Cattle could prevent grouse decline

Grazing cattle could be a contributor to the future survival of rapidly declining game bird the black grouse, new research has found.

A study 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.

Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) has highlighted the findings, claiming Scottish livestock farmers could play an important part of a concerted effort to put the bird on a surer footing in Scotland.

Andy McGowan, QMS head of industry development, 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.”

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. Meanwhile 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.

Dr Phil Warren, one of the researchers for the GWCT, added: “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.”

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