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Keepers are key to future of iconic rare birds; gamekeeper.

Byline: Brian Hardcastle

COUNTRY people are routinely portrayed as resilient and optimistic. The populist idea is that we'll soldier on come what may, whatever life throws at us.

There's a whiff of urban myth about the idea of course. But I suppose, in the main, it's an accurate enough depiction. If country people gave up that easily, rural Wales might have ground to a halt long ago.

Everyone needs a bit of good news from time to time to keep them going. And last month I described how a new study carried out on data gathered on the Berwyn - the analysis was done by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust with funding from the Moorland Association - showed that since driven grouse shooting ceased in the Berwyn, key species of birdlife have taken a turn for the worse.

Some, such as waders, have gone into catastrophic decline.

The slumps are immense. Lapwing have effectively gone extinct locally, while curlew have declined by 79% and golden plover by 90%.

These are changes on a terrifying scale. Terrifying because the T drop in abundance is surely an indicator of the area's environmental health. But how can this sad tale provide a scrap of hope? The good news is that if driven grouse shooting can be restored there's a good chance the fortunes of these wading birds could well improve.

How? Well, driven grouse shooting depends on gamekeepers - and the legal predator control and habitat management work done by them. Gamekeepers, for all the flak we get from the ignorant and the blinkered, are wildlife managers par excellence, arguably, perhaps, without equal. The effectiveness of keepering as a force for good for wildlife is something that many of our legislators in Wales are, at long last, beginning to take on board.

Compare what has happened in Wales since driven grouse shooting stopped in the 1990s with the situation in northern England. There, densities of red grouse have increased significantly over the same period, thanks to good keepering, while on the North York Moors a recent study by the National Park, suggests that waders on moors managed by gamekeepers for grouse shooting are now at their highest levels for 18 years. Keepering has the skill set to breathe new life into the wildlife of the Welsh uplands.

Brian Hardcastle is chairman of the Mid and South Wales branch of the National Gamekeepers' Organisation (NGO)

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 3, 2015
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