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

Black grouse flying high following English counts

Conservationists involved in the turbulent recovery process of the rare black grouse in the north of England are jubilant because more than 1,000 male black grouse were recorded in the recent spring counts of the English population.

This spring, Phil Warren, the black grouse recovery officer, has coordinated a survey that has involved dawn visits to their traditional spring mating or lek sites each morning to count each and every bird. He is naturally thrilled about the result and said, “This is absolutely fabulous news and we can now confidently announce that the English black grouse population has finally turned the corner.”

The English black grouse counts are carried out every four years and since 1998, when the population stood at just 800 males, there has been a slow but steady increase in numbers. The last count in 2002 recorded 893 male birds and this year’s figure of 1,023 male birds gives renewed hope of achieving the next phase of the project, which is to extend the range of this magnificent bird.

Dr Dave Baines, from The Game Conservancy Trust - joint lead partner in the black grouse UK Biodiversity Action Plan with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), said, “This year has definitely been a milestone for black grouse recovery in England. We have managed to secure project funding for a further five years and the core population has risen to an all-time high during the project period. The drive is now on to firmly extend their range into former haunts on the southern and northern fringes of their range.”

Dr Mark Avery, of the RSPB, said: “We are delighted to see this milestone result for the North Pennines Recovery Project. It is a ray of hope following the gloomy UK picture shown by last year’s national survey.

“Excitingly, black grouse have increased in other areas of England and Wales too, including Lake Vyrnwy and Geltsdale RSPB reserves, where numbers of displaying males have doubled since last year.”

The Raby Estate within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty works closely with the Black Grouse Recovery Project and is a shining example of how grouse moor management by the estate’s gamekeepers combined with sympathetic farming using agri-environment schemes, supports 13% of the English population. Lord Barnard, owner of Raby Estate, is delighted with the latest figures and said, “Overall this project has been most successful, although Teesdale probably had the most black grouse before the project began. This has been and continues to be a very worthwhile project.”