ENDING grouse moor management could risk the local extinction of a range of ground nesting birds, according to a new report.

The research by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust looked at the impact of stopping grouse management on birds such as curlew, golden plover, lapwing, black grouse, hen harrier and merlin in the south west of Scotland.

The Scottish Greens called the new report “naked spin” which makes the “ludicrous” claim that grouse shooting contributes to conservation.

According to the report, Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands, where keepering has sharply declined, saw an 84% drop in golden plover population, 88% drop in lapwing and 61% drop in curlew.

When gamekeepers were removed from Langholm Moor in 2000, breeding hen harriers dropped by 61% from a peak of 20 breeding females in 1997, according to the research. When the gamekeepers went back on the moor again in 2008, breeding female harriers increased to 12 in 2014 before the project was wound up.

It also claims that while being managed for grouse, the Langholm-Newcastleton Hills Special Protection Area (SPA) boasted hen harrier breeding success more than twice that of the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands SPA or Glen App and Galloway Hills SPAs, where no grouse management occurs.

Green MSP Andy Wightman called on the Scottish Government to bring an end to the outdated blood sport. “That such a piece of naked spin has been produced only shows how worried the blood sports lobby has become,” he said.

“They should be worried. To argue that the survival of some species depends on allowing an elite minority to continue to enjoy shooting another species for sport is frankly ludicrous.”

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust research mirrors an equivalent study carried out in north Wales which examined the end of grouse moor management within the Berwyn SPA. That research showed a local extinction of lapwing, 90% loss of golden plover and a 79% reduction in curlew between 1983-5 and 2002. Over the same period, substantial increases in carrion crows, ravens and buzzards were noted.

In response the RSPB repeated an earlier call for the industry to be licensed. “We’re calling for the industry to be licensed as we are particularly concerned with the illegal killing of birds of prey, burning of peatland and use of medicated grit linked to driven grouse moors,” said Martin Harper, RSPB director of global conservation.

Police are currently investigating the death of a protected hen harrier, killed by an illegal trap on a grouse moor in the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire. Experts claim the bird endured “immeasurable unnecessary suffering”, with its leg almost severed by the jaws of the trap.

In South Lanarkshire alone, the RSPB has recorded at least 50 confirmed raptor persecution crimes on or close to grouse moors since 2003.

A Scottish Government review of grouse moor management and the need for regulation is due to be published shortly.

Dr Sian Whitehead, lead author of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust report, said the decline in moorland birds could also be due to changes in land-use, including afforestation and agricultural intensification or abandonment, as well as a decline in the extent of grouse moor management.

“Urgent implementation of measures, which include both habitat management and predator control at an appropriate scale and intensity are needed to prevent further declines,” said Dr Whitehead.