A pioneering project has been set up in the Scottish Borders to try to end the conflict between conservationists and grouse-shooting interests.

This move follows cases of poisoning of birds of prey which led to fingers being pointed at shooting interests. The study, lasting ten years, hopes to find a way to allow raptor numbers to grow while protecting grouse stocks.

One of the tactics will be to feed hen harriers  in a bid to stop them killing grouse chicks. The scheme, costing more than £3m, will be run on the 7,000-hectare Langholm Moor, owned by Buccleuch Estates, in Dumfriesshire. The landowners themselves are contributing nearly £1m, matched by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Game Conservancy Trust. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is stumping up £⅓m and Natural England £168,000. Langholm Moor is internationally recognised for its importance as a habitat for the hen harrier.

The project will try to determine if it is possible to combine commercial game shooting with conservation of birds of prey. Control of foxes, crows, stoats and weasels will form part of the plan.

SNH chairman, Andrew Thin, said: “This Project will, I believe, be instrumental in helping reconcile the economic viability of moorland with the conservation objectives of protected species and habitats. I am particularly pleased that grouse moor owners have stepped forward to support this project and demonstrated their commitment to the conservation of raptors as well as the management of grouse and their habitat.”

Minister for Environment Michael Russell said: “There is no doubt that moor management for grouse plays a vital part in Scotland’s rural economy. However, ensuring the welfare of our magnificent birds of prey – particularly hen harriers in this case –  is essential for Scotland’s biodiversity. I hope that grouse shooting and raptor conservation need not be mutually exclusive and look forward to seeing the results of the Langholm Project and am hopeful that it will play a significant role in the development of similar projects.”

A staff of eight will run the project, with five gamekeepers and three ecologists working on it. The scientists are being seconded from the Game Conservancy Council and the RSPB.