Concern as grouse numbers fall by 22%

NEW conservation efforts are being planned to halt the decline of the black grouse, which has disappeared from many parts of Britain.

The birds were once found across the country, but the latest national survey, covering Scotland, England and Wales, shows the total of displaying males fell from 6,506 in 1995-96 to 5,078 in 2005, a drop of 22 per cent.

The bird has retreated northwards as numbers fall and Scotland now holds the bulk of the population, although it has shown a decrease here also. Scotland has 66 per cent of the British population but the number of males has dropped by 29 per cent - from 4,719 to 3,344 - according to the survey.

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The biggest declines were found in Lothian and Borders (69 per cent), Dumfries and Galloway and southern Argyll (49 per cent).

Stuart Housden, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' Scotland director, said:

"The black grouse requires a mix of forest edge and moorland habitats to thrive. The work to create the conditions that the bird needs can be funded through grants to landowners.

"It is important that these resources are well directed to ensure the maximum benefit for black grouse will be delivered."

But the Scottish Gamekeepers' Association (SGA) has questioned the RSPB's plans. Alex Hogg, the SGA chairman, agreed that every effort must be made to enhance the black grouse's chances of survival, but said a recent scientific report showed that the decline of the birds was mainly blamed on falcons and hawks.