A wild fire which destroyed thousands of trees in a Highlands nature reserve10 years ago may have benefited black grouse, according to RSPB Scotland.
Male grouse perform mating displays early in the morning
The fire at Corrimony burned for a week in June 1997, and the society spent £30,000 hiring a helicopter to dump water on the flames.
Conservationists had feared the worst for the rare game bird.
However, an RSPB survey has now found the numbers of black grouse males at an all-time high.
The black grouse is on the RSPB’s red list of birds of conservation concern – the highest category.
At the time of the fire the reserve had recorded 16 sightings of males lekking – the name for the birds’ mating display.
However, the blaze appears to have sparked regeneration and the latest surveyfound the figure had increased to 57.
The fire ravaged 170 hectares (420 acres) of the 1,530 hectare (3,780 acre)site to the south-west of Inverness.
The reserve is also home to the Scottish Crossbill
Dan Tomes, the current site manager, said: “While distressing, fires are actually important, natural occurrences in forests from time to time, and can play a role in allowing vigorous new vegetation growth to come through.
“The numbers now are evidence of the work we’ve done since then in replanting native trees and in sensitively managing the whole ecosystem, including removing fences -which can kill grouse – and carefully grazing moorland habitats.”
The Corrimony reserve was purchased weeks before the fire with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The reserve also provides an important habitat for the Scottish Crossbill, bullfinches and the Spotted Flycatcher.
The site manager said he expected to plant a further 28,000 trees during2007, using Scottish Forest Alliance funds.