Black grouse recovery plan

Black grouse need small pockets of scrubby broadleaf woodland as an alternative food resource in severe wintersWith a declining British population, in 1999 the black grouse was designated a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species. As with other BAP species a set of targets were defined and actions proposed. The GWCT and the RSPB are the joint lead partners responsible for the delivery of the plan.

The key objectives are to:

  • Maintain the population of black grouse (at least at its 1996 level).
  • Restore the range of black grouse to its 1988-91 extent.
  • In the long term (20 years) increase the range of black grouse in the UK.
  • In the long term (20 years) increase the population of the black grouse in the UK.
  • Promote re-colonisation of formerly occupied areas between currently isolated populations.

Restoring black grouse populations in the UK is complex as birds frequent different habitat mosaics between regions. For example, in England they are a bird of the moorland fringe with few trees whereas in the Scottish Highlands they are found on the edges of woodland. These differences in habitat preferences between regions, combined with differing agri-environment and forestry grant schemes, means that the UK BAP is delivered through separate steering groups in England, Scotland and Wales.

Case Study: North Pennines Black Grouse Recovery Project 1996-2010

Moving black grouseTo deliver the BAP objectives in northern England, a full-time project officer was employed to give free black grouse management advice to landowners, farmers, the government and conservation organisations; to monitor the population and plug gaps in our knowledge by developing a research programme. We demonstrated that by restoring moorland fringe habitats through sheep grazing reductions funded through agri-environment schemes, black grouse bred better, leading to 5% per year increases in displaying males. Widespread uptake of this management prescription was encouraged.

Numbers recovered from 773 cocks in 1998 to an estimated 1,200 in 2007, surpassing the BAP target of 1,000 cocks by 2010 ahead of schedule. With the decline stemmed, the project entered a third phase to deliver range expansion. A key component of this was a translocation trial whereby cocks from the core of the range were moved to the southern fringe of their range to establish new leks to attract dispersing hens. Although disrupted by poor breeding years in 2007 and 2008, the findings are encouraging with released cocks lekking and attracting hens that subsequently bred successfully.

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