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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 11:55 GMT
Farming plan to save black grouse
Black grouse
The black grouse needs winter stubble for feeding
Black grouse in the north-east of England are to be helped sustain their species with a new scheme announced by the government on Wednesday.

The scheme, which helps farmers to practise green farming methods, was being announced by Environment Minister Michael Meacher, with the backing of English Nature.

One of the pilot areas is at Barnard Castle in County Durham.

As well as helping the black grouse to survive, other species in the area which could be helped include snipes, curlews, skylarks and lapwings, as well as butterflies and bees.

Farmers are being encouraged to take part and help increase the populations of farmland birds, insects and wild plants that have been decimated over the last 50 years through use of pesticides and other chemicals.

The big advantage of the scheme is that it will be open to all farmers and pay for wildlife friendly practices already in place, as well as encouraging new green initiatives.

'Mating displays'

Heather Wilkins of English Nature told BBC News Online: "The black grouse needs a mosaic of moorland-edge habitat.

"It needs harvest stubble left over the winter as a food source, which means farmers not ploughing up fields immediately after harvest.

"We would also like farmers to leave some corners of their land uncultivated, so that wild plants, which are seed rich, are available to birds.

"The grouse also need areas of grassland, so that birds can carry out their mating displays."

Other pilot areas taking part in the scheme include parts of Devon, Berkshire and Lincolnshire.

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