Page last updated at 09:34 GMT, Friday, 27 February 2009

Black grouse make return to Arran

Black Grouse
Some males have been released on the island to begin setting up territories

A reintroduction programme has seen iconic black grouse making a comeback on the isle of Arran.

A total of 14 pairs have been set up on the island, with some in pens and some released to set up territories, before further releases later in the year.

The last sighting of a black grouse on the island was said to be in 2000.

The scheme is being run by the Arran Black Grouse Group, the National Trust for Scotland, Arran Natural History Society and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Black Grouse
The programme will see a release of females and chicks later in the year
National Trust for Scotland senior ranger Kate Sampson said: "It is great to see the black grouse finally arrive on Arran.

"This follows eight years of planning and hard work by the Arran Black Grouse Group, supported by essential funding from the National Trust for Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage - as well as generous donations from local businesses and individuals from Arran.

"We will now keep the females and a few of the males in specially-designed pens intended to mimic natural habitat and reduce stress levels so that the birds can breed in safety this year.

"The chicks will then be released into the wild, where we hope they will flourish once again."

Conservation experts will release a few unattached males through March, to enable them to set up territories and prepare for females which will be released later in 2009.

Black Grouse
The male black grouse or "blackcock" is very distinctive
Glossy blue-black plumage and red wattles
White bars on the wings, and curved black tail feathers
At time of lekking (mating display) in early spring, feathers are fanned, giving tail a lyre shape, exposing striking white under-tail coverts
Historically, the black grouse received special protection on Arran.

In 1703, the book Description of the Western Islands of Scotland described how they were not allowed to be killed without a permit, under punishment of a fine.

Large numbers were being shot in the 19th Century but by the 1950s the black grouse was still a common breeding species right across Arran.

However, numbers continued to fall, and the National Trust for Scotland said the last recorded bird was a single female spotted in High Glen Cloy on 18 February, 2000.

In Britain, surveys carried out by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Game Conservancy Trust and Forest Enterprise, showed that the UK black grouse population fell from about 25,000 males in the early 1990s to an estimated 6,510 males in 1995/6.

It is thought the main reasons for decline include loss of habitat through intensive sheep grazing, agricultural improvements and changes in agriculture.

Increased numbers of predators such as foxes have also been blamed.

The Arran Black Grouse Group is made up of conservationists, estate managers, farmers, foresters and gamekeepers and began the reintroduction programme this week.

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