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.
Black grouse have been declining throughout virtually all their European range over the last century. In Britain, the decline has been considerable over the last 150 years and the species is now mostly confined to Scotland and north-eastern England, with a small number in Wales. Even where the bird remains, numbers are still declining, in England numbers declined at 10% per year in the early 1990s and around 800 cocks were confined to the Pennine hills.
Since 1989, we have recorded a halving of the number of black grouse males on leks. The current estimate of the British population is 6,500 lekking males in spring. However, numbers fluctuate annually in relation to variations in breeding success.
With these declines looking likely to cause the extinction of the black grouse the Trust embarked on a project aimed at recovering populations in northern England. In 1996 in partnership with Natural England, the Ministry of Defence, RSPB and National Wind Power (later joined by Northumbrian Water and North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) the North Pennines Black Grouse Recovery Project was established. The project aimed at increasing the range of black grouse to their late 80s extent, reverse the decline and promote recolonisation.
Improving moorland fringe habitat by reducing grazing improved black grouse breeding numbers. Reducing nest predation, a lack of tree cover in the winter, stock fence collisions and accidental shooting were found to be other factors limiting recovery.
The Trust publishes a range of information factsheet to aid black grouse recovery in the uplands. These are available in PDF in our document downloads.