Lek it be - black grouse mating rituals in full swing
The annual black grouse lek is one of the most incredible wildlife spectacles you can see within the UK.
Across certain parts of the uplands in April, black grouse cocks strut and display their feathers in an almost mythical court ritual. The spectacle starts as the sun is rising and can last a few hours at a time.
Leks host anywhere between 5 to 50 cocks at a time, as they compete with each other for best display sites within the lek. The most dominant individuals occupying centre of the lek, whilst others end up on the outskirts.
The repetitive bubbling calls and the prominent posturing of the cocks attract hens to come into the middle, where the dominant ones will take the opportunity to copulate before coming under attack from another male. The hen birds' arrival brings with it a palpable excitement and significant escalation in activity from the cocks.
They are a magical experience to see however, they are also an experience we risk losing were it not for the management of the habitat and suppression of predators carried out by upland gamekeepers. The predation pressures placed on black grouse from foxes, crows and stoats are so significant that in many places their population numbers have collapsed.
It would be a travesty if this experience could not be enjoyed by future generations. The threat they face should be a timely reminder to conservation charities of the enormous value brought by our gamekeepers and the benefits of proper moorland management to endangered species.