Published in support of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan for black grouse

Conservation status


Black grouse are declining in the UK and have been doing so - though with some temporary increases - since the early 1900s. Their distribution contracted by 28% between 1968-72 and 1988-91, but there were big losses both before and since. Since the fieldwork for the map below was completed, populations in Staffordshire and central Wales have been lost.

Although there is no comparable data for the size of the population, game bags and local surveys indicate that numbers were falling by 10% each year in some areas during the 1990s, though this has been slowed in England and Wales in recent years. The population of black grouse in the UK was estimated as 6,510 lekking males during a survey in 1995/1996. This survey showed that Scotland had the main population (of 3,370 lekking males), with smaller populations in England (mainly in the North Pennines) and Wales (Hancock 1999).

A UK-wide survey was carried out in 2005. This showed numbers of UK lekking males down by 22 per cent from 6,506 to 5,078 in ten years. In Scotland, 3,344 remained (from 4,719, a 29 percent drop); in England, 1,521 remained (from 1,704, a percentage change that is not statistically significant); in Wales, numbers have rose by 39 per cent from 153 to 213 lekking males. Scotland hosts 66 per cent of the UK population.

Black grouse distribution during 1988-91. Gibbons, D. W., Reid, J. B. and Chapman, R. A. (1993) The new atlas of breeding birds in Britain and Ireland 1988-91. Carlton, UK and A. D. Poyser.

As a result of both its long-term and short-term decline in the UK, black grouse is on the Red List in the UK, as a species of high conservation concern (Gregory et al. 2002), and in a similar assessment in Wales (Thorpe & Young 2002)

Legal status
Black grouse is protected under the Game Acts between 11th December and 19th August, but can be legally shot outside this period. See Information for Shooters for more information.

The UK subspecies, Tetrao tetrix britannicus, is endemic to Britain, occurring no where else in the world but, whereas black grouse is listed in Annex 1 of the EU Birds Directive, the British race is excluded, so the government does not have to take special measures for its conservation such as designating Special Protection Areas for it.