RARE black grouse are on the increase and nowhere more so than in the Yorkshire Dales where numbers have trebled.

Recent spring counts recorded 170 males compared to only 55 in 1998 and in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the bird's stronghold, numbers were up 17 per cent.

However, in north Northumberland black grouse are still severely threatened - having declined from 61 males in 1998 to only 50 today.

In England as a whole, 1,200 males were recorded - up from 773 in 1998 and ahead of the Government's target of 1,000 males by 2010.

The remarkable comeback is a huge achievement for the Black Grouse Recovery Project, which includes farmers, gamekeepers, grouse moor managers and conservation organisations.

The males are counted at traditional spring mating or lek sites at dawn each day.

Phil Warren, of the project, said: "Black grouse are responding well in areas where habitat improvements are being undertaken in combination with predator control."

He said that to prevent further decline in Northumberland, it was important to secure increased funding for work, and supporting and advising landowners.

Mr Warren said: "These birds are an amazing spectacle and it's a rare treat to see one. With the continued success of the project, the future for the species in England will be more secure."

For advice on managing land for black grouse, call Mr Warren on 01833-622208.