Black grouse are typically regarded as birds of early successional forest, either coniferous or birch, and of forest-edge habitats. Following reductions in the extent of natural forests, black grouse are now found in structurally similar habitats, such as mosaics of moorland and heathland, early stages of coniferous plantations, rough grazings and traditionally managed meadows.
They are renowned for their spectacular communal breeding displays. At dawn in spring, dozens of males (blackcock) congregate on traditional display grounds (referred to as a lek). Here they stake out small patches of ground on to which they entice females (greyhens) for mating, which they do by fanning out their feathers and strutting around, making a distinctive mating call.
Black grouse have been declining throughout virtually all their European range over the last century. In Britain they were once widespread, but following a severe decline in numbers over the last 150 years, the species is now confined to upland fringe areas in Scotland, northeastern England and North Wales. In the early 1990s national surveys estimated the population at 25,000 displaying males, but by 2005 only 5,100 remained. Of these, two thirds were found in Scotland, with approximately 1,000 males in northern England and 200 males in North Wales.
Black grouse are a species of high conservation concern and are ‘Red-Listed’, recognised as a species of principle importance for biodiversity conservation on section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 and are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) ‘Priority Species’ with its own Species Action Plan. The Trust is the joint lead partner with the RSPB, responsible for delivering the Species Action Plan objectives of stemming the decline and then restoring numbers and range.
Our research focuses on identifying factors that are causing declines and initiating management to restore numbers.
The Trust publishes a range of information factsheets to aid black grouse recovery in the uplands, which can be downloaded here.