Page last updated at 07:58 GMT, Thursday, 17 April 2008 08:58 UK

Gamekeeping boosts bird numbers

Fox
Gamekeepers who control predators have a major impact, says the trust

Controlling predator numbers leads to a dramatic rise in the populations of ground-nesting birds, say researchers.

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust used gamekeepers on selected plots in Northumberland.

Compared to uncontrolled plots, waders, red grouse, curlew, golden plover and lapwing bred in much greater numbers.

But animal welfare group Advocates for Animals questioned whether it was ethical to limit the numbers of one species in favour of another.

The trust's Upland Predation Experiment controlled foxes, crows, stoats and weasels on moorland at Otterburn over an eight-year period.

The results of the research show that waders and red grouse have greater breeding success on sites with predator removal, with double the number of pairs being successful.

On the plots, 53% of curlew, golden plover and lapwing pairs were successful in years with predator control, however just 28% fledged chicks without predator control.

'Ethical issues'

The project also saw the lapwing population became extinct in the absence of predator control but return to breed successfully once predator control was reinstated.

Dr Kathy Fletcher, the trust's senior scientist at Otterburn, said: "The findings of our own long-standing research at Otterburn should help to guide future conservation management decisions.

"But with wader bird populations in steep decline, evidence is now mounting that predator control might be the key technique that will save our much-loved moorland birds."

However, an Advocates for Animals spokeswoman said the control of predators raised ethical issues.

She said: "It's one thing to say that these methods can protect populations of birds, but is it morally acceptable?

"Killing one species in favour of another should only ever be a short-term solution."




SEE ALSO
Grouse decline 'can be reversed'
31 Jan 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Moor project 'to protect raptors'
20 Sep 07 |  South of Scotland
Bodyguards watch over rare birds
27 Apr 05 |  Cumbria

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