There has been some recent speculation in the media about the future of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (LMDP), and the results achieved to date. There is no doubt that restoring a large, relatively isolated ‘island’ moor has been a challenge, but to dismiss what has been achieved as a ‘failure’, as has occurred in some quarters, is wide of the mark,

Accordingly, I offered the Directors of the project an opportunity to set out how they view progress with the project, based on their monitoring of the results to date. Below is the agreed perspective from the partner organisations, including the RSPB, SNH, GWCT, the Buccleuch estate, and Natural England. It is clear that with key staff leaving before the planned end of the project, that future ambition needs to be given a health check. But let’s not underestimate the practical lessons learnt, and the opportunities for future joint effort.

Langholm Moor Demonstration Project Guest Blog

Langholm Moor Demonstration Project – to continue to October 2017

The project’s Directors will be continuing this innovative, insightful project until at least October 2017, the agreed term. The recent position statement highlights some important changes.

We, and the Scientific and Technical Advisory Group of the LMDP (the independent scientists and game management practitioners), have been encouraged that the project has met some of its targets.

First, habitat. Identifying the need for, working out how to and then successfully carrying out a major recovery of heather habitats has been tremendous result; in a landscape of grass dominated moor and dark forest Langholm is re-heathering, becoming more berry and moss rich, home to the sort of diverse life that Hugh McDiarmid celebrated in ‘Scotland Small?’. This is a real tribute to the innovation of the gamekeepers, especially Simon Lester.

Second, harriers. We have recovered the population of hen harriers. The Special Protection Area (SPA) for this species gave us the target, keepers gave us predator and habitat control and the successful use of diversionary feeding of hen harriers to reduce the predation of red grouse broods. We comfortably achieved harrier recovery.

Third, black grouse and other upland birds. We’ve been delighted by the healthy increase in the local black grouse population; and have made some progress with rebuilding the populations of other moorland birds.

Fourth, knowledge transfer. Importantly, we have also had a large number of visitors from a wide range of interests who have seen moorland management best practice at first hand. Gamekeepers, scientists and voluntary Raptor Study Group workers have worked hard together to help achieve project objectives.      

Red grouse numbers have also increased during the lifetime of the project but not enough and here’s the rub. We’ve agreed that there is no realistic chance of reaching our fifth target, the red grouse target density set by the project for achieving driven shooting. This is disappointing as for most moors the investment to produce driven shooting is what provides the economic model to underpin the management that delivers the good things Langholm has achieved.

The resignation of the headkeeper in March, and other gamekeeper vacancies was not unexpected, given the relatively short remaining term of the project. We agreed to wind down the gamekeeping effort so there was no confusion about what had been achieved under a full keepering effort, including stopping hen harrier diversionary feeding, and further novel habitat restoration work. Agri-environment funded habitat management measures, to protect the land management work done to date, and a requirement of maintaining the SPA and SSSI interest, will continue through Langholm Farms Ltd.  

The project will continue with a full year and a half of monitoring during the 2016 and 2017 bird breeding seasons, and this activity will also cover habitat quality assessment.  This gives the project time to gather further information on the beneficial effects of moorland management for red grouse, whilst the large amount of project data collected to date is analysed, and reports are produced for Directors to review before publication. As an evidence-based project, it is these scientific reports and information contained in the Langholm Demonstration Project 7 Year Review, which will inform next steps by the partnership. 

Langholm Moor Demonstration Project Directors