Expanding the range of black grouse Tetrao tetrix in northern England through translocating wild males
Black grouse were once widespread in England, but have declined over the past 150 years due largely to habitat changes. In 1998, 773 males remained and following the instigation of conservation measures population size increased to 1029 in 2006, but population range remained similar. We hypothesized that range expansion was limited by the short dispersal ranges of males (up to 1 km) relative to females (up to 19 km), resulting in yearling females dispersing into areas without males. We tested this hypothesis by moving males to establish new leks and to stimulate range expansion.
Three release sites were chosen beyond the southern edge of the male range, but were within the perceived dispersal distance of females, and where habitats were considered suitable and generalist predators were controlled. Between 2006 and 2010, 17 males were released at the first site, and a further 18 and 27 respectively at two sites between 2011 and 2014. Males were caught at night, fitted with radio-transmitters and hard released. In the first spring following translocation, 98% of males were observed displaying. Males displayed an average 3.6 km (range 0.6 to 27.1 km) from their release point. Leks were established at all sites, with 14 different leks occupied in spring 2015 contributing to the re-colonisation of seven 10 km grid squares. Mean annual survival in the first year following translocation was 0.77 (0.63-0.86, 95% CL) and was similar to that of birds measured in previous studies in the core northern England range. This suggests that under appropriate circumstances translocation can be a helpful conservation tool in stimulating range expansion.