Rural organisations said a landmark report published today has produced ‘ultimate proof’ of the conservation benefits of grouse moor management.

The organisations said the final report on the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (LMDP) – which studied moorland management for birds of prey and red grouse over 10 years – highlights how game keeping significantly improved the fortunes of a range of under-threat bird species as well as restoring heather that had been lost for decades.

Following publication of the LMDP report, a joint statement was issued by: British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Scottish Association for Country Sports, Scottish Land & Estates, Moorland Association & National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.

“This unprecedented scientific project was a watershed and proves the important conservation value of grouse moor management. 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.

“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. 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. 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.

“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 points to a way ahead for best practice grouse moor management, which relies to a great extent on private investment.  There needs to be a balance between incentivising management, recovery of costs for supply of public goods and regulation. As the Langholm report itself states, ensuring that our moorlands are managed well in the future is a shared objective.”

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