A CONTROVERSIAL new study recommends shooting black grouse in order to protect them.
Patrick Laurie, a writer and farmer who has studied the bird’s history, says their numbers would be better protected if they were shot on estates in Scotland.
There has been a voluntary ban on shooting black grouse for the last 20 years in order to halt their decline.
But Mr Laurie says if wealthy estate owners cultivate black grouse for shooting their numbers may increase.
The RSPB blasted the writer’s claims, saying an increase in numbers in recent years shows conservation is working.
The tail of the black grouse, previously known as the blackcock, has been part of traditional Scottish dress since the 1800s and features on the Tam o’Shanter cap.
Mr Laurie’s study will be published on the “Glorious 12th” of August, the traditional opening of the grouse shooting season in Scotland.
Thriving red grouse are cultivated on many estates for shooting, and the writer says similar attention would benefit black grouse.
He said: “People are willing to invest a great deal of money into cultivating private land for shooting purposes, and red grouse, which are still hunted, are doing fine as a result.
“My theory is that could only be good for black grouse to get some of that attention focussed on them.
“People’s gut reaction is there aren’t that many black grouse, we need to give them full legal protection from shooting, not shoot more of them. But my perspective is it would be a great asset for black grouse if they could be shot.”
A national survey of the ground-hugging species in 2005 found there were around 3,344 males in Scotland.
But a survey last year found the number of breeding males in Dumfries and Galloway was up by 160 on the previous year to 390.
The black grouse is considered an animal of “least concern” by the World Conservation Union due to a small boost in numbers in some areas of Scotland.
Mr Laurie continued: ”In Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, where black grouse are abundant, large quantities of money are spent each year in shooting them.
“Although shooting a bird on the ground is now unpalatable to British sportsmen, perhaps we should acknowledge a demand from European Hunters who want to shoot a trophy blackcock in full plumage.
“Encouraging foreign sportsmen could be a stepping stone to restoring them to something approaching their former numbers.”
But the RSPB said the author’s claims were “simplistic.”
A spokesman said: “Black grouse have undergone huge declines in numbers over the past quarter of a century, and the steepest of those declines occurred when the species was still being shot, before the voluntary moratorium.
“As such, the author’s argument that starting to shoot them again would increase their numbers seems on the face of it somewhat simplistic and specious.
“The important thing is that, in recent years, black grouse have begun to increase again, showing that conservation efforts to turn around its fortunes are beginning to bear fruit.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “There’s a great deal of respect amongst the gamekeeping community on grouse moors for black grouse and a lot of work gamekeepers do in terms of habitat management that has ahd a healthy impact on numbers.
“It would be odd for us to come out and say ‘well, just start shooting them again.’
“It’s not something on our agenda.”