As human disturbance threatens to push capercaillie closer to extinction with only 542 capercaillie left in the UK, birdwatchers, photographers and wildlife guides are being urged to not go looking for capercaillie in the handful of forests where the birds remain in the Cairngorms National Park.
Disturbance can stop capercaillie from breeding and cause unnecessary stress to the birds. Protected under UK law, it is a criminal offence to disturb capercaillie whilst they are lekking, nesting and raising young. Still, in the Cairngorms National Park, which is home to over 85% of the UK capercaillie population, birdwatchers and photographers were found on lek sites last year and a birdwatcher was arrested and charged with disturbance.
Spearheaded by the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project in partnership with the RSPB, BirdGuides, members of the birding, photography and wildlife guiding community, local landmanagers and Police Scotland, efforts to safeguard capercaillie from disturbance this spring are being ramped-up under the banner of Lek It Be. The campaign is calling on the vast majority of birders and photographers who want to do the right thing, to play their part and not go looking for capercaillie and call out those who do.
The campaign will see a range of proactive measures put in place to protect the birds from being disturbed this breeding season. The measures will include Police officers patrolling paths around lek sites from dawn. CCTV will be in operation. Signage will be in place. Rangers will be on hand from dawn to offer alternative capercaillie-friendly routes for anyone looking to see other forest species at first light. Wildlife guides will be asked to not look for capercaillie and invited to become Lek It Be Champions to inspire other commercial operators to also leave the birds in peace, and Facebook groups will be asked to reject capercaillie photo submissions to avoid drawing attention to the bird and sensitive sites.
“It was shocking to learn that the UK capercaillie population has declined by 51% in the last five years and is at the lowest recorded level since the start of the national survey in 1992,” said Josh Jones, Editor of BirdGuides and Birdwatch.
“The population is now at a critically low level and us birders need to respond to this situation as a community. To make the greatest difference we all need to leave capercaillie in peace this breeding season and avoid the temptation to go looking for them. The decisions we make this spring can influence the rate of decline and there is no question that it is now time for us all to put capercaillie first.”
“Following the arrest of a birdwatcher last April we will be conducting dawn patrols around lek sites. If you see someone disturbing capercaillie, call Police Scotland on 101”, said PC Dan Sutherland, Wildlife Crime Officer for Highland and Islands Division
“It is a criminal offence to disturb capercaillie whilst they are breeding, whilst they are on or near a nest containing eggs or young, or whilst they are with dependent young. In the Highlands, we are fortunate to have rare and endangered species including capercaillie and we are committed to preventing wildlife crime and deterring criminals who seek to destroy our wild heritage.”
Carolyn Robertson, Project Manager for the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project said: “We’ve identified a number of wildlife guiding companies that currently list capercaillie as a target species for their tours in the Cairngorms during the breeding season. Taking guests to look for capercaillie can reveal sensitive sites to birdwatchers and photographers, which can then become known and widely so if images taken by guests are shared on social media.”
“It’s extremely positive to see a few companies now with policies in place to not look for capercaillie at all. We’re inviting more companies to follow suit and become Lek It Be Champions who celebrate capercaillie and inspire birdwatchers, photographers and other commercial operators to not look for capercaillie by not looking for capercaillie themselves.”
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