A NEW app is being developed in conjunction with grouse moors and gamekeepers which it is said will lead to a major step forward in recording bird of prey sightings across Scotland.

It is claimed its use will show that the birds are regularly spotted over grouse moors.

The app, which uses the EpiCollect5 platform developed by Imperial College London, is currently being trialled by gamekeepers and landowners. It follows the introduction of the phone app for mountain hare counting which has enabled data to be reported from estates directly to research organisation the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. Data can then be shared with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Keepers and land managers using the app can record species such as eagles, hen harriers and buzzards and log photographs and behaviours of the birds and the time they are spotted.

Scientists from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust are discussing this data and protocols with SNH, whose own research has identified the potential value of land managers’ sightings of species and the need to share this information.

Estates have used independent researchers to record scores of bird species on their land but a gap remains for the majority of moors to record raptor sightings in real time.

Researchers and land managers involved in developing the new app said it could transform the way biodiversity and species is recorded on estates.

Ross Macleod, of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: “Whatever form of land management we are involved in, the production of evidence to demonstrate best practice is vital.

“That is why we are trialling data collection through the new app. This will allow land managers and surveyors we work with to let us know which and how many birds of prey are present on moorland managed for grouse.

“As we have seen from the new methodology for mountain hare counts, and the accompanying app to go with it, gamekeepers and land managers are keen to ensure that information is gathered to show the range of wildlife on moorland. This can only be positive at a time when evidence-led policy is more crucial than ever.”

Dee Ward, owner of Rottal Estate, near Kirriemuir, which is trialling the app, said: “Those of us who work on moorland managed for grouse see a wide range of birds of prey on a daily basis. Despite this, there has often been a challenge in accurately reporting these sightings which has been problematic at a time of significant policy debate around grouse moors.

“The app has the potential to transform the data we can collect on raptors and it has been met with real excitement from across the sector.

“The Werritty report into grouse moor management has called for an improvement in the populations of certain raptors on grouse moors and we believe this technology will help ascertain what we have already and help encourage greater numbers in future.”

Garry MacLennan, head keeper at Invermark Estate, from the Angus Glens Moorland Group, said: “Keepers have raptors around them on the moors day in and day out.

“Grouse moors have many raptors – a fact that critics find very difficult to recognise. Using this app will help us prove that far from being raptor deserts, moors are places where raptors thrive alongside other species.”