GROUSE moors in the region have been dubbed the country’s best bird sanctuaries after academics found they are home to high numbers of endangered species.

Experts at Durham and Newcastle universities found that there were six times as many curlews - one of the UK’s most endangered birds - on such sites, when compared to areas where there is less protection from predators.

The research, published in the run-up to the start of the annual grouse shooting season, called the Glorious Twelfth, looked at the number of birds on grouse moors in Scotland and England.

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The revelations come in the wake of a public spat between former cricketer and grouse moor advocate Sir Ian Botham and Springwatch presenter Chris Packham, who put forward a petition to Parliament calling for a ban on grouse shooting.

Sir Ian, who has a home at Ravensworth, near Richmond, and whose son Liam has a 2,500 acre shooting estate at Sawley, near Ripon, said: “Grouse moors are Britain’s best bird sanctuaries because they are so good at protecting ground nesting birds from predators.

“The bird activists who criticise them should realise that without gamekeepers many of Britain’s endangered birds would not have a prayer.”

On grouse moors, gamekeepers work to control other predatory creatures, such as foxes, stoats and crows, with the study finding they could have 24 times as many lapwings as other locations.

Sites where gamekeepers provided intensive predator control had 24 times as many lapwings as sites without gamekeepers, according to the study. In addition there were eight times as many golden plovers on grouse moors, with snipe and oyster catchers also said to be much more prevalent.

The preliminary results of the study “indicate the importance of grouse moors for a number of upland birds, especially waders”.

A total of 76 different types of bird species were found on the grouse moors, with researchers visiting 18 different estates in County Durham, Cumbria, East Lothian, Northumberland and the Scottish Borders between April and June 2017.