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What Now For Langholm?

The announcement of the end of this second trial on the 29,000 acres of Langholm Moor will be a surprise to many but not to those who have kept a close eye on procedures over the last 30 years or more. By stopping the keepering they are suggesting they already know the results even if monitoring is to continue to finish the 10 year period.

This is what the directors had to say -

"Undertaking a review of structure and activity over the final year and a half of the project, the LMDP Board Directors have confirmed the project will continue until October 2017, with important changes to the management of the moor".

Directors acknowledged significant project successes in recovering heather habitats, stimulating black grouse numbers and demonstrating the role of diversionary feeding in reducing hen harrier predation on red grouse broods. The many and varied visitors to the project have illustrated the contribution of LMDP to demonstrating good moorland practice. The hard work of the keepering team was central to these results, with valuable support from the project science and volunteers.

There are several points that need to be added now and not later, and the 1st point is the total collapse of the voles. This effect will have a major point on the number of harriers trying to nest on Langholm this year [2016] as with the number of Short eared Owls. So far only 1 Short eared Owl has been seen compared to the 42 pairs 2 years ago. The shooting lobby will say 'lack of keeping resulted in the loss of Hen Harriers and Short eared Owls.'

The 2nd point is the maximum number of red grouse coincided with the maximum number of breeding Hen Harriers and SEOs. This point has not been written about anywhere! Why? Regardless of supplementary feeding to Hen Harriers these highs were gained at the top of a vole and pipit year. [Did the game keepers pour 100,000s of voles onto the moor!] Voles often have cycles like lemmings where predators expand and then decline due to the numbers of voles. Throughout Britain are vole years matched with good Red Grouse years?

This is supposed to be the opposite according to the Game Conservancy via this thesis –

"Vole cycles on Langholm correlate negatively with brood survival, which opposes expectations that suggest that APH will cause a reduction in red grouse numbers in low vole years (Angelstam et al. 1984; Reif et al. 2001; Redpath & Thirgood 1999; Tornberg et al. 2012) . This suggests that when generalist predators such as buzzards switch to alternative prey during years of low vole abundance, they do not switch to small game birds. It is likely that more sufficient prey sources can be found away from the red grouse habitats (e.g. rabbits), so raptors are spending less time foraging in red grouse areas in low vole years. This implies that red grouse are not the main food source of generalist predators, but may be taken opportunistically when raptors are hunting in red grouse habitat."

This was written in 2013 by Kirsten Hazelwood in her thesis called – Factors Affecting Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) Nesting Success and Chick Survival at Langholm Moor supervised by Sonja Ludwig of the game conservancy [no need to use their new name as there is certainly no conservation work done!] Shame she was not present in 2014!

The 3rd point –success was due to keepering! Said who – RSPB , SNH, Natural England! Surely not! No habitat was created for bringing raptors to an alternative food other than Red Grouse. The largest number of voles are created from grassland. Heather was the main object of the project with bracken removed and suggestions of broad leaved trees as well. With £3.5 million plus used on the scheme only to create a heather moor no wonder raptors do not have anywhere else to feed. Work carried out in Shetland proved that especially waders benefit from new grassland areas created in heather moorland!

Another sad thing here was the keepers were given praise for increasing Black Grouse but all the time the 5 keepers were trying to destroy Black Grouse habitat. The classic is the ‘white ground’ often full of purple moor grass and cotton grass the buds of which are a major food source. This was being trashed and replaced by heather. Birch Woodland is another valuable source of food but the keepers again did not plant any and even threatened to remove large areas of it to produce even more heather.

To compare figures from an RSPB reserve at Geltsdale 30 miles south from here of only 13,000 acres compared to 29,000 acres of Langholm moor there were 55 male Black Grouse at the peak compared to the 29 males found here. Only 6000 acres is physically managed for Black Grouse at Geltsdale with no game keepers present on the land but 2 shooting estates close by. In contrast praise was given to the work of 5 game keepers at Langholm who did no land management what so ever to benefit Black Grouse! Many predators like Badgers and Foxes were present at Geltsdale along with Stoats, Weasels, Polecat and many birds of prey.

It is amazing that historically Langholm once had the highest densities of Black Grouse in Britain and this estate has done everything in its powers to destroy the birds habitat!

4th Point - No extra feeding was done for the Short eared Owls once the commonest bird of prey removed from this moor by the keepering [Ratcliffe]. It is suggested over 100 Short eared Owls were removed each year! What! For taking voles! The Short eared Owl is the most persecuted owl in Britain for taking Red Grouse chicks so why has no organisation done any research on this bird. There is not even one monograph on this species! Is it because they are so rare due to this persecution!

A recent 4 page article in ‘Birdwatch’ did not mention persecution just that little is known about the species! I was allowed a right of reply but even this was abused by the editor, Dominic Mitchelle. I wrote again but my letter was not printed. With a Vole collapse this year where will the Short eared Owls be found breeding? Where the Mountain hares have been removed is a good bet! And the owls will be removed as well.

The 5th point is ‘No shooting’. In 2014 there was ample Red Grouse to create a ‘driven’ Red Grouse shoot. WHY? Because the head keeper was wanting extra stock for an even bigger shoot in 2015! There are two sides to this part of the story. Was there pressure put on him not to shoot to make the whole scheme look like a total failure which many written reports are now saying especially in the shooting press and national newspapers as they don’t know the full story. Or was it like many keepers he thought he could control the weather!

In 2014 Spring counts gave between 75 to 96 birds per km2. The July counts increased rapidly between 100 to 120 grouse per km2 which means between 11,700 and 14,000 were present come 12th August! Given that they need a surplus even 2,000 brace could have been shot leaving 7,700 -10,000 birds to winter.

As we now know 2015 was one of the most disastrous years for weather in over a century. Not many Red Grouse chick were raised. Not one Capercaillie chick was raised in Abernethy Forest and it is thought not one chick of Black Grouse was raised due to rain, cold and lack of sun! Many Red Grouse shoots were cancelled due to lack of birds around the country so the gamble failed and is now reported as 8 years of failure. Even the so called conservations bodies involved with this scheme are not shouting from high about this miss management and most are putting the heads firmly in the sand!

So where do we go from here?

Based on what we have been told about the future which is Heritage Lottery funding has already been applied to for the future Golden Eagle project and a 3rd Langholm project is a possibility but these so called directors have not got a clue what they are looking for in a third one!

Community Buyout?

Buccleuch’s estate have made it clear that they would like a Red Grouse moor and to get that birds of prey would have to be removed [Oddie, their land agent in a public conference in 2015] One of their game keepers claimed that the estate were removing 300 birds of prey a year [Ratcliffe] which is of course was breaking the law. This brought about the first Langholm project and now the second! How much more money can be thrown at this estate?

The future of this area would be better served under the community of Langholm which the Scottish Government is keen to see land run by local communities especially if it is run as an area to create eco-tourism for people to watch raptors like Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Red Kite, Hobby, Goshawk and Buzzards.

This would be the largest ‘buy out’ so far made by the Scottish Government but why should the general public pour money into an area only for the Buccleuch estate to benefit from. A community run programme would show what could be done not only in Scotland but in England to where raptor persecution is also very bad.

The area is only minute off the A7 and 20 minutes off the M6 and M74.The community could manage the moor improving habitats like woodlands, river and stream edges, peat bogs and grassland with farming, eco-tourism increasing tourism via hotel beds, B &B and holiday lets creating money for the community.

The moor could become the first ‘lead’ free moor in Britain with Red and Black Grouse, Roe Deer and feral goats used for ‘walked up’ shooting and falconry. The SNH with the moors various designations could oversee the changeover with continued monitoring and advice to the community helping education not just in Langholm but around the country.

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