15th July 2010

Cattle could help stop decline of black grouse

Grazing cattle could be a contributor to the future survival of iconic but rapidly declining game bird, the black grouse.

New research by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has revealed that black grouse are breeding better in fields grazed by cattle, due to the abundance of the insects young chicks need to survive.

The research showed that fields grazed by cattle had twice as many sawfly larvae, a major constituent of the diet of newly hatched black grouse chicks.

Scottish livestock farmers could play an important part of a concerted effort to put the bird on a surer footing in Scotland.

Andy McGowan, Head of Industry Development at Quality Meat Scotland said: “This new research further underlines the important part that agriculture plays in protecting and enhancing Scotland’s vibrant environment.

“The traditional methods of Livestock rearing favoured throughout Scotland have a part to play in helping support the biodiversity of the Scottish countryside and moves such as effective tick control on sheep can offer health benefits for many more species than just the affected livestock.”

Dr Phil Warren, one of the researchers for the GWCT, said, “We cannot control the weather, so therefore we need to ensure that breeding habitats are rich in key insects, and that nest predators such as crows, foxes and stoats are controlled to maximise breeding success when weather conditions are good.

“If we can improve the abundance of insects, particularly sawfly larvae then this could dramatically improve the future survival of this enigmatic bird species in the Uplands.  This early research shows that cattle grazing could hold the key.”

The GWCT is now working with farmers and landowners in the Lammermuir Hills with support from the Scottish Rural Development Programme to encourage black grouse recovery.And in Strathspey, members of the Black Grouse Group  have monitored more than 100 leks – gatherings of males for competitive mating display – illustrating an upward trend in numbers

The GWCT is now in the process of forming additional Black Grouse Groups in Tayside and north-east Scotland where they have identified large contiguous areas of upland and marginal land with black grouse populations and under extensive private sector land management.

Andy McGowan said: “Quality Meat Scotland, the NFUS and SAOS have made an industry wide commitment to help reduce the environment impact of livestock farming in Scotland, and initiatives like this show that efficient and productive farming can have a positive impact far wider than just the livestock being farmed.”

To download a copy of “Producing More With Less – A Joint Industry Commitment on Climate Change” please visit the QMS website, www.qmscotland.co.uk

Image: A. Rouse.

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