Industrial Disturbance

Clear felling adjacent to brood rearing habitat
Clear felling taking place adjacent to black grouse brood rearing habitat today.

Disappointing but not altogether surprising to find that the local forest managers have yet again chosen the end of May and the beginning of June to ramp up their clear-felling exercises in the heart of a marginal population of black grouse. Since the middle of May, three clear-felling operations have started within a mile of the new lek which sprung up this spring, and I had the disheartening experience of finding a huge swathe of woodland which has been clearfelled right in the middle of an area where greyhens had been lingering in early May. The area photographed above has always had a greyhen or two kicking around nearby, and an abandoned shed two hundred yards away also has had breeding barn owls every year for as long as I can remember. My “anecdotal” observations are also borne out by a series of surveys carried out by independent ecologists over the past ten years.

I am all for felling forestry, but I simply cannot get my head around the logic of flattening the landscape with heavy machinery at the very peak of the breeding season. During the leks in April, foresters down tools and make self-righteous comments about how environmentally sensitive they are being for not disturbing the blackcock, but for some senseless reason, it is then perfectly acceptable to fell woodland right on top of greyhens with eggs and young chicks. There would be much less harm caused by working the other way round and disturbing the leks but leaving the greyhens in peace. In a small population like this, blackcock will always find a way to cover the greyhens, but a sitting bird is easily spooked by roaring diesel engines and the prospect of a collapsing canopy nearby. I wrote about this last year when reader Mike Groves sent me a photograph of a greyhen actually sitting on a clear-felled stump in the height of summer.

It is a sentiment enshrined in forest management policy (guidance note 32) that “As a basic principle, major operations, such as thinning and felling near known nest
locations should take place outside the main nesting season” and the Forestry Commission Scotland’s Black Grouse “Delivery” guidelines list as a “level one action” that forest operations should be timed to “avoid disturbance of breeding black grouse”.

I’ve drawn the comparison before, but if any other industrial land use was found to be disturbing breeding birds in the same way, there would be rallies and petitions to sign against it. Imagine what would hit the fan if a wind developer was seen to damage black grouse habitat during May and June. But the foresters are still able to do as they please without any repercussions, having played a large part in fragmenting and annihilating black grouse populations in the first place. In fact, this block of spruce will probably be replanted in due course with open areas and a good percentage of hardwoods (at the taxpayer’s expense), but it makes no sense to invest in future black grouse habitat while trampling all over the extant population of birds.

I am very keen to find out who is managing these three areas of woodland and will make enquiries. It will be very interesting to hear from the managers as to why these harvesting operations have been given the go-ahead at such a ridiculously inopportune moment.

I seem to write about this issue every year, but perhaps it’s time I kicked up more of a stink about it.

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