Published in support of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan for black grouse

Ecology

Where do black grouse live?

Historically, the natural habitat of the black grouse is likely to have been clearings in and at the edges of the forests which once covered much of Britain, but which are now confined to a few parts of Scotland.

The main requirements for black grouse are reasonably dense vegetation cover for roosting, brood rearing and nesting and protection from predators. The ideal habitat structure would be a mixture of mature woodland such as Scots pine and birch, and a scrub layer (e.g. birch and willow) providing a patchwork of young and widely spaced trees with a well-developed understorey of heather and bilberry and open, herb-rich, boggy areas that can support a diverse invertebrate population.

As in many other parts of Europe, black grouse have adapted to other habitats, such as open rough grazing and hay meadows, often on the moorland fringe. This means that for several centuries they have lived in areas dominated by heather moorland and grazing, with few trees, such as in the North Pennines. During the 1950s and 1960s, young conifer plantations became an important habitat for black grouse, though this habitat becomes less suitable as plantations mature: heather and bilberry, on which black grouse depend, are lost as the tree canopy closes.

Black grouse need a mosaic of habitats, because they depend on different components at different times of the year, and they do not travel great distances. During the breeding season, both males (cocks) and females (hens) are sedentary, males being particularly loyal to small core areas no larger than 1.5 km² (approximately 680 acres). Females will wander further, especially in their first year, dispersing up to 25 km (15.5 miles) to find lekking males and an area of good habitat in which to rear their young. Brood rearing areas may be as small as 5 ha (32 acres), within 1.5 km (a mile) of the lek provided there is ample shelter and insects.

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