The wildlife on moorland managed for grouse shooting

Heather moorland managed for grouse shooting is home to an abundance of wildlife thanks to the hard work and dedication of skilled gamekeepers

From threatened, red-listed species such as curlew, merlin, ring ouzel and lapwing, to specialist plant species including sphagnum mosses, cross-leaved heath and bilberry, a rich array of species prosper in the conditions created by habitat and wildlife management – much of which is privately funded.

Wildlife galore

A rich array of species thrive on moorland managed for grouse

Let’s take a closer look at the abundance of wildlife species that flourish on grouse moors in the UK.

Curlew
Often described as the UK’s most threatened bird species, we have seen nearly a 50 per cent reduction of breeding curlews in the UK over the past 25 years. The UK is home to around 25 per cent of the world’s breeding curlews annually.

The curlew needs a mosaic of vegetation and wet areas in which to nest and forage, and an open landscape so that it can easily spot predators.

Research shows that predator control is key to curlew survival: a five-year case study showed a 91 per cent increase in curlews where predator control was in place, compared with a 61 per cent reduction in curlews where there was no predator control.

Click here to read more about the curlew and what you can do to help them. 

We also have a fun quiz full of curlew facts. Click here to have a go. 

Large heath butterfly
This butterfly has declined significantly in England and Wales, but it is still widespread in Scotland and some parts of Ireland. 

It requires wet, open areas – especially upland blanket bogs and damp, acidic moorland.

Re-wetting projects on grouse moors are very beneficial for the large heath butterfly. 

The blocking up of drains and avoidance of overgrazing by livestock creates optimal conditions for the growth of hare’s-tail cottongrass and cross-leaved heath – two plants that they, and many other species, rely on.

Merlin
A ‘red-listed’ species in the UK, the merlin is one of many birds of prey that benefit from grouse moor management. This fierce little hunter was previously affected by now-banned pesticides and egg collectors which hit the population hard in the early 1960s.

Grouse moors have played a key role in the bird’s recovery, enabling a 94 per cent increase in numbers since the 1980s.

Being ground-nesters, merlins thrive in areas where their natural predators (think foxes, stoats, etc.) are managed by gamekeepers.

Gamekeepers maintain a diverse range of habitats which provide suitable nesting areas for the merlin, and plenty of food such as small birds, insects and voles. 

Click here to read our blog, Merlin, the little wizard on our grouse moors.

Read more about how people are maintaining this unique landscape.

Click here

Species of the moor

  • Moorland managed for grouse shooting has been shown to support at least 76 different bird species, 43 of which are considered ‘endangered’.
  • Grouse moors are important strongholds for many of the UK’s most threatened wading bird species – including curlew, lapwing, redshank and golden plover.
  • Research has shown that in areas where legal predator control is undertaken by gamekeepers, skylarks are 32 percent more prolific and there are six times more curlew, eight times more golden plover, and 24 times more lapwing than in moorland areas with little or no predator control.
  • Birds of prey including peregrine falcons, buzzards, short-eared owls, kestrels, golden eagles and hen harriers can and do thrive on moorland managed for grouse shooting.
  • Without the moorland management practices that go hand-in-hand with building a harvestable surplus of red grouse, many other wildlife species would be at greater risk of local extinction.
  • Grouse moors offer very good habitat for mountain hares. Intensive fox control and rotational heather burning to encourage new growth of young heather are just two practices that work in the species’ favour.
  • Bell heather, ling heather, bog asphodel, sundew and bog rosemary are just a few of the plant species associated with heather moorland managed for grouse shooting. Elsewhere these species are often vulnerable to overgrazing and the effects of afforestation.
  • A range of reptiles, small mammals such as voles, and invertebrates also inhabit heather moorland managed for grouse shooting.
  • Moorland managed for grouse shooting “can also benefit other species – most notably waders such as curlew, golden plover and lapwing which can be locally abundant; and mountain hares, for which the combination of predator control, good food source (young heather shoots) and cover (older heather) is considered highly beneficial. Black grouse and ground-nesting raptors (hen harriers and merlins) can also benefit.” Read more in Scotland’s independent review into grouse moor management here. 

Grouse

There are four different species of grouse in the UK. Without moorland managed for grouse shooting, certain plants on the moors would not survive. 

The shooting season for red grouse starts on the Glorious Twelfth and finishes on 10 December.

There are a number of gamebirds, waterfowl (ducks, geese and waders) and other bird species, as well as mammals, which can be shot legally. For many there is a close season when it is illegal to shoot them, and this helps to ensure that they are able to breed successfully and move between breeding and wintering grounds. 

The bird quarry species and their open seasons in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands can be found here.

Black Grouse

Capercaillie

Red Grouse

Ptarmigan

It is very difficult to identify male and female red grouse, however...

Can you distinguish a male grouse from a female red grouse? How many species of grouse can you name?

Take our quiz on 'all things grouse.'

Try more activites here

Red grouse
questions

Red grouse answers

Curlew quiz

New mobile app set to transform the recording of raptors on Scotland's grouse moors

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