A scheme to tag and track one of Scotland’s most popular birds has been launched in a bid to halt their rapid decline.
ScottishPower Renewables (SPR) have undertaken the project to protect black grouse at the sites of their windfarms.
SPR ecologists and researchers will fit the birds with harnesses carrying data loggers, allowing the team to build a detailed picture of the birds’ movements.
The SPR windfarm at Cruach Mhor on the Cowal Peninsula, Argyll and Bute, will be the first trial site for this project as the area is known to have one of the highest black grouse populations across SPR’s windfarms and in the Cowal area.
A motion sensor camera has been installed on site to identify areas commonly used by grouse for lekking (mating) or feeding. Once this has been identified, a trap will be set up and a qualified and licenced harness fitter will attach the tags.
Data will then be collected as the grouse move around the site, and will be remotely downloaded at regular intervals for analysis and reporting.
By examining this data, the team will be able to study the impact of windfarms on black grouse. Turbines are not built closer than 500 yards to a black grouse lekking area, and the research project is being undertaken to give a better understanding of how black grouse populations make use the landscape around a windfarm.
Conservationists say that the project could be key to understanding why black grouse numbers are falling across Scotland and whether windfarm development is the key.
Doug Shapley of RSPB Scotland said: “We welcome this new study by ScottishPower Renewables. Black grouse are a red list species meaning they are of the highest conservation priority in the UK.
“Numbers have declined throughout Argyll and this is one of the few areas of Cowal where black grouse still occur, albeit at a lower population level.
“Habitat management is really important to helping these birds and we’re interested to see what the tagging might reveal about how they use the landscape at these sites.”
Peter Robson, Senior Ecologist at ScottishPower Renewables, added: “We have a number of challenges when considering the viability of a windfarm. First and foremost for any application there are rigorous ecological assessments that we carry out.
“We are dedicated to habitat preservation and restoration, across many different ecological and topographical settings, and work closely with partners such as RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage to ensure that we are working to support the environment and eco-system at all sites.
“This commitment by SPR has led to some very exciting research projects for the ecology team. This innovative black grouse project will allow us to understand more fully the impact of windfarms on the black grouse population.
“As responsible developers of renewable energy, we are keen to do everything in our power to protect this important and secretive species and this pioneering research will help inform those decisions.”
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