The Red Grouse is a species found only in Ireland and Scotland that lives entirely on heather moorland and bogs. In recent decades, it has suffered from the continued decline of its habitats and the condition and extent of our bogs. Red Grouse require large areas of natural and semi-natural habitat; the destruction and fragmentation of these habitats have been identified as major threats to Red Grouse populations.
The last comprehensive survey was carried out in 2006/2008, which found just under 2,000 breeding pairs of Red Grouse in Ireland. Since 1980, the population is considered to have declined by up to 40%. Additionally, there has been a decline of over 50% in their breeding range from 1972 to 2018.
In 2012, the NPWS carried out survey of Red Grouse in the Owenduff/Nephin Complex Special Protection Area (SPA) in County Mayo, an SPA which had previous declines in grouse populations due to changes in habitat quality and extent, largely caused by overgrazing. This survey showed the population had almost doubled since an earlier survey in 2002. This increase in grouse numbers is attributed to beneficial management of the land in the intervening period. Off-wintering of livestock from 2006 has allowed an improvement in the habitat condition within the Owenduff/Nephin SPA.
A Red Grouse Species Action Plan (https://www.npws.ie/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/2013_RedGrouse_SAP.pdf) was completed in 2013 by the National Red Grouse Steering Committee, supported by my Department. This national plan sets out the background to the species decline, the challenges facing conservation efforts, the pressures the population is under and a framework for action to deliver conservation measures for Red Grouse in Ireland.
Since the plan was published, there have been a range of positive conservation measures undertaken to maintain and improve the existing habitat for Red Grouse and to support breeding pairs, through habitat management and other measures. These measures have been particularly successful where farmers, hunters and ecologists have cooperated together.
The national Species Action Plan lists a number of locally-led management projects such as the Ballydangan Bog Red Grouse Project, Co. Roscommon, which started in 2009 and which supports active management of grouse habitat which has also benefitted other threatened species including breeding Curlew.