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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Stephen G Willis

Littlewood, Nick A., Mason, Tom H.E., Hughes, Martin, Jacques, Rob Whittingham, Mark J. & Willis, Stephen G. (2019). The influence of different aspects of grouse moorland management on nontarget bird assemblages. Ecology and Evolution

Author(s) from Durham


Conflict between stakeholders with opposing interests can hamper biodiversity conservation. When conflicts become entrenched, evidence from applied ecology can reveal new ways forward for their management. In particular, where disagreement exists over the efficacy or ethics of management actions, research clarifying the uncertain impacts of management on wildlife can move debates forwards to conciliation.
Here, we explore a case‐study of entrenched conflict where uncertainty exists over the impacts of multiple management actions: namely, moorlands managed for the shooting of red grouse (willow ptarmigan) Lagopus lagopus in the United Kingdom (UK). Debate over how UK moorlands should be managed is increasingly polarized. We evaluate, for the first time at a regional scale, the relative impacts of two major moorland management practices—predator control and heather burning—on nontarget bird species of conservation concern.
Birds were surveyed on 18 estates across Northern England and Southeast Scotland. Sites ranged from intensively managed grouse moors to moorland sites with no management for grouse shooting. We hypothesised that both targeted predator control and burning regimes would enhance ground‐nesting wader numbers and, as a consequence of this, and of increased grouse numbers, nontarget avian predators should also be more abundant on heavily managed sites.
There were positive associations between predator control and the abundance of the three most widespread species of ground‐nesting wader: strong effects for European golden plover Pluvialis apricaria and Eurasian curlew Numenius arquata and, less strongly, for common snipe Gallinago gallinago. These effects saturated at low levels of predator control. Evidence for effects of burning was much weaker. We found no evidence of enhanced numbers of nontarget predators on heavily managed sites.