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

Code of Conduct

This Code of Conduct for Birdwatchers has been produced by leading birdwatching magazines and conservation organisations, with support of the Scottish Government, so that birdwatchers can ensure that every effort is made to help black grouse. The full version of the Code also includes important information if you are planning to watch capercaillie, a woodland grouse in even more serious trouble. As birdwatchers, it is vital that we take our responsibilities seriously and take care to avoid harming these wonderful but scarce birds.

Disappearing grouse
As you will have seen elsewhere on this website, essential initiatives are tackling declines in black grouse through reductions in grazing by sheep and deer, increasing quality habitat and the removal or marking of deer fences. However, black grouse need all the help that we can give them, right now.

Black grouse 'lek' as part of their mating ritual, generally in spring. The lek is essential to the birds’ breeding success, but they are easily disturbed. If this happens in the key period during April to early May, they may not mate at all.

Top tips when watching black grouse

  1. 1. Avoid looking for black grouse after heavy snowfalls, when birds are under stress.
  2. 2. View leks from a vehicle. Black grouse pay little attention to stationary vehicles that are at least 100 metres away. Ensure that you do not block access and that your presence will not disturb nearby residents. Avoid approaching a lek on foot, which usually disturbs the birds.
  3. 3. Arrive before daybreak. A vehicle stopping once it is light can disturb the birds. Stay in your vehicle and watch quietly through binoculars and telescopes. Get the flask of coffee from the boot before your vigil! Don't start the engine until after lekking has wound down, usually about two hours after dawn. Alternatively, consider watching a lek in the evening.
  4. 4. Keep to footpaths, especially in June and July, when there may be nesting females and young birds present. Do not go looking for black grouse in heather or thick field vegetation, especially in woodland (birds may fly into deer fences, with lethal consequences, if flushed).
  5. 5. Do not bring dogs into the field when you're watching grouse.

Thank you
We hope that this code will be supported by Britain's birdwatchers. Please follow the guidelines in addition to the Birdwatchers' Code of Conduct (also, please refer to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code). We are all working to ensure that black grouse continue to inspire wonder, so we must present a responsible image to others, particularly those on whose support their future may rest. Please help this effort by being responsible and sensible when looking for these birds.

A copy of the full code of conduct (including advice on watching capercaillies) can be downloaded here: Code of Conduct (pdf 84k)

This code has been produced by the RSPB, supported by The Scottish Government and in partnership with BBC Wildlife, Birding Scotland, Birding World, Birdwatch, Bird Watching, British Birds, British Trust for Ornithology, The Scottish Ornithologists' Club and the black grouse and capercaillie Biodiversity Action Plan steering groups.