Ptarmigan are Britain’s smallest grouse species and the only British bird that turns white in winter. They are now restricted to arctic-alpine habitats in the Scottish Highlands, but historically were found in the Southern Uplands and the English Lake District, from where they became extinct at the end of the 1700s and in the early 1800s respectively.
Ptarmigan numbers may be influenced by predation, climate change, overgrazing, disturbance and over-harvesting. Understanding how these factors affect ptarmigan will enable us to best conserve them. However, ptarmigan are a difficult species to monitor, with natural population cycles and remote breeding locations. To date there has been no national survey to accurately assess population size.
In 2010 the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, with part-financing from Cairngorm National Park Authority and Scottish Natural Heritage through the Cairngorms Local Action Group, carried out a postal survey to determine whether ptarmigan abundance and distribution were thought to have changed in the last 25 years. This newsletter (PDF, 7MB) outlines the main findings of the survey and our hopes for future studies on this species. This study is due to be published in Scottish Birds in December 2013.
Numbers of ptarmigan and other gamebirds shot are collected annually by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s National Gamebag Census. By looking at data from this long-running annual census, we are able to look at longer-term trends in abundance.