Return of the grouse on the Welsh hills of Pale Moor

What happened in Wales on the Glorious 12th? Not a great deal, and certainly nothing much at Pale Moor in North Wales. At the start of the grouse-shooting season, gamekeeper Craig Jones listened in vain for the sound of grouse - and other birds. All that could be seen were crows circling beyond the range of the shotgun he carried.

"The air should be alive with birdsong, including the rapid-fire call of grouse," he said. "But listen, there's complete silence."

Yet an unusual alliance of conservationists and field sports enthusiasts is working on a five-year project to re-introduce the red grouse across thousands of acres of heather moorland in Wales. Other moorland species, such as the black grouse, golden plover and lapwing, will also benefit if the collaboration between the Countryside Council for Wales, the Game Conservancy Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is successful.

And the showpiece for the newly-formed Welsh Grouse Project is the 8,000- acre Pale Moor, near Bala, Gwynedd. Here it is hoped that grouse will survive if moorland is properly managed.

Paradoxically, if the sound of shotguns are again heard on Welsh moors the project will have been a success. For the money raised from the bird's popularity as a quarry for shooting will help underwrite the conservation work.

Years of neglect have taken their toll at Pale Moor: the heather has been allowed to grow without regular burning and is now the wrong height for many bird species; the population of predators has gone unchecked; and there are too many sheep being grazed.

Controlling predators is a priority. A trap set high on the moor contains the latest batch of crows to fall prey to the new gamekeeper and they will be humanely dispatched, as will the foxes that come within sight of his gun.

A quarter of a century ago Wales had a higher density of red grouse than Scotland, but predation coupled with overgrazing and disease has reduced the population to the point of extinction. There are believed to be fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs left. Mr Jones has a faded black-and-white picture from the turn of the century that shows 12 gamekeepers on the Pale Moor preparing to set out to organise a day's shoot for the landowner and his guests.

A walk across the moor reveals 50-year-old shooting butts now falling into disrepair where a dozen or more guns could be comfortably accommodated. Winston Churchill used to shoot here and locals can remember 40 brace being taken in a day. Before Mr Jones's recent arrival, it was 20 years since the last gamekeeper was employed here.

"This is one of Wales's last wildernesses," Mr Jones explained. "When it goes, some of the last of the ground nesting birds in the country go with it. It has to be managed to survive. For example, there is only one pair of curlew on 4,500 acres."

His sense of commitment is shared by Ian Lindsay, co-ordinator of the Welsh Grouse Project. "We hope to show that the objectives of sporting management, conservation and upland farming need not be incompatible," Mr Lindsay said. "It is all a question of balance. Over the last 40 years the balance has swung in favour of agriculture."

He explained there are now no large, formal grouse shoots in Wales and it is unlikely they would ever return. Yet they hope to raise grouse numbers to a level where field-sports enthusiasts can enjoy their sport.

"In Scotland, continued investment in keepers and moorland management has maintained viable grouse populations," said Mr Lindsay. "In Wales, this tradition has, with very few exceptions, been lost, resulting in a downward spiral of fewer grouse, fewer keepers and less management. Hand-in-hand with this has been the decline in the quality of heather upland."

The Welsh Grouse Project will study grouse numbers and research into specific problems, such as bracken, which is overrunning the heather moorlands. Blood tests on grouse shot in the Berwyn Mountains, close to the Pale Moor, showed high levels of louping-ill, one of the two major illnesses affecting the birds. It can cause 80 per cent mortality in chicks and research on a cure is under way.

"If all goes well there will be a sufficient population of grouse built up in five years," said Craig Jones. "That is the challenge for me. What makes it all the more rewarding is that I am helping restore a moor that is an asset for Wales."

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album