Birdwatchers, photographers and wildlife guides thanked for leaving capercaillie in peace this spring

The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project announces the return of the Lek It Be campaign, aimed at safeguarding one of the UK’s most vulnerable birds – the capercaillie. With only 532 capercaillie remaining in the UK, the Cairngorms National Park is the last stronghold for the species. Disturbance during the breeding season poses a significant threat to capercaillie, impacting their ability to breed and for chicks to reach adulthood.

The Lek It Be campaign, initially launched last spring, is dedicated to reducing disturbance to capercaillie and promoting compliance with the law as it is a wildlife crime to intentionally or recklessly disturb breeding capercaillie.

In collaboration with the birding, photography and wildlife guiding community, local land managers and Police Scotland, the campaign is again championing collective responsibility. It’s calling upon birders, photographers and wildlife guides to refrain from seeking out capercaillie and to report any instances of disturbance they witness.

Last year, the campaign achieved notable success, with a majority of birdwatchers and photographers choosing not to seek capercaillie. The majority of commercial operators offering guided wildlife experiences in the Cairngorms also voluntarily pledged to become Lek It Be Champions, committing to not look for capercaillie. Fewer birders, photographers and wildlife guides were encountered on dawn patrols and all bar a few responsed positively to guidance.

Lek It Be campaign film

“We are immensely grateful for the widespread support we received last spring from the birding, photography and wildlife guiding community.” said Carolyn Robertson, Project Manager for the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project “This spring, we’re simply asking birdwatchers, photographers and wildlife guides to keep up the good work and continue to leave capercaillie in peace as we can all play a role in helping the birds to breed successfully.”

“The UK capercaillie population remains at a critically low level and we need to keep up our efforts as a birding community to respond to this situation.” said Josh Jones, Head of Content for BirdGuides. “We should be proud of the good choices that most of us made last spring. To make the greatest long-term difference we all need to continue to leave capercaillie in peace this breeding season and avoid the temptation to go looking for them.”

As part of the campaign this year, new guidance about responsible access in capercaillie areas has been published to help birders, photographers and wildlife guide make even more informed decisions this spring. Wildlife guides who are Lek It Be Champions will be leading by example and not looking for capercaillie. Rangers will be on hand from dawn to offer alternative capercaillie-friendly routes for anyone looking to see other forest species at first light, while Police Officers will patrol paths around lek sites from dawn, supported by CCTV surveillance. Social media monitoring will also be in place to discourage the sharing of capercaillie images and sensitive locations online.

“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.” said PC Dan Sutherland, Wildlife Crime Officer for Highland and Islands Division “It is a criminal offence to disturb capercaillie whilst they are breeding, are on or near a nest containing eggs or young, or whilst they are with dependent young. To ensure compliance with the law we will be conducting dawn patrols around lek sites again this spring.”

Brian Egan, General Manager at Rare Bird Alert said”With the UK’s capercaille population in such a perilous position we call on all birders to follow the guidance issued in the Lek It Be campaign. We very much hope that, in years to come, birders will have opportunities to see these magnificent birds lekking once more, but for now please be the best kind of ambassador for our hobby, and just Lek It Be.”

For more information, visit lekitbe.scot Follow the campaign using #LekItBe and if you are commercial operator interested in becoming a Lek It Be Champion contact capercaillie@cairngorms.co.uk

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