Further to my post (below) about the benefits of new woodland, I visited an estate in Perthshire on Thursday where over 100 acres of a 5,000 acre moor have been planted up with a range of hardwoods, scots pines and larches. Unlike the commercial plantings in Galloway, these trees have been put in specifically for black grouse, and will be thinned as they mature so that they never shade out the undergrowth.
The trees were planted with a christmas tree machine, which is a much less intrusive means of getting saplings into the ground, and seems to depend upon carefully discing the ground, popping in the plugs, then rolling them back in together again. This sidesteps many of the advantages of commercial planting which were listed previously, but it is worth noting that the tree species chosen for planting are of particular value of blackgame in that area of Perthshire. In this way, the birds won’t get the boost of fresh planting, but they will get some of the slow-burning (and usually much over-rated) value of forage amongst the trees.
It is also a huge advantage that, rather than fence off areas of woodland, the estate has recently erected an enormous enclosure around almost 1,000 acres of hill country, so that the trees can be planted without any protection required. If nothing else, this means that the woods have no hard edges and that as they grow up, they will merge into the moor without the obvious divisions which are usually a consequence of wire and post.
During the past four years of planting and game management, the black grouse numbers on this estate have gone from a scattering of small leks in twos and threes to an estimated population of more than fifty birds. This is partly to do with the fact that there are strong populations of black grouse in the area, but it certainly does indicate just how quickly the birds can spring back from defeat.
The birds in the photograph (above) were part of a pack of ten blackcock which was being accompanied by a single greyhen. They flared up from the roadside as we drove past in the land rover, presenting quite a stunning picture of proud black and white plumage suspended for an instant in the air before fluttering neatly down a few yards away. As I watched them settle again, I couldn’t help noticing that more than one of the blackcock pecked keenly at the young pine leaders, and the keeper acknowledged that, although the wood was specifically intended for black grouse conservation, he would prefer it if they would at least let the trees get started before they began destroying them. With the landowner’s committed vow to maintain these trees solely so that they will retain their conservation value, it will be interesting to see how the birds deal with the gradual development of woodland over the next few years. From a human perspective, I will be fascinated to see what the landowner is forced to do in order to keep the birds interested in the trees as they mature.
Purely as an aside, it takes just over two hours to get to Perthshire from my corner of the Galloway hills, but the transformation of terrain and landscape is extraordinary within that short journey. Having woken up in my own bed on Thursday morning, I had seen a golden eagle and innumerable “highland” red stags before lunchtime. There are golden eagles and stags in Galloway, but it is pleasing to remember that “the highlands” are never quite so far away as they sometimes seem.