‘Lekking’ Good at Geltsdale
Black Grouse up over 66% at Geltsdale yet English numbers crashA very rare bird has been seriously strutting its stuff at RSPB Geltsdale, near Brampton. Wardens have been very excited to see far more black grouse ‘lekking’ than usual on their early morning watches this spring, which is bucking the trend in the rest of England.
Following the hardest winter for more than 30 years, endangered populations of black grouse in northern England have dropped to their lowest recorded level, with numbers plummeting from 730 males last year to 400 according to recent monitoring carried out by scientists from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.
Stephen Westerberg, site manager at RSPB Geltsdale said: “Although it’s terrible news that the black grouse has suffered so badly in the rest of the country, we’re really pleased that these wonderful birds are doing so well here. We counted 30 males this year compared to 18 last year. We think this is due to the improvements we have made to the habitat here. We have planted 110,000 native broad-leaved trees on 230 hectares of the reserve and entered an environmental stewardship with the help of Natural England, creating ideal conditions for black grouse.
However, we cannot be complacent; we still have lots of work to do to ensure the long-term success of the black grouse at Geltsdale. Male black grouse (often known as black cocks) are well known for their incredible courtship displays in clearings in the woods called 'leks'. They display to attract a female mate by strutting with their tails spread and heads held low and at the same time making a strange rhythmic call that is interspersed with what amusingly sounds like a sneeze.
The black grouse population has been declining rapidly in recent years, so much that it’s ‘red listed’ as one of the most important birds in the UK to conserve. The decline is thought to be due to changes in land use, such as more intensive grazing and pasture improvement in the uplands.
Recently, the reserve was pleased to be visited by representatives from WREN, a not for profit business that awards grants to community projects from environmental taxes paid by Waste Recycling Group (WRG). In 2009, WREN awarded RSPB Geltsdale more than £139,000 of funding from its Biodiversity Action Fund. The money is being spent to help restore areas of blanket bog and rejuvenate dry heathland at the Cumbrian reserve, safeguarding the home for a wide range of rare birds, including the black grouse.Lisa Green, operations manager at WREN, attended an early morning lek. “I was pleased to be given the fantastic opportunity to see these rare birds displaying at RSPB Geltsdale,” said Lisa. “It’s rewarding to see first-hand the work being done with the money awarded by WREN and how this can really benefit one of the country’s rarer species.”
Stephen added “We are very grateful for all the support for our black grouse conservation work at Geltsdale which appears to be successful. The Forestry Commission and The Famous Grouse Whisky have also provided financial support and we would like to thank all our volunteers who have planted so many trees in the last few years”.
For further information about RSPB Geltsdale nature reserve, visit http://www.rspb.org/geltsdale
4th July 2014