A LONG-RUNNING research project on Langholm Moor has concluded that grouse moor management leads to significant conservation benefits.

Rural organisations involved in supporting gamekeepers have issued a joint statement in response to what they are calling the ‘landmark’ final report from the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, which studied moorland management for birds of prey and red grouse over a 10-year period and found that game keeping 'significantly improved the fortunes' of a range of under-threat bird species, as well as restoring heather that had been lost.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Scottish Association for Country Sports, Scottish Land and Estates, and Moorland Association and National Gamekeepers’ Organisation agreed that the report provided ‘ultimate proof’ of the conservation benefits of grouse moor management.

“This unprecedented scientific project was a watershed and proves the important conservation value of grouse moor management,” the statement read. “As the report states, management for red grouse can recover and support globally important moorland habitat and precious species at a time when the UK is losing species dramatically.

“This project showed that gamekeepers using modern management techniques, including legal predator control, led to improved populations of curlew, golden plover and snipe at a time when they are declining nationally. Predator control also protected breeding hen harriers,” it continued.

The project found that loss of heather over generations was halted and heather-rich vegetation increased by 30%, largely because of investment in controlled muirburn, heather re-seeding and grazing reduction – a priority habitat conservation success story. The rural organisations added that without grouse moor management, the motivation for these benefits would disappear.

“No grouse were shot during the project because there was not a sufficient surplus and the report states that habitat restoration alone will not deliver viable grouse populations,” the statement continued. “To lower predation pressure, the report states that new legal predation management options may be needed to allow grouse to recover from low densities if wider bird assemblages are also to benefit as a consequence. It is important to remember that guidance from the International Union for Conservation of Nature states that addressing challenges posed by one species should not be done to the detriment of others.

“Langholm is not a typical moor in that it is isolated while many successful grouse moors today often border others, enabling skilled legal predator control at landscape scale, boosting the chances of breeding success for grouse and other ground nesting birds," the statement added.

“Adaptive initiatives such as the brood management trial for hen harriers which is currently being undertaken in England and is showing promising early signs, as well as targeted licensing measures, could help achieve the balance between protecting bird species while creating conditions where grouse shooting can thrive and continue to provide multiple environmental, economic and social benefits.”

The report pointed to a future for 'best practice' grouse moor management, which will rely to a great extent on private investment, and suggested that there needs to be a balance between incentivising management, recovery of costs for supply of public goods and regulation.