Upland moors of heather and blanket bog are important for nature conservation, landscape and recreation. Grouse shooting, as well as supporting the rural economy in the uplands, has helped to retain heather by holding back plantation forestry and, less successfully, over-grazing by sheep. Grouse moors are good areas for breeding waders like curlew and golden plover but some birds of prey are found at lower densities than might be expected.

Traditionally many moorland managers understood that some breeding raptors killed many grouse each year and that these species should not be tolerated in numbers on grouse moors, in spite of legal protection. Contemporary research reinforced this perception.

Langholm Moor was the main study site of the Joint Raptor Study (1992-1997) which measured the effect of hen harriers and other raptors on red grouse numbers. The study's report, and subsequent published research papers, document the relationship observed there between raptors and grouse.

Subsequently Langholm Moor became part of the Newcastleton Hills Special Protection Area (SPA) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which are notified principally for the hen harrier population.

The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project was a partnership between the moor owner, Scottish and English conservation agencies, and conservation and research charities. It was an outcome for Scotland's Moorland Forum and informed the historical ‘Environment Council’ discussion on reconciling bird of prey conservation with grouse shooting and the subsequent ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan’.


The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project aimed to demonstrate a means of resolving the raptor-grouse moor controversy by restoring grouse moor management to the Langholm Moor SPA/SSSI as a way of meeting the conservation objectives of the site. In particular, it aimed to:

  • demonstrate how to resolve conflicts between moorland management for raptors and red grouse
  • maintain the hen harrier population as viable component of the SPA
  • extend and improve the heather moorland habitat beyond its state in 2002
  • improve grouse production such that grouse shooting again becomes viable enough to support moorland management

This site aimed to become a model for modern, sustainable grouse moor management. The duration of the project was up to ten years, subject to review every three years.

The work programme comprised five elements:

  1. Habitat measures. Including heather burning, bracken control, heather restoration, blanket bog management, livestock management and goat control.
  2. Control of predators that prey on grouse. Numbers of foxes, stoats and crows are being reduced, but no protected species will be killed.
  3. Disease control. Medicated grit is used to combat the nematode worm Trichostrongylus which periodically decimates grouse stocks. More details of this technique can be found on the GWCT website.
  4. Diversionary feeding. Carrion is provided to breeding pairs of hen harriers to limit the numbers of grouse chicks they kill.
  5. Some red grouse, taken from other moors, may be released if recovery of the existing stock is slow.

The project also considered creating alternative nesting and hunting habitat for hen harriers.

We employed a team of gamekeepers to undertake this work and they operated alongside shepherds and ecologists.

Ecological monitoring

Progress was assessed by a team of ecologists who:

  1. Assessed abundance and breeding success of the red grouse.
  2. Measured the extent and causes of grouse mortality - including that caused by predation and disease.
  3. Recorded numbers and breeding success of hen harriers. This includes continuous nest watches to check the prey brought back to harrier chicks and the success or otherwise of the diversionary feeding.
  4. Assessed the relative abundance of other birds and mammals.

For more information on General Licences for predator control, click here.

Langholm Moor - Laurie Campbell