A STUDY has found commercial shooting is unlikely to resume at a Scottish Borders moor.

Despite a recovery in grouse numbers at Langholm Moor, it was found not to be enough to sustain a business.

The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project was set up to establish whether the moor could be recovered as a national and local asset, supporting grouse populations for driven grouse shooting, birds of prey in an internationally important protected area for hen harrier, and to deliver other wider biodiversity.

Individual elements of the project were described as “markedly successful”, including addressing decades of heather loss.

Although the grouse population recovered in some years, the gamekeeper management which brought the positive outcomes could not be afforded in the long run, the report said.

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The partnership included Buccleuch, Scottish Natural Heritage, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland and Natural England.

Mark Oddy speaking for the project hosts Buccleuch said: “Buccleuch was proud to be part of this important project.

“As an estate business with sporting interests, it was heartening to see the environmental and conservation benefits of moorland management highlighted.

“Clearly, many challenges lie ahead in ensuring these benefits can continue but this report underlines the fact that moorland management has a positive and substantial contribution to make in preserving our cherished moorland for the future."

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Ross Johnston, of SNH said: “This report is being published at a critical time, with the climate emergency and biodiversity loss high on the agenda.

“The report shows the strength of partnership working in tackling key wildlife management issues.

“The project delivered some recovery of wader bird populations, supported important rural jobs, allowed many visitors to enjoy seeing hen harriers and other raptors in an attractive setting and has produced many important scientific publications.

“We also now know that driven grouse moor management is difficult in the face of rising predation pressure - much of it due to historical land use changes such as habitat loss and, at Langholm, neighbouring forestry harbouring predators.”

Teresa Dent, chief executive of the Game and Wildlife Conservation said: “The partnership working on this moor has delivered profound and practical insight into what it takes to sustain our moorlands.

"We all hoped that reaching a moorland balance would be easy and some seemed to think it would be. It was not, especially within the current policy framework which needs to adapt to new habitat and predation circumstances if we wish to keep our moors.

"The project has demonstrated that where numbers of red grouse have fallen to low levels perhaps because habitat management has reduced or has been abandoned, or predators are no longer controlled by gamekeepers, it is exceptionally difficult to recover that moor to a state where driven grouse shooting can take place.

"Without driven shooting we know active management declines, exposing ground nesting birds of prey to predation themselves, and losing heather cover.

“The clear message from this final report is not one of a binary choice of red grouse or birds of prey, but that we need both to be balanced if we value our moorlands and their ecosystems.”