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Population trends

Black grouse displaying at lek at dawn

The black grouse population in Europe has been declining steadily since the latter half of the 19th century.

Image: Chris Gomersall

The black grouse population in Europe has been declining steadily since the latter half of the 19th century. This has been accompanied by a major contraction in the species range. Today, the entire population is in decline, except in Sweden, where specific conservation measures have been applied.

Since 1970 there have been several regional extinctions, including the heathland population in southern Sweden. In many other countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium, they are down to the last few pairs. In most of central and western Europe the black grouse is now very rare or extinct. Significant populations are still present in the Alps, but even these are under threat from disturbance, agriculture and forestry. In the main stronghold of boreal Scandinavia and Russia the black grouse populations have mixed fortunes. The numbers are stable or increasing in Norway and Sweden, but declining in Finland and Russia.

The range of black grouse in Britain has reduced dramatically this century. They used to be common throughout southern and central England from Lincolnshire and Norfolk to Hampshire and Cornwall. By the late 1960s they had disappeared from all of the southern part of their range, and the range and numbers are declining constantly in the rest of the country.

Black grouse range contracted by 28% between 1970 and 1990, and there has been a catastrophic drop in numbers over the last 20 years - the birds are now disappearing at rates of between 10% and 40% a year in some areas. In many areas the declines are associated with a major reduction in chick survival since 1950, though adult survival and other factors are crucial in some parts of the range.

Bird guide