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Byline: DAVE POOLER

WHEN I started out as a gamekeeper, the passage of winter into spring was marked by the beginning of lambing. That's changed.

For me, what now heralds the onset of the warmer days is the exotic sight of Rhug's stocky bison calves being turned out onto clean grass.

Bounding with joy, their energy exemplifies the vigour of the season.

Incidentally, should you be driving past our new farm shop on the A5, bison burgers are delicious, too!

Springtime also brings an announcement by RSBP Cymru of an upturn in the fortunes of the black grouse, an iconic symbol of our uplands.

By way of courtship, the black males will fly at each other at combat speed, full of bluster, to compete for the attention of the dowdier grey hens, at sites know as leks. It is an amazing spectacle.

Annual counts of "lekking" males is used to build up a picture of the health status of black grouse populations.

Latest figures (for 2011) from RSPB Cymru put the number of displaying males at 328, the highest total since surveys began in Mid and North Wales in 1997.

Yet all not is necessarily as it seems. RSPB Cymru is a member of the Welsh Black Grouse Recovery Project (WBGRP), a partnership initiative that also includes statutory bodies such as CCW and private landowners.

This collective will to put the black grouse at the heart of a major conservation push was fantastic: over the years I have backed the project to the hilt, as would any right-thinking conservationist.

But what does concern me is the impression given by RSPB Cymru in recent press statements. It seems to suggest the "excellent results" of 2011 are proof positive that the species has turned the corner for good.

I'm not so sure.

I have been told that without the sort of conservation work that's being done at just one site, a sporting estate managed by gamekeepers near Ruabon, the exuberant claims of this apparent triumphant recovery could not have been made - it was the keepers' expertise which provided the single biggest contribution to the black grouse count in 2011.

The turnaround might perhaps not be all it's dressed up to be. But it has provided more positive proof of the effectiveness of gamekeeper-led wildlife conservation. Dave Pooler is headkeeper at Rhug Estate, Corwen, and North Wales chair of the National Gamekeepers' Organisation.? RSPB Cymru is calling on landowners with black grouse habitats to contact its wildlife advisers on 01249 672850.

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A lekking male Pic: RSPB IMAGES
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 12, 2012
Words:426
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