Red grouse restora­tion in Ire­land

Sporting Shooter - - Contents - WITH TIM BON­NER

Shortly af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of the 2008 Na­tional Red Grouse Sur­vey, which showed a con­tin­u­ing sharp de­cline in Ir­ish red grouse with lo­cal ex­tinc­tions across many low­land bogs and moor­land habi­tats, the board of the Coun­try­side Al­liance Ire­land (CAI) es­tab­lished the Ir­ish Red Grouse As­so­ci­a­tion Con­ser­va­tion Trust (IRGACT). Six years on, we can now start to look back at the project’s suc­cess and the as­tound­ing re­sults it has achieved across the whole of Ire­land.

The prime ob­jec­tive of the IRGACT was the con­ser­va­tion of red grouse by em­pow­er­ing and help­ing lo­cal con­ser­va­tion projects on the ground while work­ing with other non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions and gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions in pro­mot­ing the cause at the na­tional level. The ru­ral com­mu­nity ral­lied be­hind the Trust, with sup­port gained from farm­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, dog tri­alling clubs, gun clubs, hawk­ing clubs, or­nithol­o­gists and the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

The Ir­ish red grouse pop­u­la­tion hit his­tor­i­cal highs in the 1900s when its in­ter­ests were pro­tected by keep­ered es­tates across Ire­land, on which over 500 game­keep­ers were em­ployed in the man­age­ment of the grouse moors. How­ever, af­ter the 1914-18 War and the for­ma­tion of the Ir­ish Repub­lic, the land­hold­ing own­er­ship struc­tures changed dra­mat­i­cally, with the own­er­ship of many es­tates de­volved to their farm­ing ten­ants, and game­keep­ers fre­quently not re­tained. The loss of game­keep­ers, ex­ac­er­bated by af­foresta­tion, agri­cul­tural in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion and the ex­trac­tion of peat, caused the grouse pop­u­la­tion to crash and the moor­lands to re­duce in qual­ity. The grouse now ex­ist in iso­lated pock­ets on a hand­ful of moors and are in dire need of as­sis­tance, with their to­tal num­bers thought to be in the re­gion of 5,000. While grouse pop­u­la­tions can rise and fall with sea­sonal weather vari­a­tions, the head­line IRGACT projects are show­ing grouse pop­u­la­tion in­creases of 15-20% since 2010. In­creases have also been recorded for moor­land waders in­clud­ing curlew, golden plover and lap­wing, as well as the Ir­ish moun­tain hare. The IRGACT ap­proach is low in cost but prov­ing to be highly ef­fec­tive. On the ground, the Trust pro­vides sub­sidised preda­tor con­trol equip­ment, ad­vice and grouse sur­veys to all com­mu­nity-led projects. An­nual sem­i­nars and moor­land walks are also or­gan­ised to spread new ideas and re­search among the par­tic­i­pat­ing projects, shar­ing best prac­tice in ar­eas such as burn­ing and cut­ting moor­land veg­e­ta­tion. To date, over 60 com­mu­ni­ties have ex­pressed an in­ter­est in es­tab­lish­ing red grouse projects, and 40 of these are at var­i­ous stages of im­ple­men­ta­tion. The in­ter­est among lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties has been tremen­dous, and the lo­cal farm­ers are among the most en­thu­si­as­tic of sup­port­ers. Work­ing with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties has been the key to the IRGACT.

These red grouse projects have proved that they have the abil­ity to stem the de­cline of the grouse pop­u­la­tion while boost­ing other red-listed species, and the mo­men­tum is build­ing. The Trust is achiev­ing ever more recog­ni­tion on the na­tional stage, and ev­ery­where a project is run­ning, the lo­cal peo­ple – be they bird­watch­ers or hill walk­ers – are see­ing the re­sults with their own eyes. And the more peo­ple who learn about the Trust, the more sup­port­ers there are, and the more grouse con­ser­va­tion projects there will be.

The ex­em­plary work of the IRGACT can and should be high­lighted far and wide; for, to­gether, con­ser­va­tion­ists, landown­ers and the shoot­ing com­mu­nity have formed a work­ing group that in its short life has al­ready started to show rich re­wards. The prac­tice also re­minds us that preda­tor con­trol and heather man­age­ment, through burn­ing and cut­ting, are es­sen­tial to im­prov­ing the qual­ity of the moor­lands. Lessons can be learned from the IRGACT, none more so than that of the English and Scot­tish up­lands, where the fric­tion be­tween groups is ever grow­ing and the need for sci­en­tific ev­i­dence of the im­prove­ment of the land is con­tin­u­ally called for.

IRGACT vol­un­teers count­ing grouse at Mul­ranny, Co. Mayo

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