 17% per year. When legal predator control was implemented, curlew numbers rose by 14% per year (after a lag period as the new chicks reached breeding age). We have calculated that the low breeding success seen on moors where predators were not controlled in this experiment could lead to a drop in lapwing and golden plover numbers of 81%, and curlew of 47%, after ten years.

Q: What do you mean by “legal predator control”?
A: Lethal control of certain abundant generalist predator species is allowed under UK law, without individual licences. The methods used are regulated by the legislation, and are also guided by best practice codes.

Q: Is predator control only done on grouse moors?
Crow cageA: No. Grouse moor keepers are not alone in controlling predators; many conservation bodies control them for the protection of vulnerable wildlife. Foxes and crows are controlled by and for many farmers to protect lambs and breeding ewes. Predator control is an essential part of supporting rare species such as the grey partridge in lowland areas, and mink are routinely killed in order to protect water voles on Wildlife Trust reserves.

Q: What predators are controlled?
A: The main species targeted are foxes and carrion crows but also stoats, weasels, rats and feral cats.

Q: How are they controlled?
A: Spring trap, cage trap, snare or shooting. All are regulated activities in the UK, with training advisable in all regions and mandatory in some parts of the UK. Best practice is continuously researched and revised by the GWCT.

Q: What effect does it have on predator numbers? Will they go extinct?
A: In regions where a high game interest predominates, for example where several neighbouring properties are managed principally for grouse, some predators could be scarce as a result. Low numbers in one area can be offset by good numbers of the same predators in other regions, so that the conservation status of the predators is secure, while other important ecosystem services are being delivered as a consequence.

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