Ecology could break deadlock between grouse shooting and hen harrier conservation

Aug 11, 2014

Led by Professor Steve Redpath of the University of Aberdeen, the study involved grouse managers and conservationists as well as ecologists. Using science as a way to seek solutions to the conflict, the grouse managers and conservationists together agreed key questions they wanted the research to answer. The ecologists then developed a model to explore a possible compromise solution.

The model showed that at certain population densities, harriers can co-exist with profitable grouse shooting. According to Redpath: "The model suggested that across the grouse moors of England there was room for 70 pairs of hen harriers at relatively low cost for grouse shooting."

This could be achieved using a simple approach, where when harriers breed at levels that have a significant economic impact on grouse shoots, the excess chicks would be removed from the grouse moors, reared in captivity and then released into the wild elsewhere. Similar schemes are used in continental Europe where harriers breeding in crops are threatened by harvesting.

The next step is for grouse managers and conservationists to use the results of the model to agree on an acceptable number of harriers and then test the idea in a field trial.

The standoff between grouse managers and hen harrier is one of the UK's most bitter and contentious wildlife conflicts. Grouse managers want to maximise the number of birds available for shooting, and see any predation by hen harriers as a threat. Hen harriers eat grouse and are illegally killed, so despite being legally protected the birds have all but disappeared on moorland managed for intensive grouse shooting. There were no breeding harriers in England in 2013.

Grouse moor management has benefits for biodiversity and for communities. The question, however, remains as to how the illegal killing can be stopped without losing these benefits. A quota scheme provides a possible solution.

"Any decision about how to use this model depends as much on politics as on science. However, if both sides are interested in pursuing the idea, this model provides a framework for this dialogue to take place," says Redpath.

Despite polarised positions and lack of trust, the research shows that by involving both parties and testing the effectiveness of various solutions, ecology can help resolve wildlife conflicts – which can have dramatic impacts on people's lives and livelihoods – worldwide.

"Ecology has a vital role to play in understanding and tackling these conflicts by providing impartial evidence and exploring various technical solutions. However, this must be done with those involved in the conflict so that science addresses the issues people are most concerned about, and that they therefore have ownership of the results," he says.

Explore further: Threatened bird leads feds to block some drilling

More information: David A. Elston, Luigi Spezia, Dave Baines and Stephen M. Redpath (2014). "Working with stakeholders to reduce conflict – modelling the impact of varying hen harrier Circus cyaneus densities on red grouse Lagopus lagopus populations", DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12315, is published in the Journal of Applied Ecology on 12 August 2014.

Related Stories

Scientists call for trial of 'hen harrier ceiling'

Aug 12, 2008

As the grouse shooting season gets under way, two scientists involved in high-profile studies of hen harriers and red grouse at Langholm Moor in Scotland have called for field trials of a "ceiling" on harrier numbers in an ...

Sage grouse taken off endangered list

Apr 24, 2007

The rare sage-grouse is fighting for survival in Colorado, but because of a recent spurt in numbers the birds will not be listed as an endangered species.

Interior: Grouse listing warranted but precluded

Mar 05, 2010

(AP) -- The Interior Department announced Friday that it won't list sage grouse as endangered or threatened but will classify the bird among species that are candidates for federal protection.

Ravens rule Idaho's artificial roosts

Aug 11, 2014

A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Idaho State University (ISU) explored how habitat alterations, including the addition of energy transmission towers, ...

Recommended for you

Keeping hungry jumbos at bay

12 hours ago

Until now electric fences and trenches have proved to be the most effective way of protecting farms and villages from night time raids by hungry elephants. But researchers think they may have come up with ...

Rare south-west fish suffers further decline

16 hours ago

Researchers have discovered that the range of one of Western Australia's rarest freshwater fishes, Balston's Pygmy Perch, could have declined by as much as 25 per cent.

Zoologists tap into GPS to track badger movements

17 hours ago

Zoologists from Trinity College Dublin's School of Natural Sciences are using GPS tracking technology to keep a 'Big Brother' eye on badgers in County Wicklow. By better understanding the badgers' movements and the reasons ...

Climate change costing soybean farmers

Mar 30, 2015

Even during a good year, soybean farmers nationwide are, in essence, taking a loss. That's because changes in weather patterns have been eating into their profits and taking quite a bite: $11 billion over ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.