RESEARCH carried out by Durham and Newcastle universities into endangered upland birds has found that populations would plunge if gamekeepers stopped protecting them from predators.

Academics surveyed the numbers of ground nesting wading birds and used statistical models to simulate how bird populations in the upland North Pennines and Yorkshire Dales might be affected if grouse moors were managed differently.

They looked at birds including the curlew which scientists say is the UK’s most important bird conservation priority.

According to the report, if there were no gamekeepers preventing foxes, stoats and crows attacking these ground nesting birds, the number of curlew chicks hatching in upland areas could fall by around 87 per cent.

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Although some birds would still fly into the moors from other areas, the sharp reduction in successful breeding could cut the overall number of curlew in the uplands of North Pennines and Yorkshire Dales by as much as 60 per cent.

Another species, the golden plover, could see the number of chicks hatching in upland areas drop by 95 per cent with the overall population falling by 79 per cent.

This fall could be catastrophic for this species because it is almost entirely dependent on higher moorland for breeding.

Professor Mark Whittingham of Newcastle University is an expert in preventing species becoming extinct and co-led the report.

He said: “We were surprised by just how dependent these ground nesting birds are on the predator control provided by gamekeepers. If that was withdrawn I would expect the big falls in these species would occur within a few years.”

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