Peak District’s moorland breeding bird survey results

Richard Bailey

Richard Bailey

Richard has worked in the wildlife management industry for over 30 years predominantly on deer and wild game management. He has been employed in the Peak District for 13 years as a Moorland Gamekeeper, is a member of the National Gamekeepers Organisation national committee as part of their moorland Branch and is Coordinator of the Peak District Moorland Group.

In a packed hall two weeks ago in Marsden village a group of individuals gathered from all walks of life sharing one common interest – how well our moorland birds are faring on the Peak District moors.

A recent survey looked at an area equivalent to 70,000 football pitches (500 km2) using the Brown and Shepherd methodology (the results being the minimum numbers recorded) to research the breeding success rates. The survey was funded by Natural England, the Moorland Association, National Trust, RSPB, Yorkshire Water, Severn Trent and United Utilities, a true partner collaboration, and a detailed analysis was completed by British Trust Ornithology and coordinated by Moors for the Future Partnership.

Previous findings in 1990 resulted in many moorland areas being designated as a Special Protection Area for species such as golden plover, short eared owl and merlin.

Areas were surveyed twice in Spring 2018 to identify the breeding presence of certain bird species. The results were then analysed along with other key factors such as land use, land management, and habitat conditions and type.

Gamekeepers and land managers on the ground are only too aware of the good breeding success in our areas, due, we believe, to first class predator control and habitat management. In recent times, grouse shooting has been targeted by opponents to shooting. However, with grouse being the umbrella species that provides rural employment and sustainable land use in often harsh environments, it is also providing a service with many benefits to all land users, such as economic, habitat management, security and wildlife diversity.

Everyone is thrilled to now have documented proof that the results from this survey are hugely positive. The results are best summed up by the chief executive for the Peak District National Park Authority, Sarah Fowler when she said:

The results from this updated study of moorland birds within the Peak District and South Pennines is a story to be celebrated, and confirms a quiet revolution for our moorlands and a number of threatened species who have seen increases in abundance in excess of 70 per cent.

Indeed, for some such as the curlew, golden plover and dunlin, parts of the Peak District are now bucking national trends with breeding numbers reaching well into the hundreds and safeguarding, in several cases, up to 2 per cent of the UK population. With a quarter of the world’s curlews calling the UK home, this is no small feat.

Grouse moor management remains a piece of this habitat jigsaw in the National Park, and some of the evidence we see for positive associations of management were between a range of wader species and moorlands managed for grouse. In particular, gamekeeper management has contributed to long-term positive trends of golden plover and curlew in the Peak District

With the number of curlews up by over 250 per cent on areas managed for driven grouse shooting it’s clear that our wildlife and habitat management techniques are a blueprint for success. We await the return of our springtime moorland nesters and hope that it’s not just those of us that work on the moors that enjoy the sights and sounds they all produce.

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