I’ve heard black grouse used to inhabit parts of Exmoor near to where I live - where are they now? Our expert replies

Q: I live in the West Country in Devon and have been told that, at one time, black grouse used to inhabit parts of Exmoor and other areas nearby. I know that red grouse have certainly been recorded in recent years, but have black grouse also featured in this part of the world?

TONY JACKSON replies: In the early years of the 19th century, black grouse were abundant on most of the moors in Devon and Somerset as late as the 1890s. It is recorded that blackgame existed on the Haldon and Blackdown Hills, and it was considered a familiar bird on many of the moors throughout the West Country.

These handsome birds could also still be found in the late 19th century on the Quantocks, and though it is recorded that they were not shot, their numbers did not increase. In the first quarter of the same century, there were packs of blackgame on Trinity Hill near Axminster, and these birds were also recorded as breeding on the high ground towards Lyme Regis.

There were also records of blackgame on Bodmin Moor around Jamaica Inn, as well as in parts of Somerset, notably at Winsford and Oare where, apparently, good bags of the birds were made. Hybrids of pheasants and blackgame were recorded near Plymouth, Tavistock, Jamaica Inn and Devonport.

Dorset also held a few of these birds, but there were few districts in that county which suited these handsome birds.