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Three Moorland Association estates - all of which provide grouse & game shooting - have been awarded ‘Life on Land’ awards from RedList Revival for work conserving rare birds.
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The ‘Life on Land’ awards from RedList Revival are presented to landholdings which exceed the top 1 per cent in the UK for abundance of a key species.
Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire achieved this for hen harriers, and also ranks in the top 10 per cent nationally for curlew abundance.
Egton Estate on the North East fringe of the North York Moors National Park achieved the Life on Land award for lapwings, and ranks in the top 1 per cent of landholdings for curlew abundance too.
Finally, Coverhead Estate in the Yorkshire Dales National Park achieved the award for its work with black grouse, and is also in the top 1 per cent nationally for curlew and lapwing abundance.
All the birds listed are red-listed species - of conservation concern - either because their overall population, number of breeding pairs, or territorial range is significantly decreasing... but not on these moors! All three estates are members of the Moorland Association, where facts and quotes from this article were originally published.
The black grouse population at Coverhead has been re-established through a pioneering relocation programme, taking male black grouse from their core range and re-establishing them in other areas with suitable habitat.
The project was led by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust under license from Natural England, and all trans-located birds were radio tracked as a part of a 5-year study.
The programme has been particularly successful at Coverhead, with a sustainable breeding population now established.
The estate identifies three factors that are crucial to helping upland birds to survive and thrive.
James Mawle of Coverhead explained: “Firstly, habitat management, including monitoring of the grazing regime to ensure the sward is properly maintained and to allow wildflowers to bloom.
"Secondly, skilled keepering to ensure that predators are controlled, enabling ground-nesting birds to have the best chance of survival.
“Finally, and most importantly is the insect life on the estate. Chick survival depends on a good diet of insects in the early weeks. The estate has worked hard to ensure the entomology is in place to provide an abundance of insects for chicks when they are at their most vulnerable.”
The estate’s conservation work also benefits a range of other species including lapwing, dipper, golden plover, red grouse and snipe.
Egton covers approximately 4,900 acres and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with areas designated as Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation.
At Egton, the heather moorland is managed for the benefit of all species, with over 300 acres restored (see details of how further down).
Red grouse are the mainstay of the estate, while other species that benefit from moorland management include golden plover, lapwing, curlew and merlin.
Oliver Foster of Egton Estate says it is rewarding to see the Lapwings nest every year: “The aerial displays of the male Lapwing are a joy to witness every spring and it is an absolute delight later in the season to see the chicks emerge and take their first steps. Traditional moorland management techniques such as predator control, restoration burning and grazing management have enabled the population of Lapwing here at Egton to remain stable over a number of years, in contrast to declines for this species in other parts of the UK. We are committed to ongoing conservation work for the benefit of upland bird species.”
To restore over 300 acres of peatland on the Egton Estate, peat dams have been installed and drainage ditches in deep peat blocked, which has the effect of raising water levels in the surrounding land and improving the hydrology of the soil. This work benefits wading birds and can help a variety of plants such as sphagnum mosses to re-establish, in turn reducing carbon emmissions and improving biodiversity.
Swinton has been a key partner in the government’s Hen Harrier action plan since 2016, undertaking a range of conservation actions to help one of the UK’s most endangered birds to re-establish territories on suitable habitat in the north of England.
Swinton Estate identifies and monitors hen harrier winter roosts, and nests, to protect them from potential persecution, predation, and possible disturbance by members of the public.
Gamekeepers on the estate provide supplementary food to adult Hen Harriers to boost fledging success of their young, whilst helping protect chicks of other rare species from predation.
The estate is also engaged in the trial Brood Management Scheme, which has proved a vital and successful element in conservation work since 2018. The strictly regulated research trial aims to investigate the feasibility and effect of taking eggs from nesting hen harriers, rearing them in a specialist facility, and releasing them to become healthy adults.
In 2021, 84 hen harrier chicks fledged in the north of England, the highest number for 35 years. There were 24 successful nests, 19 of them are on moors actively managed for red grouse, in Northumberland, North Yorkshire, County Durham, Cumbria, South Yorkshire and Lancashire.
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