Ravens are tagged on Langholm Moor

Langholm Moor Project head scientist Sonja Ludwig with her pointer Zola
Langholm Moor Project head scientist Sonja Ludwig with her pointer Zola

The unique Langholm Moor Project’s head scientist Sonja Ludwig has been in post for a year now.

The 10-year project, started in 2008, is a partnership between moor owner Buccleuch Estates, Scottish and English conservation agencies, and conservation and research charities looking at birds of prey conservation and grouse shooting coexisting.

Sonja said: “The work has been highly interesting but also challenging, especially bringing people with different opinions together and maintaining a neutral position.”

On her watch, the project became the first in the UK to fit juvenile ravens with radio transmitters at Langholm, earlier this year.

She explained: “In previous years breeding success of red grouse has been very poor due to low nesting success, i.e. the proportion of nests which successfully hatched at least one chick, as well as low chick survival. Some anecdotal evidence has pointed towards a potential impact of ravens (predation of eggs and small chicks).

“To complement the information we hoped to gain from an intensified monitoring of grouse nesting success and chicks survival this year, we fitted some juvenile ravens with radio-transmitters.

“The main aim was to obtain information about home range size and movements of raven family groups during the critical period for grouse reproduction, and to collect pellets at night roosts for dietary analysis.

“This is the first time that the British Trust for Ornithology has issued a licence for fitting radio-tags to ravens in the UK: it is an exciting pilot project.”

The 38-year-old scientist was born in Germany and currently lives in Langholm.

Following her biology diploma from the University of Oldenburg – when her thesis was on habitat selection in black grouse – Sonja completed a PhD in Behavioural Biology about mate choice decisions in common terns, also at Oldenburg. During her PhD studies she was also a research assistant on several projects in Germany and the UK, including studying ring ouzels in Scotland with the RSPB and working on a study on red grouse with the University of Aberdeen.

After her PhD, she spent two years as a research assistant in Austria, on a study of Greylag geese before joining the Langholm project last September where she is senior scientist with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), one of the project’s partners.

Asked what attracted her to the Langholm post, she said: “I wanted to return to doing more applied and ecological research, and as I was familiar with previous research projects of two of the partner organisations (GWCT and RSPB), I thought it would be a great opportunity to work in a project where both organisations are cooperating.

“Conflicts between hunters and nature conservationists are widespread, and as I can understand the positions of both parties, I liked the idea of contributing to a mediating process.”

She hopes to progress the project by concentrating on scientific monitoring and objective research.

She said: “I would like to complement the ongoing monitoring programme with the application of new methods.”

And she added: “In general, I think that an experimental approach might sometimes be better suited in addressing specific questions than mere monitoring and observation.”