The red grouse, known in Irish as Cearc Fraoigh - or the 'heather hen' is one of Ireland's most iconic native game birds but their numbers have been falling fast for decades.
Characteristic of heather dominated bog and moorland, the red grouse is unique in the sense that it feeds almost exclusively on a diet of ling heather and is only found in Northern England, Scotland and Ireland.
A medium sized bird with the distinctive rusty red plumage, the red grouse, has diminished in numbers in the Midlands in recent years due to the loss of their heather habitat with many raised bogs cutaway for peat extraction.
The most recent red grouse survey estimated that the current population of the bird in the Republic of Ireland stands at just 4,200. Only about 100 birds are thought to be found on Midland raised bogs.
As a result, they are classified as a red-listed species of conservation concern, having exhibited a decline of over 60% in the last 30 years. In all, there are 18 bird species categorised as being red-listed in Ireland. Others like the curlew, lapwing and hen harrier share a similar habitat to the red grouse.
Smaller than pheasants, the red grouse has a rounded tail and flies low after an explosive take-off with alternate whirring wing beats and long glides. They may be on their own or in small packs and have a very distinctive call that many who live near bogland might recognise. Experts describe it as like hearing someone saying the words 'go back, go back' repeatedly at a fast pace.
Through a series of measures like heather management, predator control, monitoring and research, the Ballydangan bog initiative hopes to save the red grouse from local extinction, and in time actually increase the bird population back to more healthy levels to ensure their long-term survival.
An integral part of the project is also raising public awareness of the project as a way of learning about wildlife management and community-based conservation.
In recent times, access to the site has been improved by FAS workers allowing two local schools Camcloon NS and St Ciaran's NS in Moore, to visit the Ballydangan project and learn about the importance of Irish bogs, the decline of the red grouse and role of local organisations like Moore Gun Club in helping to conserve the local bird population in the future.
The group also viewed the diversity of bog flora and fauna including mosses, lichens, flowers, butterflies, moths and birds, which have also benefited from the management measures underway in Ballydangan bog to reverse the diminishing red grouse population.
Backers of the project hope to hold similar visits and open days for local community groups or other local schools interested in the initiative at the site in the near future.
Pat Fehilly, the Community Employment supervisor, who manages the project on behalf of FAS, said there is real great interest in the project from the four workers who often come in during their off-time to check up on how things are going. There has also been a lot of local support for what is happening in Ballydangan bog, he added, particularly from local landowners and the local community.
Similarly, Patrick Egan from Moore Community Council said they are glad to be part of the initiative which he is quietly confident will be successful. Many FAS workers on the programme have availed of upskilling and gone on to get jobs as a result of their experience, he added. Meanwhile, Bernie Morris from FAS in Roscommon, is equally enthusiastic about agency's involvement in such an innovative partnership project, stressing the transferable skills gained by the workers involved and valuable work undertaken in the local Moore community.