Ending grouse moor management risks the decline and possible extinction of a range of ground-nesting bird species, a new study has revealed.
Research by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust looked at the impact of stopping grouse management on birds such as curlew, golden plover, lapwing, black grouse, hen harrier and merlin in south-west Scotland.
Studies were conducted in two special protection areas, Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands and Langholm/Newcastleton Hills.
Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman dismissed the report, calling it “naked spin that shows how worried the blood sports lobby has become”.
Findings include numbers of black grouse attending leks (breeding sessions) falling by 80 per cent in 15 years from the early 1990s. However, twice as many lekking males were found where gamekeepers were employed.
In Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands, where keepering has sharply declined, there was an 84 per cent drop in golden plover population, 88 per cent in lapwing and 61 per cent in curlew.
Lead author Dr Siân Whitehead said: “The declines in moorland birds may be attributed to changes in land use, including afforestation and agricultural intensification or abandonment, as well as a decline in the extent of grouse moor management.
“The impact of the latter is clearly illustrated in both case studies, in which significant drops in ground-nesting moorland birds happened in tandem with evident declines in levels of keepering.”
Mr Wightman said: “To argue the survival of some species depends on allowing an elite minority to continue to enjoy shooting another species for sport is frankly ludicrous. The reality is up to a fifth of Scotland’s land mass is taken up with grouse moors. Evidence shows almost any other use of that land would be more economically productive. As things are, that land is ‘managed’ by killing other species like hares and other birds just to maintain grouse numbers for this cruel hobby.
“The Scottish Government should call time on this Victorian blood sport, end the circle of killing and make sure Scotland’s land is for the benefit of all the creatures who live here.”