Monitoring and conserving Scotland's birds of prey
Dumfries & Galloway Raptor Study Group was created in 1991 through a division of the former South-West Raptor Study Group into D&GRSG and South Strathclyde Raptor Study Group. The area covered comprises the three old counties of Dumfriesshire, the Stewartry of Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire. The northern half of the region forms part of the Southern Uplands, reaching 843m at the Merrick in Galloway. About a quarter of the region is afforested, largely with non-native conifers, which provide habitats for a range of raptors depending on the age of the trees. The remainder of the land is largely pastoral grassland and heather moorland, with arable areas largely restricted to the coastal areas and lower river valleys. The region has a coastline of some two hundred miles.
Given its variety of habitats and geographical location, D&G has an extremely rich biodiversity, including a range of breeding and wintering raptors. The group has some thirty members and they annually monitor raptors as follows.
Golden eagle (1-2 pairs), red kite (c70 pairs and increasing), osprey (6 pairs), peregrine (c60 pairs) and hen harrier (c6 pairs). For these species complete coverage of the respective breeding populations is attempted each year. That is to say that in any given year virtually all known historical and current breeding sites are monitored for occupation, and in addition any reports of suspected breeding out-with these areas by these species is also followed up. Some of these studies have been underway for upwards of thirty years.
Clutch and brood sizes are usually obtained for all golden eagle and hen harrier breeding attempts, and for a substantial proportion of the peregrine population. Normally this work involves at least three visits to each site: one (or sometimes more) to establish occupancy, one to establish clutch sizes and a further one or two visits to establish brood sizes and fledging success.
Several members of the group are engaged in long term studies of barn owls (c175 pairs) and tawny owls (25 pairs), many of which nest in boxes provided. Whilst these studies aren't exhaustive and naturally don't cover the entire breeding populations of these species, nonetheless a significant proportion of each is monitored across the region, giving a good indication of occupancy and productivity in any given year, and highlighting any long term trends in the breeding populations. The number of visits to each site varies according to the condition of the nest on the first visit, which in itself is highly influenced by weather and vole/other prey availability. However, 3-4 visits per site would be average: to establish clutch size, brood size and fledging success. Some members trap adults and ring young under licence from SNH and BTO.
The number of breeding goshawks in the region is unknown, but is known to be at least 25 pairs and increasing. Each year most of the known territories are visited and searched for occupation, with return visits made to occupied site to check for brood sizes and fledging success. Each year a small population of breeding merlins in the Lowther Hills is monitored in the same way. The group meets in spring and autumn of each year.
Chair: Chris Rollie