Capercaillie-friendly ways to enjoy the Cairngorms with your dog

Badenoch and Strathspey, within the Cairngorms National Park, is home to over 6,200 dogs and around 150,000 visiting dogs each year. The area is also home to around 80% of the UK capercaillie population. So, we’ve been busy working with dog owners in the area to help identify win-wins for dog owners, their dogs and capercaillie. You can find out more about our work by clicking on this link: dog walkers

Kaz Dalby is a dog owner in the Cairngorms. She loves where she lives and really cares about the wildlife on her doorstep. We hear from her about what it means to be a dog owner in the National Park and how to protect rare species like capercaillie when we’re out with our dogs.

Photo: Pat Douglass

Words by Kaz Dalby

I’m Kaz, the founder of Bark + Ride – an outdoor dog gear brand based in the Cairngorms. Living in the National Park with my dogs Harris and Freya, I love nothing better than to be out in nature with my bike and the pups, riding the incredible trails on my doorstep and beyond.

As a textile designer, dog lover and mountain biker, I created my business to make trail riding with dogs easier, by enabling better control over my dog and improved safety for me on the bike. It began with a harness and bungee lead system and the range grew from there. A year or two later I was able to launch Bark + Ride full time, which is when I relocated from the Loch Lomond area to Aviemore – one National Park to another!

Photo: Pat Douglass

I knew there were fantastic trails both for walking and mountain biking in the Cairngorms National Park, and felt spoilt for choice – but when you know the Cairngorms is home to a quarter of the UK’s rare species, you can’t help but feel conscious of your impact.

As a dog owner living in an area which is home to the majority of the UK’s fragile capercaillie population, I feel an added responsibility to protect them.

Capercaillie are really vulnerable to disturbance, particularly when they are lekking (mating) in early spring and nesting and raising their young between May and late August. They nest on the ground in the forest and if our dogs are not under control and disturb them, they may leave their nest. This can put their eggs or chicks in danger. With less than 600 capercaillie left in the UK, we need as many chicks to make it to adulthood as possible.

Capercaillie hen with chicks. Photo: Jack Bamber, Aberdeen University

Here are five simple things all dog owners can do to help capercaillie:

  1. Follow local signage – if you are in a capercaillie area signage will ask you to keep your dog on a lead or under close control.
  2. Move through the area quietly – to avoid causing the birds any alarms or surprises.
  3. Avoid capercaillie areas at dawn and dusk – at these times of day capercaillie are either waking up on an empty stomach or settling down to roost and need to be left in peace.
  4. Plan your route – think about whether you really need to pass through a capercaillie area, particularly from April to late August.
  5. Familiarise yourself with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – it is there to help us enjoy the outdoors responsibly. Find out more by clicking on this link: Scottish Outdoor Access Code

And if you haven’t already, you can check out the wee video below and share it with your dog-loving friends, so they too can enjoy the Cairngorms in a capercaillie-friendly way.

With special thanks to Kaz, her friends Debbie, Scott and Amy, and to trail dogs Harris, Freya, Ripper and Arlo.

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