RSPB Can't see the grouse for the trees


New study to aid recovery plan for endangered species

This page contains 1 reader comment. Click here to view (latest Fri 29/12/06 13:21).

Black Grouse: Aberdeenshire (photo: Chris Jones).

A direct link has been established for the first time between falling Black Grouse numbers and maturing commercial forestry plantations, according to the results of a major new study by RSPB Scotland and the Perthshire Black Grouse Study Group.

Conversely, Black Grouse can prosper while forests are young, and so the results of the long term study suggest a way forward for land managers to encourage Black Grouse.

Male Black Grouse (known as blackcock) gather in spring at communal display areas called leks to attract mates, making them relatively easy to count. The Perthshire Black Grouse Study Group counted the birds at these leks across a 700 sqkm area of Highland Perthshire from 1990, and numbers declined by almost 70% by 2002, raising fears of the species' local extinction. The authors of the study compared these counts with observations of habitat derived from a detailed satellite image of the area taken in 2000, relating the change in population to the changes in habitat over that period.

As in many parts of the British uplands, large commercial conifer forests were widely planted in the study area from the 1950s – 1980s, and the main habitat change during the study was the maturation of these plantations. While those trees were young, they were an ideal habitat for Black Grouse, as the associated growth of heather, blaeberry and other plants provided food, shelter and cover for chicks. However, once trees reach the stage where the canopy closes in such plantations (about 15-20 years in Perthshire), the ground flora is shaded out and the forests are generally avoided by Black Grouse.

The challenge for foresters is to produce forests that will hold Black Grouse permanently. Historically, birch and other native woodland and scrub fulfilled this role in Perthshire, but much of this habitat has been lost. There are signs of hope, however, and over the last decade, Forestry Commission Scotland in Perthshire has, where possible, sought to restore such habitats by encouraging the planting of native woodlands. This may be one reason for recent signs of revival in the fortunes of Black Grouse in Perthshire (note below). The Forestry Commission is now working with the RSPB, and SNH in Perthshire and elsewhere to develop forest management methods which will allow Black Grouse populations to be maintained in commercial conifer forests also.

Dr James Pearce Higgins, lead author of the study, said: "We’re not saying that extensive forest is necessarily a bad thing; but for Black Grouse to be successful demands a delicate balance to be maintained between several types of habitat. The ideal landscape for these birds contains a mix of heather moorland, rough grassland, wet flushes and open woodland or scrub. When forest plantations are young, they provide the open woodland and scrub component, but of course trees grow, and once the forest canopy closes the grouse are largely excluded from that area of the landscape. The challenge is to maintain the required mix of forest and moorland habitats within a commercially managed landscape, and these results should help us to do this."

Study findings may have wide relevance to efforts in other parts of the country to encourage Black Grouse numbers, where the impact of dense, non-native plantations is most keenly felt.

Further information

The most recent estimate of the British population of Black Grouse is 5078 lekking males in 2005, a 22% decline from the previous estimate only 10 years earlier. The species is on the RSPB red list of birds of conservation concern (the highest category for concern).

c.65% of the British population exists in Scotland, preferring uplands with a mixture of heath, woodland and shrubs. An estimated 800 lekking males were present in the study area in 1990, falling to 270 in 2002, a 66% decline in that period. This current population of 396 lekking males in the Perthshire study area indicates that the population is now showing signs of a partial recovery, and represents a sizeable fraction of the national total.

The role of forest maturation in causing the decline of Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix will be published in the scientific journal Ibis in January, and is available online now at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/toc/ibi/0/0.

Related pages

Black Grouse Black Grouse

Related articles

RSPB Court gives go-ahead to massive windfarm scheme despite RSPB protests RSPB Court gives go-ahead to massive windfarm scheme despite RSPB protests
A £10-billion offshore renewable energy development on the Firths of Forth and Tay has been allowed to proceed after a court ruling. read on read on
RSPB Tagged European Turtle Dove returns to Essex RSPB Tagged European Turtle Dove returns to Essex
An East Anglian European Turtle Dove has become only the second individual to have its migratory route mapped from the UK to West Africa and back. read on read on
RSPB Second documented case of raptor persecution discontinued by court RSPB Second documented case of raptor persecution discontinued by court
RSPB Scotland has expressed its frustration and disappointment after another prosecution of an individual charged with wildlife crime offences was discontinued by the Crown Office in Scotland. read on read on
RSPB New project launched to save Scotland's rarest insects RSPB New project launched to save Scotland's rarest insects
A new project is being launched in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park to save six of Scotland's rarest invertebrates. read on read on
RSPB Oxford Swift City project takes flight RSPB Oxford Swift City project takes flight
The two-year Oxford Swift City project will officially launch on Saturday 6 May, and hopes to raise awareness of the decline in numbers of this vulnerable species. read on read on

The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (1)

There are now several commercial birch that can be used rather than conifers to produce timber. Growing rates can be better than the conifers. A mix of Xmas trees and birch can produce an early crop for the farmer/forester. In most cases ploughing is not necessery as wind blow will brake up the iron pan. Planting in North Cumbria has shown that black grouse will use these areas as bilberry will flurish under the birch. These birch even improve the grazing so can still be used by farmers but non stocked areas are far better for the grouse. Deer can be a problem at the establishment stage and need to be controlled not just because of the grazing but the increase of tick numbers.
   john miles, 29/12/06 13:21Report inappropriate post Report 

Back to top Back to top

Latest edition Latest edition
Search articles Search articles
All articles All articles
Popular articles Popular articles
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Terms of Sale | Cookie Policy | About us | Advertise | Contact us
BirdGuides, Warners Group Publications PLC, The Chocolate Factory, 5 Clarendon Road, London N22 6XJ
© 2017 BirdGuides and Warners Group Publications plc. All Rights Reserved. Company Registered in England no. 2572212 | VAT registration No. GB 638 3492 15
Sales: or tel. 0800 919391 · International Sales: +44 (0)1778 391180 · Office: or tel. 020 8826 0934

Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites