Before leaving Islay I was discussing with Malcolm Ogilvie the rather sad circumstances surrounding Black Grouse on both Islay and Jura. Reports from various local people suggest that, in the 1980's, Black Grouse was both widespread and relatively plentiful on the islands. That now stands in stark contrast to the current situation where the species might still be present, but is most certainly in very low numbers and in danger of being lost completely.
At the risk of being labelled an "avian Jonah" such discussions resonate with my previous experience of having seen the species undergo similar drastic, and then more gradual, final reductions in both the Peak District and in the Forest of Bowland. In both areas the sad sight of a forlorn single male lekking alone over a couple of seasons, with no other birds being seen throughout the period despite searching, is not particularly edifying. Indeed the recent past history of the Black Grouse genearally has been a cause for concern. In past times the species was relatively common and was even found in suitable habitats in southern and eastern England. In 1970 there was an estimated 25,000 lekking males, but this total had reduced to around 5000 when a further survey was completed in 2005.
The current population is centred on the adjoining areas of Cumbria, Northumberland, County Durham and North Yorkshire. The last two breeding seasons have seen a successful recovery by an overall population that had suffered the effects of the previous very bad winter. Indeed, such has been that success that it has provided the very means that might now see Black Grouse returned to some of their former haunts!
Male Black Grouse are stick at home types that apparently are highly unlikely to move more than half a mile from where they were born. Young females,by contrast, are much more likely to move up to four miles to seek out new and favourable areas in which to breed. These intensive studies of the species by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust in recent times might just have identified key elements upon which positive conservation actions can now be based. In the major traditional strongholds for the species the past two seasons has seen a welcome surplus of male birds being produced. Fifteen of these were captured and transferred AT NIGHT into an area where birds were present previously, but which had been abandoned in recent times. Not only did the translocated birds settle down , prosper, and commence to lek but they've attracted female birds too. I think a popular summary would be , BINGO, A RESULT!!! The birds will continue to be monitored and only future years will determine how matters evolve. After so much research in the past on habitat requirements and management techniques that have only had a mixed success, this innovative approach may yet provide the simple, fundamental ingredient that was so desperately needed.
Well done, GWCT!!