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J Gordon

Woodland Conifer plantations

Pre-thicket conifer plantations can suit black grouse – the absence of grazing animals can allow good ground cover to develop for nesting, feeding and chick rearing. As plantations mature, the canopy closes, shading out ground vegetation and making the plantation unsuitable for black grouse. The following measures can be carried out to maximise the value of conifer plantations for black grouse:

Restructure or thin edges of forests on the moorland edge or plant these areas at a lower density to give areas of scattered trees rather than a “hard edge”.

Establish larch and native tree species along forest edges using species such as birch, alder, willow, rowan, hawthorn, juniper and Scots pine.

Widen rides and create open ground within plantations, and use open ground and planting to connect black grouse habitats.

To prolong the value of new conifer plantations, plant some areas at a low density, and/ or leave large gaps between blocks.

Habitat management for black grouse should focus within an area of up to 700ha around lek sites (1.5km radius from the lek). As black grouse require suitable habitat at a large scale, management across neighbouring land holdings could be crucial. Management carried out beyond this area could help connect lek populations and promote range expansion. The best way to manage for black grouse on your land is to walk the ground with an adviser and discuss options for management. This will help to establish the probable limiting factors for black grouse on your holding, therefore enabling management for black grouse to be prioritised.

Hard edges of forestry like this can be “softened” by thinning or by low density tree planting along the edge

  • After clear-felling, clear brash and delay or stagger restocking to encourage ground vegetation recovery.

  • Restructure plantations to create age-class diversity – black grouse will use blocks up to 10–15 years old.

  • Carry out deer management to encourage regeneration of the field layer.

  • Swipe strips or patches in open areas to create a mosaic of heather within plantations.

  • Create damp flushes in open ground, which can become rich in invertebrates for chicks.

  • Safeguard lek sites in clearings and on tracks.

Adam Fraser

New native woodland schemes can provide high quality habitat for black grouse. Areas of internal open space help to prolong their value

Native woodlands

Semi-natural woodland and scrub on moorland fringes and along burns can provide habitat for black grouse. When creating and managing native woodlands:

  • Plant some areas at low density, especially on the outer edges of the woodland, and maximise areas of open ground in new planting.

  • Use species such as birch, alder, willow, rowan, hawthorn, juniper and Scots pine.

  • Manage livestock grazing to avoid damage to native woodlands.

  • Avoid using for pheasant shoots that may disturb black grouse.

Species-rich grasslands provide year-round food, supporting key food plants in autumn/winter and high invertebrate densities for chick-rearing in summer. Retain or create such grassland areas, and manage them to allow flowers to set seed.

Many black grouse nest and rear their young in the grass/rush/sedge mosaic found on the “white hill” of the moorland edge. Lightly graze areas of white hill to give some areas over 30 cm in height.

Adverse effects of bad weather on chick survival may worsen in tall, dense vegetation. Providing a mosaic of shorter and longer vegetation could lessen the effects of wet and cold weather in late May and June.

Sow unharvested crops and retain arable stubbles. Spring cereals and weedy turnip crops may be particularly good.


Black grouse use heather moorland and inbye habitats on hill farms, often lekking on permanent pasture at the moorland edge. Hill arable fields may provide shelter plus grain and/or weed seeds in autumn and winter.

Use muirburn/swiping to create a mosaic of long and short heather. The Muirburn Code should be adhered to if burning is carried out.

Manage livestock and deer grazing levels to help maintain a varied structural mosaic of heather and rough grass.

Manage boggy/marshy ground to provide feeding areas for black grouse. Cotton grass is an important food for hens in early spring and invertebrate-rich wet flushes provide important chick-rearing habitats in summer. Retain and lightly graze existing wet areas and create new ones by, for example, grip blocking.

Heather and blaeberry are important foods for adult black grouse

Yvonne Boles

Marking fences can lower collision risk

Other management Predator control

Ensuring the availability of good cover will reduce predation risk for black grouse. Co-ordinated and targeted legal predator control can improve breeding success and possibly adult survival.

Deer fences and stock fences

Fence collisions can be a cause of black grouse mortality. Deer fences should only be erected, maintained or renewed where there is no other viable means of deer control, and only after proper assessment of the risks. In addition:

  • Remove redundant fences.

  • Site new fences and mark existing fences (where continued use is considered essential) according to current best practice. See FCS Guidance Note 11 “Deer and Fencing”.

  • Position stock fences clear of flight lines to and from

leks and important feeding areas.

Lek sites

Patches of semi-improved grassland on open hills, and permanent pasture on the inbye can provide lek sites for black grouse.

  • Avoid disturbing lekking areas between March and May.

  • Ideal leks have an open aspect and are often grazed short. Aim to keep vegetation short at known lek sites.

  • Avoid planting trees within 100 m, supplementary stock feeding, or erecting stock or deer fences near to lek sites.

(Continued on back page)

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