Black Grouse Saved from Extinction

The Black Grouse appears on the IUCN Red List of endangered species and was considered to be one of the bird species most likely to become extinct. However, through the dedicated efforts of conservation groups over the past two decades, the dramatic decline of this rare bird has not only been halted, but turned around, and Black Grouse numbers in the northern Pennines are slowly rising.

The Black Grouse was once plentiful in all the counties of England, but by 1910 it had disappeared from all the southern counties. The Black Grouse can still be seen in most of Scotland and in the upland areas of Wales, but the population in England is restricted to Northumberland, North Yorkshire, County Durham and Cumbria. As a signature species of upland moorland, as well as being a key indicator species, the Black Grouse is considered to be an important bird in the environment. It is also one of the relatively few bird species which has a lek – gathering of male birds in a competitive mating display – at breeding season.

Under the direction of Dr. David Baines and Dr. Phil Warren, the North Pennines Black Grouse Recovery Project is a joint conservation project by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, RSPB, Natural England, Ministry of Defense, Northumbrian Water and North Pennines AONB Partnership. The reasons behind the decline of Black Grouse numbers was a key aspect of the study. It was established that overgrazing by sheep has resulted in a significant loss of suitable habitats for the Black Grouse. Another factor affecting the Black Grouse population is the increase in the number of predators, including Carrion Crows and Red Foxes. Additionally there has been a reduction in the number of insects, which are essential in the diet of young Black Grouse chicks.

Using this information, conservationists were able to formulate a recovery program which, with the co-operation of landowners and gamekeepers, is showing positive results. Numbers of grazing sheep were cut, allowing the vegetation to recover in overgrazed areas, thereby providing cover and food for the birds. Also, gamekeepers are working to keep predators under control on the fringes of moorland and woodland, which are the Black Grouses’ preferred nesting areas.

Surveys conducted throughout the Black Grouse habitat area in northern England revealed that there has been a 4% increase of males between 1998 and 2006. Although conservationists believe that it is unlikely that the Black Grouse will ever return to the southern counties, they are hopeful that a significant recovery of Black Grouse will be experienced in the counties down the northern area of the Pennine Chain, as well as into the Forest of Bowland. Based on the success of the North Pennines Black Grouse Recovery Project, similar projects are likely to be implemented for the conservation of other threatened bird species.