Moorland and moorland edge
Unlike red grouse, which live almost exclusively in heather, black grouse
use heather moorland for only part of their life, and in some areas (such
as Wales and western Scotland), they may use it very little. Black grouse
(and other upland birds, such as waders) use a mix of heather types and
a mosaic of vegetation of different ages. This mosaic can be achieved
through a combination of:
Limiting grazing by sheep, deer and cattle
Siting foddering/winter feeding sites for livestock away from important
black grouse habitat
Burning, swiping or mowing to create a patchwork of long and short heather
Blocking moorland grip drains
The ideal management of moorland and adjacent grassland habitats for
black grouse depends on the vegetation structure already present, as well
as other factors, such as soil type, climate and the degree/extent of
historic changes. For more detailed advice, use your local
black grouse expert.
The ideal moorland structure for black grouse is heather over 40 cm (16
inches) long, to provide shelter for nesting females. However, extensive
areas of solid, tall heather do not allow other moorland plants to grow
and can hinder chick movement and feeding, especially during wet weather.
Management is necessary to create a structural mosaic and to encourage
young shoots, which black grouse feed on. This can be achieved by mowing
or burning heather in small patches. Areas of 20 to 50 hectares (50 to
125 acres) of heather should have an average vegetation height of at least
30 cm (12"), but some should be longer (40 cm/16") and some
shorter (less than 20 cm/8").
The moorland edge is often an important feeding area for adults and broods
of young, and this grassland usually hosts the lek site. Management here
should aim to provide a mix of rough grazing, pasture, wet flushes (often
provided by blanket bog or mire) and perhaps some broad-leaved trees and
shrubs in the bottom of the valley. Grazing of these areas should allow
grasses (and rushes, sedges, heather and herbs) and bog cotton to flower
and set seed. Bracken is of limited use to black grouse, though is used
by some other birds such as whinchats, and its encroachment onto moorland
can be a problem. This can be avoided by preventing heavy grazing or removed
through careful use of herbicide.
A mix of grass and heather is the ideal habitat for black
grouse. Chris Gomersall (RSPB Images
In the past, attempts have been made to improve heather growth by draining
the peat. This had little success: the peat flows into rivers, increasing
erosion, and - most importantly for black grouse and breeding waders -
reduces bog flushes and other areas used by chicks. Open grip drains on
moorland do not benefit black or red grouse, as they reduce the amount
of cotton grass and the abundance of insect food. Blocking grip drains
can reverse these effects and increase the diversity of the habitat.
There are a variety of different grants available for moorland management
to help black grouse. Click on the relevant links below.