A draft strategy on the future management of the Manx uplands recommends the controlled reintroduction of red grouse.
The report by Professor Jim McAdam describes the uplands as ‘unique in the British Isles’.
He says that relations between the farming and shooting fraternities are good and this is one of the reasons why the heather hills are largely in a ‘favourable condition’.
But it also identifies significant threats such as climate change, land abandonment, loss of traditional skills and damage to peatland and archaeology, which must be addressed to prevent irreversible damage.
One issue is the dwindling population of red grouse, an iconic bird species of heather moorland.
Reintroduced in Victorian times, a healthy population existed until the late 1970s and early 1980s when numbers went into sudden decline. Since 1985, the island’s red grouse population has fluctuated between 35 and 70 breeding pairs.
The report blames the losses of grouse broods since 1992 almost entirely on predation by birds of prey like hen harriers and peregrine falcon – both themselves species of conservation concern.
It says grouse shooters conservatively estimate they need to at least double the numbers to provide a future both for red grouse and the long term management of the heather hill.
Prof McAdam recommends the current level of upland management should be at least maintained and hopefully increased by a controlled and monitored reintroduction of red grouse.
Other key recommendations include the creation of an ‘agri-environment’ scheme, restoration of damaged peatland and the launch of a marketing strategy.
The public is invited to have its say on the draft strategy which can be downloaded from the government website.