Point of no return?

A recent study of 121 black grouse leks (breeding sites) by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has shone a light on the parlous state of numbers in Scotland. The black grouse population has now declined to the point where the species is a high conservation concern and action is needed to halt their decline. Two thirds of remaining black grouse in the UK are found in Scotland.

The study found that the bird is under huge pressure in the southwest of Scotland, where the number of male birds at the studied leks stood at 70 in 1989, but had declined to zero by 2018. In south-east Scotland, the decline of male birds in the same was from 320 to 44.

Leks that were still occupied in 2018 had more rough grassland and less conifer woodland cover nearby than extinct leks, but declines were similar across management types. Leks on moorland that was managed for driven red grouse shooting had twice as many males.

This study showed the importance of moorland and rough grassland as a habitat for black grouse, and questioned what the effect of the Scottish government’s aim to increase woodland cover would be. With moorland fringe habitats likely to be targeted for further planting, the availability of the black grouse’s moorland fringe habitats would be reduced and the habitat for predators of black grouse increased.