Tuesday 23 July 2019


Remember Berwyn? 

Well, it seems Scotland has suffered similar declines in ground-nesting moorland birds, as was witnessed in Wales. 

Again, these declines can be associated with the loss of management for red grouse.

People were rightly horrified- and governments took notice- when the full extent of species decline became apparent at Berwyn SPA. 

When driven grouse shooting ceased and gamekeepers left the moors, Lapwing became regionally extinct, there was a 90 percent loss of Golden Plover and a 79 percent reduction in Curlew.

This occurred between two study periods (1983-85 and 2002). 

Berwyn was held up as an example of what happens when grouse moor management ceases and gamekeeping stops.

Governments woke up and, now, UK and EU funding has been made available for moorland restoration work.

A new research paper by Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, funded by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Land and Estates, has found similar alarming trends in the South West of Scotland.

This is an area where management for red grouse previously took place but no longer happens.

Using existing datasets from BTO surveys, RSPB and Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, plus some new fieldwork, the research paper identified some insightful - and deeply worrying - trends.

The research looked at the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands SPA in the South of Scotland.

Moorland transect surveys at Muirkirk and Garpel covering 2 periods, 1994 and 2009/2017,  (when gamekeepers managed the moors for red grouse and when they did not) showed a decline in Curlew abundance of 38 percent, associated with the cessation of grouse shooting at Muirkirk.

Golden Plover (a species for which the SPA still applies) and Redshank were no longer found at Muirkirk after gamekeepers were off the moor. 

Lapwing and Snipe observations halved from the time keepers were there and when they were not. 

At Garpel, repeat surveys, after the gamekeepers left, failed to find any Waders at all. 
Garpel was previously described as one of the most favourable sites in Britain for Golden Plover.

Upland Bird Surveys at Muirkirk, from the early 80s to 2015 showed an 84 percent decline in Golden Plover, an 88 percent decline in Lapwing and a 61 percent decline in Curlew.
“Thus waders and harriers declined in parallel with those of red grouse once levels of moorland management by gamekeepers had been reduced,” observed the report’s authors.

The research also looked at the Langholm- Newcastleton Hills SPA.

This is where grouse moor management took place in two phases as part of a multi-party project attempting to resolve conflicts between grouse management and raptors.

When gamekeepers were on the moors, Hen Harriers peaked at 20 breeding females in 1997. After the gamekeepers were removed in 2000, the breeding Harriers plummeted by 61 percent.

When the gamekeepers went back on the moor again in 2008, 12 breeding female Harriers were recorded in 2014 before the project was wound up. No Harrier chicks were lost to predation during the entire second phase of the Langholm Moor Demonstration project, when gamekeepers were on the moor.

Similarly, when it was being managed for grouse, the Langholm-Newcastleton Hills SPA boasted Hen Harrier breeding success more than twice that of the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands SPA or Glen App and Galloway Hills SPA (both designated for Harriers and where no grouse management takes place).

Grouse moor management is criticised by campaigners who say the moors are ‘burnt and barren deserts’ which are only home to grouse.

This research shows the opposite to be true. 

If you are a gamekeeper, take pride in what you deliver. Show your MSPs this work.