Not all of us are fortunate enough to live in an upland environment, but should you visit the uplands at this time of year you may encounter curious rhythmic bubbling and strange gushing sounds that announce the unmistakable presence of black grouse; arguably the most charismatic of our upland birds. Males habitually gather on traditional sites known as ‘leks’, to perform their elaborate pre-nuptial courtship display, where each attempt to exert a dominance in the arena, jousting and fighting, in a bid to attract the most females (greyhens) for mating. To witness this ancient dawn ritual is one of the most spectacular and memorable experiences in birdwatching.
The black grouse is neither exclusively a woodland nor a moorland bird, it feeds on bilberry, heather, cotton grass and legumes, as well as emergent buds and shoots of birch, rowan and pine. This wide range of dietary needs necessitates a diverse landscape able to support the complexity of many different elements, for this reason their presence is a good indication as to the quality of the upland environment; they are simply ‘bio-diversity incarnate’.
In our over-grazed, over-burnt and jealously keepered uplands this type of diverse landscape is a rare habitat. So, to have an upland estate on your doorstep that supports a good population of black grouse and a wealth of other wildlife is exceptional. This particular estate has a judicious managed regime, within a long-term, unambiguous management strategy that is delivering bio-diversity and a landscape for mankind’s contemplation and enjoyment.
Once criticised for its contemporary approach to upland management, the ethos of ‘WildLand Ltd’, a privately-owned company, is to purchases ‘wild’ land to protect it against exploitation, restoring as much nature and natural beauty as possible for the benefit of future generations. In my humble opinion, and I speak with some knowledge of upland management, there are some very important lessons to be gained here for both statutory environment agencies (both sides of the border) as well as national non-government conservation organisations. It is truly a unique and inspirational experience to visit ‘naturally’ managed eco-systems in our heather dominated uplands; compared to those pseudo upland landscapes that promote ‘conditional bio-diversity’. This new philosophical and visionary approach to managing large blocks of our cherished uplands offers hope and encouragement for the 21st century; a better future for those regal carpets of heather moorland and the potential diversity of wildlife we know they can support.