Uni students learn about conservation from moorland gamekeepers

Merlin (Falco columbarius) North Yorkshire,England,September,2015

70 red-listed Merlin were counted this year on the Spaunton Estate, North Yorkshire Moors; their success is thanks to conservation work carried out by gamekeepers on the estate - Credit: SMWPHOTO/Getty Images

University students spend a day on the North Yorkshire Moors learning about conservation techniques from grouse moor managers...

Students from Hull University spent a day on Spaunton Moor recently to learn about upland conservation being carried out by gamekeepers on the North Yorkshire Moors.

The university students learnt about the various traditional management practices employed by grouse keepers, including heather cutting and prescribed burning; repairs to bridleways and footpaths; red grouse counting; predator control; grazing management; control of ticks which can carry diseases such as Lyme disease; and the creation of ponds to benefit wildlife in the dry summer months.

George Thompson, Spaunton Estate's moorland manager commented: “Our work is designed for long-term conservation of moorland species, particularly birds, and the overall aim is to create good quality habitats for some of our very rare moorland birds. We keep predator numbers under control to give ground-nesting birds the best chance of breeding success. Engaging with young people and universities is a good way to provide information and answer questions directly.”

Dr Alastair Ward, Head of the Department of Biology and Marine Sciences at Hull, said: “Heather moorland is a rare environment, iconic of the Yorkshire countryside. We are fortunate to have it in abundance on the University’s doorstep, yet many of our students have not encountered it. To learn about and experience first-hand the management needed to maintain moorland and its contribution to biodiversity conservation at the Spaunton Estate will be invaluable for zoology students at Hull.”

Spaunton Estate itself is a haven for wildlife and is designated a European Special Protected Area (SPA) due to its important populations of merlin and golden plover. This year the land managers saw a total of 1,552 birds of prey, double the number recorded in 2018, with 726 Buzzards, 193 sightings of Kestrel, 163 Barn Owls and 70 Merlin. Merlin are ‘red-listed’ birds, meaning a species that is globally threatened or with a severely declining UK population.