An experimental assessment of the potential effects of human disturbance on Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix in the North Pennines, England.
In the United Kingdom, Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix have declined in range and abundance during the 20th century. In England at present, birds are largely found only on the margins of managed grouse moors in the north, where more than 80% of birds are confined to the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Black Grouse is one of a group of species potentially at risk from increased human recreational disturbance owing to their threatened status and their use of habitats to which a statutory right of human recreational access has recently been granted. To assess the likely impact of increased disturbance to Black Grouse, 77 were caught and radiotagged between 2002 and 2004, and each was randomly assigned to one of three experimental disturbance categories: no disturbance (low), fortnightly disturbance (moderate) or twice weekly disturbance (high). Birds that were disturbed more regularly flushed at greater distances, especially in spring and winter when birds exposed to high disturbance flushed at 32% greater distances than those in moderate disturbance treatments. There were no differences in fecundity (clutch size, hatching success, breeding success) or survival between disturbance treatments. Winter survival was 78% and summer survival 92%. There was no age-related difference in survival. The disturbance regimes imposed had no discernible impact upon Black Grouse population dynamics. However, in the absence of appropriate data to indicate likely changes in patterns and levels of human recreation resulting from open access, we cannot be sure whether the levels we applied will be representative in the future. Should actual disturbance levels be higher than those we used in this study, we list visitor management options that may help reduce any conflict that arises.