Rare bird numbers nearly back to record breaking high in north Wales

The number of rare black grouse in a part of north Wales is almost back to 2011 record breaking high numbers (328 lekking males were counted) due to work to protect them and improve their habitat.

In north Wales, there were only around 140 displaying black grouse males left in 1980’s and the extinction of one of Wales’ most enigmatic bird seemed likely.

However, recent dawn surveys by staff from Natural Resources Wales, RSPB Cymru, Denbighshire County Council and many other organisations, has revealed that almost 320 lekking males were counted this spring. So following two years of lower counts (2012 there were 297 counted and in 2013, 249 were counted), black grouse numbers seem to be making a comeback.

The bird has been in serious decline and had disappeared from all of south and most of mid-Wales by 2000, matching declines in England and other parts of western Europe.

Habitat management, predator control and last years’ dry, warm summer are thought to be the reasons for the continuing increase in the population.

Long term habitat management work has been undertaken by farmers, foresters, and organisations such as the Wynnstay Estate, RSPB Cymru, Natural Resources Wales and many others.

This has involved blocking up ditches to restore wetter, more insect rich bogs; controlling the spread of bracken; and cutting and burning heather to create more varied habitat for black grouse to feed and shelter.

The improved upland habitat also has wider benefits, improved carbon storage which helps combat climate change, whilst the land slowly releases rain water into rivers helping to reduce flood peaks during periods of heavy rain.

The increase has particularly been seen on Ruabon Mountain, near Wrexham, where in addition to habitat management, gamekeepers carry out a significant amount of predator control, meaning that crows and foxes are less likely to eat eggs and chicks.

Nick Thomas, Protected Sites Manager for Natural Resources Wales said:

“Like many ground nesting birds, black grouse were in serious decline so it is very encouraging that the increases of black grouse observed in recent years has continued.

“As the Welsh population is now the most southerly in the UK, many bird watchers flock to the area to get a glimpse of this beautiful bird and stay overnight, which benefits local hotels and restaurants.

“It is vital that we work to protect our wildlife and halt declines in species like the grouse. They are an important part of our environment, our identity and our economy."

Stephen Bladwell, RSPB Cymru Biodiversity Manager said:

“The project demonstrates how practical habitat management for conservation can work and add value to existing management and the local economy.

"In addition to the excellent results for black grouse, other species are benefiting on Ruabon, with curlew numbers holding up and golden plover returning to breed. This demonstrated the value of sustainable farming, game management and conservation - all important components in the future of our uplands."

Captain Tim Bell, Manager of the Wynnstay Estate said:

"We have been working in partnership with RSPB Cymru and Natural Resources Wales to manage Ruabon Moor since the late 1990s. Here we have seen a steady improvement in some of the key wildlife characteristics and habitats of this moor.”

Harry Williams-Wynn, owner of Ruabon Moor said:

“The keepering staff have done some excellent work on the site to improve it for the black grouse. Their hard work has helped this iconic species recover on Ruabon. We hope that numbers continue to grow in years to come.”

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