LOCH NESS land managers have joined efforts to help some of Scotland's rarest birds to nest and breed.

There are now 22 land managers in the Loch Ness area working together to create habitats for fragile species such as curlew, oystercatcher, redshank and lapwing.

More birds are returning to the region each year and there has been a significant rise in the number of nests which successfully produce chicks. In some areas there has been a 50% increase in moorland and wading birds over the past ten years, with curlew and lapwing the main beneficiary.

The Loch Ness Rural Communities Moorland Group covers 33,000 hectares of moorland spanning 32 miles from Fort Augustus to Farr and includes estates such as Garrogie, Aberarder, Dunmaglass, Glendoe and Corriegarth. Their collaborative approach to conservation is supported by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Coordinator of the Loch Ness Rural Communities Moorland Group, Jenny McCallum, said: “Many of the farms and estates in the Loch Ness region are managing habitat specifically for waders. This means excluding livestock or keeping the stocking density low in areas where nesting is preferred and creating wader scrapes to allow chicks access to shallow, wet areas to feed on insects. Land managers are trained to carry out wader surveys in the spring to assess the breeding success.

“We also control predators such as carrion crows and foxes, which is an activity registered with Police Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage and subject to stringent conditions," she continued. "This combination of methods helps the waders to nest successfully and we are delighted with the results.”

Other birds which benefit from the moorland management practices in the region include golden plover, snipe, greenshank, twite, hen harrier and dotterel. There are also 15 known black grouse 'leks' in the area – an area where male black grouse gather to display and fight to attract the attention of the females

Ken Fraser, who farms land at Gorthleck Mains and Migovie said: “It’s noticeable that the number of wading birds has really increased in recent years, particularly the curlew and lapwing, because of the way the land is managed. Over the past ten years their populations have certainly increased by 50% in my area.

“At this time of year the birds are courting and pairing up, which is an absolute joy to see and hear in the skies around you. I hear the calls of the curlews on a daily basis. We also see lots of black grouse leks every spring, an unforgettable spectacle. The past 10 years have shown that if we didn’t manage the land year-round, these fragile populations would be lost and may never recover,” he concluded.