Seven Years

All for the love of grouse

It has been interesting to see the varied reactions to the Langholm 7 year update which was published just before Christmas.

The RSPB appears to be branding the project an outright success, despite its failure to deliver a shootable surplus of grouse. They argue that grouse shooting is “just around the corner”, and some commentators are beginning to suggest that shooting driven grouse would have been possible in 2014 but was deliberately banjaxed by an unwillingness to compromise on target grouse densities.

Despite two of the most fantastic summers for grouse productivity in many years, grouse are not at the agreed density above which driven shooting can take place, but some anti-shooting activists point out that the density is now around the same level which supported grouse shooting prior to the Joint Raptor Study (the first Langholm project) – they can’t see why the project is dragging its heels and suggest that if the target density could be revised to the old level then everybody would be happy. It would be a sad thing if we let the project’s goalposts be moved to suit these political agendas, and as a keen supporter of the Langholm Demonstration, I can’t help thinking that the value of the experiment would be diluted by such a move.

What the anti-shooting commentators seem to miss is that Langholm is a partnership project and that all the partnership bodies agreed the project’s aims when it started. Grouse had to be at a density to support the golden 1,000 brace bag in order for driven grouse shooting to start, and this density has not been reached. The number wasn’t plucked out of the air, but represented a calculated attempt to offset the huge costs of management – and the project is almost irrelevant unless it produces an income to cover (at least) some of its own costs.

What’s more, imagine the fury if the boot had been on the other foot and all the work at Langholm had brought back the grouse to a shootable level but only produced a pair of harriers. If the shooting community published a press release to say “we’re shooting 1,000 brace this year and we’re sorry that you don’t have many harriers, but there’s no reason why you can’t work with what you’ve got”, there would be blood in the streets.

Langholm has produced all kinds of good news stories, not only for hen harriers but also in terms of heather management research and habitat improvement. Blackgame are on the up, and some amazing management work has seen much of Middlemoss bounce back from one of the most appalling and apocalyptic heather beetle outbreaks in recent years. It is unquestionably a great project, but it is not entirely a good news story because one of the main objectives is unfulfilled and now shows no sign of anything like an upward trend.

If you’re in Southern Scotland, you really ought to visit the moor and see it for yourself. So much conjecture is put forth by politically turbid third parties that it is hard to see the moor as anything more than an obscure theoretical puzzle. I am very glad to live nearby and have spent many days there for work and leisure – I can honestly say that it really is a cracking place. And the Scotsman in me feels that, since we taxpayers are invited to chip in for it, we might as well enjoy it

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2 thoughts on “Seven Years

  1. Patrick, Its interesting that your tweet linking to your blog was “Seven years at Langholm: making sure the goalposts don’t shift”, and yet that’s precisely what has happened.

    Chapter 8 of the review explains that the project found that there was less grouse habitat at Langholm than was thought – 3,000ha rather than 4,000ha, but instead of reducing the 1,000 brace target in proportion, to 750 brace, it was maintained. This means that the target grouse density had to be increased, to 200 birds per km2 in July, and 90 birds per km 2 in spring.
    This is double the average density of the 22 Scottish grouse moors used as comparators shown in Table 1 of the report, which had an average july count of 104 grouse per km2 and of 49 grouse per km2 in spring.

    And yet, para 7.1 of the report further informs us that there are only 2,200ha at Langholm with >30% heather cover – so around 1/3 of the “grouse habitat” at Langholm, on which there is a target grouse density of double the average on Scottish grouse moors, has <30% heather cover. And your post further informs us that a goodly chunk of what heatheer there is at Langholm has been severely damaged by heather beetle. Yet a July grouse density of double the average of Scottish grouse moors has to be achieved?

    In spite of what I would say is the poor state of the heather at Langholm compared to most Scottish driven grouse moors, the spring density of grouse at Langholm in 2014 was 82/km2, almost double the average on the sample of Scottish grouse moors, and the July density was ~120/km2 in both 2013 and 2014, double the density which has for a long time been regarded as the minimum required for driven shooting.

    How many Scottish grouse moors have more than 82 grouse per km2 in their spring counts, and don’t end up shooting? I’d like to know. Indeed, given the comparative figures in the report, what proportion of Scottish grouse moors regularly achieve such numbers? I’m sure the GCWT could furnish these facts.

    I think it is remarkable what has been achieved with the grouse at Langholm, given the state of the heather at the start of the project, and its isolation from other moors, without the advantage of exchanging birds with neighbours. Indeed, one must ask whether this was really the place to test hypotheses about the coexistence of driven grouse shooting and harriers. When all is said and done, can any conclusions be drawn from Langholm, an isolated moor which had become moribund, about what would happen if harriers were allowed to nest on some of the really primo moors? A moor in the Angus glens or the Lammermuirs would have been a far better place to test these things in my opinion. Although, that would have required a reintroduction of harriers. One of the most interesting things to come out of Langholm is the revelation of just how successful harriers could be, if left alone. There were twelve pairs of harriers at Langholm this year, on its 12,000 hectares. In the whole of the Lammermuirs, which cover several times that area, no harriers have even attempted to nest for over 10 years. I wonder why?

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