Irish Red Grouse “Cearc Fraoigh”

Apart from the Grey Partridge, the only other native game-bird in Ireland is the Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus hibernicus); known in the Gaelic Language as Cearc Fraoig.

Before the destruction of raised and blanket bogs, Red Grouse were widely distributed in Ireland with extensive areas of bogland habitats providing suitable food and shelter. Over the decades of peat extraction and exploitation, the number and distribution of Red Grouse contracted dramatically. The results of the most recent Red Grouse survey which was funded by the National Parks & Wildlife Service and managed by BirdWatch Ireland estimates the current population (in the Republic of Ireland) to be approximately 4,200 birds. The survey also indicates that the range of the species has contracted by as much as 50% since the last national survey.

One of the main factors associated with the decline in red grouse numbers is due to the loss and fragmentation of upland blanket bog as a result of overgrazing, afforestation and agricultural intensification. Other contributing factors include increased predation (exacerbated by afforestation and an increase in livestock numbers), inappropriate burning as well as reduced keepering, with consequent poorer habitat management. Commercial peat extraction has also played a major role in the destruction of lowland raised bogs in the midlands of Ireland where Red Grouse were once widespread.

Where red grouse populations remain in Ireland, they exist at low density – well below the natural carrying capacity of the habitat. These populations are physically cut off by walls of forestry and the destruction of the surrounding habitat. This can affect gene-flow and lead to problems that can eventually lead to local extinctions. It also makes these isolated populations much more vulnerable to the impacts of further habitat loss, predation, disease and disturbance.

One of the biggest challenges in Red Grouse conservation is selecting a suitable site to manage. Cooperation is required from local gun clubs, farmers, landowners and other users of the site. Furthermore, it is important to maintain a considerable degree of control over the site in order to ensure minimum disturbance to birds from the negative effects of human activities.