Welsh Grouse

Counting grouse at Gors Maen Llwyd
Counting grouse at Gors Maen Llwyd

Out in bright sun and flying rain to Gors Maen Llwyd, where the heather was thick and powdery with flower on Monday morning. Llyn Brenig is surrounded by banks of green mud after the water level had dropped and stayed down for several weeks, and the place was altogether altered from my last trip in the autumn last year.

My main recollection of Gors Maen Llwyd was the density and incredible height of the heather, which grows like a weed and supports itself so that it reaches an extraordinary height. In Galloway, plants of more than 24” in height would sag apart and grow along the ground, but the heather here is so dense that it grows like a spruce plantation, with each finger-thick stem clambering up on its neighbours and using them for support. In the few areas where there is no heather, blaeberries reach a pinnacle of enormity, and I saw several which could easily have been mistaken for grapes. This storm of productivity explains why the Welsh moors used to be alive with grouse, and it is all the more devastating that these mighty spaces now survive in such fragmented pockets which prevent them from turning out the massed coveys of yore.

The height of the heather was driven home by having to walk through it for extended periods, and I have never appreciated burning as keenly as I did after having half jumped and half hopped through a several hundred yard long stretch of navel-high heath. Some good burns through this ground was let it come to life, and I was relieved when we finally came out into an area of cut heather which made everything much more straightforward. Repressing my desire to wax lyrical on these cuts after carrying out an extended and ongoing review of heather cutting for the Heather Trust, suffice it to say that the regeneration on this ground is nothing short of startling, and that if everywhere responded to cutting as well as Gors Maen Llwyd does, we’d see a great deal more of this management technique.

The last time I visited the reserve, I saw four black grouse put up together in a boggy hole, and while numbers of blackgame are low on the Mynydd Hiraethog, the ground above Llyn Brenig is potentially a nice little stronghold. Several good broods of red grouse got up beneath the setters and pointers, but when two broods of blackgame got up and flew on, I was elsewhere and missed the sight of several young birds flying together.

It was a great day all in, and a nice stop on the road back from Ceredigion where I was working over the weekend. A very red-breasted hen harrier passed across the moor as we walked, and there is always something of interest to be found on the hills in August. Gors Maen Llwyd is a cracking little spot, and some of the work that the Welsh Wildlife Trust has done on the black grouse side of things is looking really good, particularly in terms of brood rearing habitat and cover for young birds. Add predator control to this mixture and the moor would really be going places, but until then it is an indication of the site’s potential that black grouse continue to tick over in the background without protection.

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