Windfarm funding to protect Black Grouse

Black Grouse lekking in Sweden. Photo: Billy Lindblom (commons.wikimedia.org).
Black Grouse lekking in Sweden. Photo: Billy Lindblom (commons.wikimedia.org).
Wind energy developer ScottishPower Renewables (SPR) is funding innovative research to help protect Black Grouse on its windfarms across Scotland.

As part of its commitment to habitat restoration and environmental stewardship, the devloper is undertaking management work for the benefit of Black Grouse across a number of its sites in Scotland in an effort to help prevent the species’ rapid decline.

SPR has an ecology team which oversees the habitat management and monitoring across all of its windfarms. At sites including Cruach Mhor in Argyll and Bute and Green Knowes in Perthshire, the team has overseen the creation of native woodland habitats, involving planting trees and the restoration of moorland areas.

SPR also plans to undertake a detailed study to track the movements of Black Grouse in relation to windfarms, following a collaborative study with Newcastle University. This project will look into the impact the presence of a windfarm has upon local Black Grouse populations.

SPR ecologists and researchers are working on a plan which will enable them to ‘tag’ the grouse by fitting them with harnesses carrying data loggers. This information will allow the ecologists to build a detailed picture of the birds’ movements. The SPR windfarm at Cruach Mhor on the Cowal Peninsula, Argyll and Bute, will be the first trial site for this project as the area is known to have one of the highest Black Grouse populations across SPR’s windfarms and in the whole Cowal area.

A motion sensor camera has been installed on site to identify areas commonly used by grouse for lekking or feeding. Once this has been identified, a trap will be set up and a qualified and licensed harness fitter will attach the tags. Data will then be collected as the grouse move around the site, and will be remotely downloaded at regular intervals for analysis and reporting.
By examining this data, the team will be able to study the impact of windfarms on the grouse. SPR best practice ensures that turbines are not built closer than 500 m to a Black grouse lek, and this project will help to understand how the gamebirds use the landscape around a windfarm.

A wide variety of native species have benefited from SPR’s continued habitat management projects, including Golden Eagle at the Beinn an Tuirc, Argyll. An extensive Habitat Management Plan covering an area of 1,680 ha has been managed for the benefit of the raptors. This has included the restoration of heather moorland from commercial conifer plantation to boost the numbers of prey, including Red Grouse. Since 2008, the eagles have fledged six chicks, making them one of the most productive pairs in Argyll in recent years.

Between 2010 and 2012, SPR also provided £5,000 per annum to RSPB Scotland towards the funding of a specialist Black Grouse Officer, and the research work SPR is currently undertaking marks a continuation in the company’s sustained ecological efforts.

Doug Shapley of RSPB Scotland said: “We welcome this new study by ScottishPower Renewables and Newcastle University. Black Grouse are a red list species, meaning they are of the highest conservation priority in the UK. Numbers have declined throughout Argyll and this is one of the few areas of Cowal where the species still occurs, albeit at a lower population level. Habitat management is really important to helping these birds, and we’re interested to see what the tagging might reveal about how they use the landscape at these sites.”