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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 September 2007, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
Moor project 'to protect raptors'
Hen harrier
Hen harriers have been persecuted because they feed on grouse
A pioneering moorland experiment has been launched which could signal an end to the historic conflict between conservation and countryside economics.

The project at Langholm Moor will examine whether a grouse moor can be commercially viable while protecting hen harriers and other raptors.

Suspicion for killing birds of prey has often fallen on landowners keen to protect lucrative grouse stocks.

The 10-year project will cost more than 8m and employ eight people.

The moor covers 10,000 acres of the vast Buccleuch estates in Dumfriesshire.

Estate Manager Mark Oddy said the conservation project could be worth 1m a year to the local economy and insisted it signalled that landowners were no longer merely paying lip-service to raptor conservation.

'Absolutely truthful'

Mr Oddy said: "The foundation of the project is about having a viable grouse moor but that foundation is to underpin everything else - the habitat and all wild birds including raptors so it is seeking to demonstrate if that can actually be achieved."

Chris Rollie, RSPB Scotland's Dumfries and Galloway area manager, said persecution of raptors on grouse moors remained as "desperate" as it had ever been.

He said the success of the project depended on gamekeepers and conservationists, who have been in regular conflict in the past, being open and truthful with each other.

He added: "There are going to be five full-time gamekeepers and it is very important obviously that they are absolutely truthful and adhere to the project brief.

"Equally it is clear that the people who are doing the monitoring of the birds of prey and the grouse, of the voles and the pipits have to be absolutely trustworthy and objective in what they are doing as well."

We will try to feed the harriers so that they don't take grouse chicks all the time and we believe that may work
Prof Colin Galbraith
Scottish Natural Heritage

The project partnership will be chaired by Professor Colin Galbraith, of Scottish Natural Heritage, who said getting people who had disagreed in the past to sit together was a "great achievement."

He said: "The project will manage Langholm for grouse, for hen harriers and for the heather habitat.

"It will involve a whole range of things - we will have a team of five keepers here, a team of scientists to do some monitoring and a project manager to make sure it all works.

"We will try to feed the harriers so that they don't take grouse chicks all the time and we believe that may work.

"We will look at the overall management of the moor to make sure we get a viable grouse harvest alongside the harriers."

Prof Galbraith said the relationship between hen harriers and grouse has been a national issue for decades.

He added: "I would go so far as to say it is an internationally important project. The interest in the results will be a global one."

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