Moorland wizardry proves the salvation for tiny birds of prey

BRITAIN’S smallest birds of prey are flying in to nest on Yorkshire grouse moors which have helped stave off their downfall.

The Merlin. Picture: RSPB

A new study commissioned by the Moorland Association has found dramatic gains in merlin populations on globally recognised heather moorland managed by gamekeepers for wild red grouse like those found in the Dales, Nidderdale and the North York Moors.

The number of recorded breeding merlins has doubled on grouse moors over the course of the last 20 years, the study by consultant ecologists Penny Anderson Associates found. For the research, ecologists assessed the distribution of breeding merlin across England and discovered that some 78 per cent of recorded breeding was on protected and conserved iconic heather landscapes kept specifically for red grouse.

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Despite the encouraging figures, Robert Benson, chairman of the Moorland Association warned that the bird still faced a perilous future.

“While the threatened species has done exceptionally well on land looked after by keepers, the beautiful birds are struggling in other upland areas, where breeding records have fallen by more than half in the same period,” he said.

Careful management of moorland terrain remains key to protecting the species, Mr Benson added: “Plenty of heather to nest in, a ready food supply and the control of merlin’s natural predators are the winning combination of grouse moor management.

“These lovely birds of prey with square-cut tails and pointed wings are doing well on our members’ land.”