The tenant who currently works the Chayne remembers seeing fifty black grouse in a hay field behind the farm buildings. That was thirty years ago. Ten years have passed since he last saw one.
Black grouse have been on a massive decline in Britain since the mid nineteen sixties, when upgraded agricultural techniques destroyed their natural habitats and British Forestry Commision land was planted on an industrial scale. The birds spend much of their lives in and around trees, but the fast growing spruces and firs quickly crowd in so close together that they smother vital shoots of heather and blaeberry. In time, blocks of forestry become environmental wastelands, good for nothing except providing the world with low quality soft wood.
The Chayne is bordered on three sides by thick swathes of forestry land. It is harvested and replanted on a rotational basis, and there is a patchwork of blocks varying in age from mature woodland to recently replanted saplings. Assuming that the black grouse would have disappeared from the area many years beforehand, I resigned myself to the inevitable knowledge that they would never return. I was over the moon when the tenant shepherd told me otherwise.
Every morning during the lambing season, the shepherd had driven her quad bike along the boundaries of a strip of forestry in the furthest flung and most remote corner of the farm. Each morning, a bird that she described as “a huge black pheasant with a funny white tail” would emerge from the trees, duck its head and challenge her to a duel. She had no idea what it was, and not being particularly interested anyway, thought no more of it.
That was two years ago. The strip of forestry from which it emerged has since been felled and replanted, but from what I can gather, black grouse are willing to travel long distances to various feeding grounds, and it could be that the Chayne is one of a few properties used by some of the last remaining black grouse in Galloway.
I am taking their presence as a great honour. I have only ever seen two female black grouse and one male and I must say that I was utterly captivated by them. The birds have played such a significant role in the history of southern Scotland that I feel a great affinity for them, and it is my absolute priority to create and develop a habitat for them on the Chayne.