Two years ago the GWCT and the North Pennines Black Grouse Recovery Group found that the rare bird had exceeded its Biodiversity Action Plan target ahead of schedule with 1,200 males recorded in 2007. However, the past two years have witnessed the worst summer weather conditions for almost 18 years, and it is now feared that the North Pennines blackgrouse population may have fallen to 850 males.

“We have had two poor breeding years as a result of cold wet weather in June when the chicks hatch,” explained Dr Phil Warren, project officer for the North Pennines Black Grouse Recovery Project. “As a result, breeding productivity in both years was well below the 1.2 chicks per hen required to maintain a stable population. Weather conditions in June are a major factor

in limiting the recovery of blackgrouse populations. Therefore, it is imperative that when the weather conditions are favourable we maximise productivity by providing brood-rearing habitats rich in insects, particularly sawfly larvae, and step up the control of predators such as stoats.”

As part of the recovery process, the GWCT had wanted to expand the range of blackgrouse into former habitats. However, this plan has been hampered by poor breeding productivity and translocation trial work has been postponed because the technique is reliant on moving a surplus of males in good breeding years.

Dr Warren added: “This news shows the importance of conserving populations at levels that can withstand these periodic random factors such as weather. Our blackgrouse population in northern England is sufficiently large to withstand two or three years of such poor breeding. Of greater concern, however, is the impact of these random occurrences on small fragmented populations, such as those found in south-east Scotland.”

The rest of this article appears in 9 April issue of Shooting Times.

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