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Black grouse in southern Scotland focus of a new conservation plan

A new strategic conservation plan has been launched on 1 July 2016 outlining management required to stop the decline of black grouse in southern Scotland, increase numbers and encourage recolonisation of lost range. The plan was launched by Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, at the GWCT Scottish Game Fair in the grounds of Scone Palace, Perthshire.

The plan, Black grouse conservation in southern Scotland – Phase 2 development of a regional strategic conservation plan has been funded by project partners the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Lammermuirs Moorland Group, Scottish Borders Council and RSPB Scotland

A number of priority actions have been set out in the plan that aims to reverse the long term decline of black grouse in the region.  This has accelerated in recent decades, with numbers falling by 49% and 69% in south west and south east Scotland respectively between 1995/6 and 2005 to an estimated 807 and 257 males.  

The new plan (Phase 2) follows a desk-top project in 2013/14 by GWCT, SNH and the Southern Uplands Partnership, Black grouse conservation in southern Scotland, that looked specifically at the size and management of moorland areas and how this affected black grouse occupancy and numbers. This report concluded that to effectively conserve black grouse in southern Scotland a landscape-scale strategic approach was required.  The fundamental objectives being to secure and protect core populations associated with the larger moorland areas, prior to instigating measures to increase population size and the connectivity with other moorland in the landscape.

Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, said:  

Black grouse are among Scotland’s most iconic and impressive species but I am aware numbers in southern Scotland have fallen in recent decades. To halt this decline, it is therefore vital that we work together to take the right conservation action in the right places.  

That is what this plan aims to do. By collaborating across many sectors - on work such as enhancing habitats, restructuring forests and maintaining our heathland network – we can contribute to efforts to conserve this magnificent woodland bird. I am very pleased to launch this plan and that the Scottish Government is able to support it through the Scottish Rural Development Programme.

The new plan outlines three sets of priority actions, short, medium and long term.

Short term

Increase breeding productivity and over-winter survival of black grouse in the Tweedsmuir and Moorfoot Hills and the Galloway Forest Park, to provide ‘recruits’ to re-colonise neighbouring areas. This will be achieved by enhancing habitat on the moorland fringe through agri-environment/woodland schemes, forest management and targeted predator management.  Also, to establish a robust surveying and monitoring strategy to monitor populations and assess success of the work done through the course of the project.

Medium term

Implement immediate conservation measures to safeguard remnant black grouse populations in the Muirkirk Hills, East Galloway and the Lowther Hills.  To retain and consolidate connectivity between populations in the west and east, through restoring and enhancing moorland habitat networks, forest restructuring and targeted broadleaf planting.

Promote range recolonisation in the Lammermuir and Pentland Hills from the Moorfoots through agri-environment schemes on heather moorland fringes with full-time gamekeepers.  Translocation is also proposed as an option in the plan to expand the range of the birds into previously occupied areas where suitable habitat has been restored.

Long term

Restore and enhance connectivity between Langholm and the Tweedsmuir Hills through retention and maintenance of a heathland network east of Craik Forest, as well as investigating similar linkage north through Eskdalemuir. Also, to restore functional habitat links and connectivity between Galloway Forest Park southwards to Cairnmore to create a larger, more robust population in the south-west.

Dr Philip Warren of the GWCT and author of the plan said:

This strategic plan provides an important platform for all parties to deliver black grouse conservation objectives in southern Scotland.  In the short term we need to target resources to secure remaining populations whilst in the longer term putting in place a network of habitat corridors to enhance connectivity and facilitate future range colonisation.

Dr Sue Haysom of SNH welcomed the moves and said the Scottish Government’s Environmental Co-operation Action Fund (ECAF) and Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) provide useful resources. She said:

We are committed to black grouse conservation in Scotland – we want to ensure generations to come can enjoy the sight of this species displaying in all its glory,” she said. “It is an important link in our biodiversity chain and this partnership project, assisted by SRDP and ECAF, aims to support those who wish to do something positive for black grouse. The objective is to target our collaborative efforts in the most effective way and this plan shows us how.

Duncan Orr-Ewing from RSPB Scotland said:

RSPB Scotland welcome this report and its focus on landscape scale conservation and active habitat management. We will work with partners to make sure this report is implemented on the ground.

The Lammermuirs Moorland Group has helped with funding because of their members’ strong desire to see black grouse flourishing again in the Lammermuir Hills.  The evidence in the North of England shows a close correlation with red grouse management, particularly predator control.  The grouse moor estates in the Lammermuirs can provide practical input to help range recolonisation from the Moorfoot Hills and look forward to working with the GWCT and other partners on delivery of the conservation plan.

Black grouse conservation in southern Scotland – Phase 2 Development of a regional strategic conservation planhas been prepared by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust on behalf of the Scottish Borders Council, Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Lammermuirs Moorland Group.

The full plan is available to download from


Further information from:

Dr Philip Warren

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

T: 01833 651936


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