Wetland birds are thriving on shooting estates in Scotland, bucking national trends of decline, according to counts collated by the Scottish Gamekeepers' Association

Results from a count collated as part of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association’s “Year of the Wader” initiative have shown that vulnerable birds do well on keepered estates.

The data have been given a warm welcome because they come shortly after national declines in many wetland birds were revealed. Four out of five species of wading birds covered by the Scottish Government’s recently published Biodiversity Strategy were recorded as showing “significant declines”. The 2014 Wetland Bird Survey, the results of which were released this summer, also recorded falls in the numbers of birds including ringed plovers, grey plovers, oystercatchers and curlew.

The SGA results, however, show that the birds are doing much better on shooting estates, where heather is managed and predator numbers are controlled. One estate in Highland Perthshire, which employs two full-time grouse keepers, recorded a 360 per cent rise in numbers of curlew, considerably higher than a 54 per cent regional rise in the curlew population of the region as a whole reported by the Tayside Wader Survey.

Regionally, numbers of oystercatchers fell by eight per cent, but rose by an impressive 121 per cent on land managed for shooting. Lapwing did not fare quote so well in the area, with an overall regional decline of 68 per cent; however on keepered ground the decline was only six per cent. The SGA wader survey has also helped to produce more detailed maps of bird distributions, making it easier to monitor population fluctuations in the future.

SGA chairman Alex Hogg said that the association was particulalry pleased with the results, saying: “Through our 2014 SGA Year of the Wader project, we now have wader counts in from grouse moors in the Borders, Tayside, Speyside and Invernessshire, and the birds are faring well thanks to the work of the keepers who are putting the hard graft in to help these threatened birds, which have no protection otherwise from the larger predators that dwarf them increasingly in number.

“Viable grouse shooting means estates can afford to pay keepers to do this vital conservation work without any need for public money. If you removed this model, the bill would have to come from the public purse and vast swathes of Scotland’s heather moorland, more endangered than the rainforest, would be increasingly under threat from afforestation.”

At the same time, the Countryside Alliance (CA) has announced that populations of many of the UK’s birds of prey are at their highest levels ever. According to the CA’s report, Birds of Prey of the UK and their Population Trends, reasons for the high numbers include the banning of organochlorine pesticides, restrictions on the use of certain poisons, changing attitudes to raptor management among landowners and gamekeepers, and full legal protection being given to all raptor species.

Only two of the 52 species designated as being of high conservation concern by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are birds of prey — the white-tailed eagle and the hen harrier. The CA is one of a number of shooting and countryside organisations supporting calls for DEFRA to publish its Joint Recovery Plan for hen harriers to produce a sustainable increase in the number of breeding pairs in the UK.