Borders crucial to grouse plan

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A new conservation plan has been launched across southern Scotland aiming to arrest the decline in population of one its most iconic birds.

On July 1, the plan- titled Black grouse conservation in southern Scotland - was launched by Fergus Ewing, cabinet secretary for rural economy and connectivity, at the GWCT Scottish Game Fair in the grounds of Scone Palace, Perthshire.

It has been funded by project partners the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Lammermuirs Moorland Group, Scottish Borders Council and RSPB Scotland.

The decline in balck grouse numbers has accelerated in recent decades, with numbers falling by 49% and 69% in south west and south east Scotland respectively between 1995/6 and 2005.

That has left an estimated 807 birds, including 257 males.

Dr Philip Warren of the GWCT and author of the plan said this week: “This strategic plan provides an important platform for all parties to deliver black grouse conservation objectives in southern Scotland.

“In the short term we need to target resources to secure remaining populations whilst in the longer term putting in place a network of habitat corridors to enhance connectivity and facilitate future range colonisation.”

Black grouse are ‘red listed’ as a species of high conservation concern, and were a ‘priority species’ of the recent UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Two thirds of the remaining black grouse in the UK are now found in Scotland, with a stable population in the Scottish Highlands.

Southern Scotland, the area south of Glasgow, Edinburgh and the central belt, has now been identified as a high priority for future conservation of the species.

Locally, the Lammermuirs Moorland Group has helped with funding for the plan because of its members’ strong desire to see black grouse flourishing again in the Lammermuir Hills.

Cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing said at the plan’s launch: “Black grouse are among Scotland’s most iconic and impressive species but I am aware numbers in southern Scotland have fallen in recent decades.

“To halt this decline, it is therefore vital that we work together to take the right conservation action in the right places.

“That is what this plan aims to do. By collaborating across many sectors - on work such as enhancing habitats, restructuring forests and maintaining our heathland network – we can contribute to efforts to conserve this magnificent woodland bird.

“I am very pleased to launch this plan and that the Scottish Government is able to support it through the Scottish Rural Development Programme.”

The plan outlines short term aims for the plan, which builds on a 2014 project to conserve black grouse that looked at management of moorland areas.

These aims include an increase in the birds’ productivity as well as having more birds survive over the winter in the Tweedsmuir and Moorfoot Hills. It is hoped that this will then allow the birds to re-colonise neighbouring areas.

Such colonisation will require changes in land management, a feature welcomed by Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland.

He said this week: “RSPB Scotland welcome this report and its focus on landscape scale conservation and active habitat management.

“We will work with partners to make sure this report is implemented on the ground.”