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Black grouse numbers lekking good at Geltsdale

Last modified: 03 September 2014

Black grouse displaying at lek at dawn

Black grouse are red-listed as a species of high conservation concern

Image: Chris Gomersall

Black grouse are enjoying their best year ever at the RSPB’s Geltsdale reserve in the North Pennines.

At a series of dawn monitoring sessions at the moorland site earlier this summer, 55 lekking males were counted, an increase of more than 20% on the previous best count in 2012. This appears to have led to a record-breaking breeding season with more chicks being spotted at the reserve than ever before.

Male black grouse are famous for their fascinating courtship displays called leks. They attempt to attract a female by strutting around with their tails spread and heads held low, while making a rhythmic bubbling call, interspersed with a sound like a sneeze.

The English black grouse population has been declining since the 1950s and, despite a recent stabilisation in the North Pennines, is red-listed as a species of high conservation concern. 

The increase in black grouse is thought to be a combination of two successive warm summers and ongoing habitat creation work at the reserve.

Ian Ryding, Farmland Warden at RSPB Geltsdale, says: “June is the key month for breeding black grouse, and luckily for the past two years, these have been warm and dry. But good weather alone is not enough; these birds also need a wide range of food, cover and shelter to thrive. By grazing cattle on the reserve, rather than sheep, we are creating the necessary patchwork of habitats required for the recovery of this endangered upland bird.”  

For further information about RSPB Geltsdale nature reserve, visit


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