28 August 2013

Black grouse study highlights need for careful planning of forest expansion

A new study highlights the need for sensitive placement and management of new woodland to encourage the black grouse in Scotland which has declined in both numbers and range in recent decades.

The study, carried out by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) on behalf of Scottish Natural Heritage, Cairngorms National Park Authority and Forestry Commission Scotland, used radio-tagging to investigate how individual black grouse use moorland and forests in the mixed highland landscape of north Perthshire.

This is important as forestry expansion in Scotland is likely to accelerate, driven by the Scottish Government's Scottish Forestry Strategy to increase cover from 17% to 25% and is likely to cause habitat change in the species upland range. The Cairngorms Nature Action Plan also aims to target 5,000 hectares of new woodland by 2018 within the Cairngorms National Park, where a significant portion of the Scottish black grouse population lives.

Eighty-nine birds were radio-tagged in Perthshire where lead project scientist Dr Patrick White's study found that black grouse were highly dependent on moorland areas. The type of forests used differed between males and females and use of large-scale plantations was generally limited to within 600 metres of their external edge.

“Although they thrive in young plantations, we know that when these forests mature and ground vegetation is smothered out, black grouse are displaced,” said Patrick.

“There is a trade-off between planting forests and protecting these key moorland components that retain breeding habitat over the long-term. Spreading the provision of new forest over time and protecting substantial moorland areas could be important. If planned poorly, significant expansion of commercial forestry onto moorland areas could be detrimental to this species.”

Where moorland areas are protected, the long-term benefits of any new forests to black grouse may depend on the species they contain and their layout.

“In our study, males selected birch woodland while females avoided these areas and made greater use of conifer forests,” explained Patrick.

“Forest expansion will be a key driver in landscape change in Scotland in the next few decades. If we are going to effectively conserve the black grouse we need to make careful decisions about the placement, composition and structure of the new forests we create.”

Dr Sue Haysom, Policy and Advice Officer for SNH, said: “We were delighted to support this study which has produced three simple management recommendations for black grouse. They are to conserve large and well-connected areas of moorland adjacent to forests; provide a diverse forest age and species composition at the scale of a lekking* group; and constructively manage forest edges on moorland boundaries to enable access.”

Justin Prigmore, Nature Officer at Cairngorms National Park Authority said: “We have recently helped establish Cairngorms Nature, a new partnership set up to safeguard and enhance the outstanding nature in the Cairngorms National Park. By working together with a wide range of partners, it is more likely that this initiative will achieve success and achieve positive change for the biodiversity of the Park. One of the main focuses of the partnership over the coming years will be woodland expansion. This research on the habitat use of black grouse has been extremely important in helping our understanding of how they use their environment. Longer term it will ensure that the needs of the species are taken into account when these new planting schemes are being planned.”

Kenny Kortland, FCS Species Ecologist, said: ''The many hours of field work done by GWCT staff have yielded much information on the behaviour of this wonderful species in the Scottish uplands. These findings will allow Forestry Commission Scotland to carry out more cost-effective action for black grouse.''


Notes to editors

*Lekking - A lek is an aggregation of males that gather to engage in competitive displays that may entice visiting females during the breeding season.

The study’s findings are reported in full in Scottish Natural Heritage’s Commissioned Research Report No. 545 ‘Spatial and structural habitat requirements of black grouse in Scottish forests’ which is available for free download from http://www.snh.gov.uk/publications-data-and-research/publications/search-the-catalogue/publication-detail/?id=2033

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is an independent wildlife conservation charity which carries out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats and we lobby for agricultural and conservation policies based on science. We employ 14 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse. For Information, contact: Katrina Candy – Head of Media and Education (Scotland), Telephone – 01738 554822; Mobile – 07736 802144; Email – kcandy@gwct.org.uk www.gwct.org.uk

Scottish Natural Heritage is the government's adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Our role is to help everyone understand, value and enjoy Scotland's nature now and in the future. For more information, visit our website at www.snh.gov.uk. SNH media is also now on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SNHMedia. Contact: Fergus Macneill, SNH Public Relations: 01463 725021.

Forestry Commission Scotland - Media enquiries to Steve Williams, Forestry Commission Scotland press office, tel: 0131 314 6508

Cairngorms National Park Authority

  1. The Cairngorms National Park was established in 2003. It is the UK’s largest national park at 4,528sq km The Park has four aims: to conserve and enhance the area’s natural and cultural heritage: promote sustainable use of the Park’s natural resources; promoting understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the Park (including recreation); and to promote sustainable economic and social development of local communities.
  2. The CNPA was set up to ensure that the unique aspects of the Cairngorms – both the natural environment and the local communities – are cared for, sustained and enhanced for current and future generations to enjoy. The CNPA provides leadership to all those involved in the Cairngorms and works in partnership with a range of communities, businesses, non government organisations and public sector partners to deliver practical solutions on the ground.

For more information contact: Stephanie Bungay, Communication and Campaigns Manager,
Cairngorms National Park Authority, tel: 01479 870507; email: stephaniebungay@cairngorms.co.uk 

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