Early morning spring counts just completed by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust?s (GWCT) researchers revealed that numbers of blackgrouse in north-west Northumberland have collapsed from 100 males to just six since 2002 and that the bird there is now facing ?imminent extinction?.

The GWCT is remaining positive, despite warning that the blackgrouse has suffered a ?devastating decline? over the past 12 months in other areas of the country.

However, there is much better news in other parts. Figures show that the 2010 population of 500 males in the north Pennines and Yorkshire Dales has grown to 820 this spring.

Fran Atterton, GWCT?s blackgrouse project officer, said: ?Overall these are fantastic results and are a credit to the conservation work that has been invested in our moorland fringes over the past 15 years by moorland gamekeepers, land managers and farmers.?

The bird?s fortunes have been affected by a series of weather-related setbacks over the past few years.

The exceptional snowfall and freezing temperatures of winter 2009/10 caused the population in northern England to crash to an all-time low of 500 males.

Fran Atterton said: ?Further work is still required to safeguard this bird in northern England. We have recently launched Woodlands for Black Grouse, a project that encourages landowners to establish small pockets of woodland to provide an emergency food source and cover in severe winters.?

Another boost for the bird?s fragile population is a successful translocation trial in the Yorkshire Dales.

Dr Phil Warren, the GWCT scientist in charge of the project, said: ?We are now seeing males carrying out their unforgettable mating display in areas where they have been absent for 15 years or more.?