Measures to save capercaillie outlined

A new report by the NatureScot Scientific Advisory Committee has advised on ways to help reverse the fortunes of capercaillie in Scotland, which could be lost within two to three decades if we don’t move quickly.

The report, published in February, is based on scientific evidence and can be read here: Review of Capercaillie Conservation and Management

What does the report say?

The report advises that poor breeding success in the UK capercaillie population is the primary cause of recent decline and breeding success appears to be too low to allow the population to recover. The main factors driving poor productivity are a high loss of nests and young chicks and the two main reasons for this are increased levels of predation and human disturbance.

The current predicted rate of population decline means that with no extra action, the Scottish capercaillie population is likely to be extinct within 20 – 30 years. The report outlines that if we are to intervene to save capercaillie then action is needed on all fronts, quickly and at scale.

To improve breeding success and increase survival rates quickly and at scale, the following four areas of action, that are likely to have the greatest immediate positive impact on the capercaillie population, are outlined in the report:

  • Diversionary feeding of predators to provide alternative food during the breeding season.
  • Additional predator control to remove crows and foxes, and pine martens through trap and release as part of reintroduction to other parts of the UK.
  • More / larger refuges from human disturbance through the temporary or permanent closure of paths and tracks.
  • Increased fence marking and removal to reduce collisions.

What happens now?

The report is not, in itself, a plan for action. The NatureScot Scientific Advisory Committee were not asked to consider interactions with wider biodiversity and communities, or costs and practicalities, for example. These and other factors need to be taken into consideration and that is the process which is now underway led by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and NatureScot.

April: Key stakeholders from conservation groups and local businesses to recreational groups including ramblers and runners, were invited to share their views on the four areas of action outlined in the report.

May: A workshop for organisations, agencies, land managers and technical experts was held to explore the views shared by stakeholders in April and to use that information to focus-in on how proposals on the four areas of action could be delivered.

June: The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) Board discussed capercaillie conservation. The Board paper, available here, presented a summary of the key issues and made a number of recommendations regarding an extended programme of work, focussing on managing disturbance, trialling diversionary feeding, reducing fence strike and developing a collaborative spatial plan. 

Members were also asked for their advice on where CNPA resource is best directed concerning work on predator management, noting that whilst decisions regarding licensing and legislation around predator management are not within CNPA’s remit, the opinions and advice of the Board would be borne in mind by NatureScot. CNPA members supported all the recommendations made by staff and expressed a range of views on predator management, including a desire to see further investigation of the subject of managing protected species as well as support for continuing work with the body of emerging evidence regarding predator guild complexities and in areas where no predator management takes place. 

A NatureScot Board meeting was held in late June in private session as discussions would go on to form a Ministerial briefing. NatureScot Board members discussed the proposed extended programme of works – as per the CNPA Board paper – and the wider context of a capercaillie conservation policy in the setting of both the immediate needs of the species and a longer term vision in line with the emerging Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. 

August: A briefing paper outlining the current situation, information from both the CNPA and NatureScot Board discussions, management options and, crucially, the resource and policy implications will be submitted by NatureScot to Scottish Government seeking the views of Ms Lorna Slater MSP, the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity. 

There is no expected specific timetable for Scottish Government considerations, but we would expect this not to take long. Any outcomes will be communicated as soon as possible, at which point CNPA and NatureScot will start to establish the resourcing and delivery requirements of any extended programme of works and spatial plan, working closely with stakeholders in its development.

What does the report mean for the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project?

The main overlap between the report and the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project is around the issue of human disturbance. The project is working at scale with visitors, residents and businesses across the Cairngorms National Park to facilitate community-led action to reduce human disturbance to capercaillie. This has never been done before and the report only reinforces the need for this work to continue.

The insights and learning the project can offer on the benefits and challenges of enabling community-led and therefore sustainable, solutions to reducing disturbance is unequalled anywhere else in Scotland. This means that the project will play a central role in helping to shape any extended programme of work delivered in response to the report.

The project’s genetic studies will also be a strong foundation for any consideration of translocation; and lessons learnt from the project’s funding of fence marking / removal as well as habitat enhancement will all feed into the design and implementation of any future funding programmes. There may also be an opportunity to review the workplan of the gamekeeper employed as part of the project, to contribute to any further work on the management of protected species, should that be an outcome.

What can people do to help?

Through the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project people can help capercaillie immediately, for example by volunteering to improve capercaillie habitat and reporting unmarked fences in capercaillie areas to reduce collisions. Everyone that visits a capercaillie area can also help by following local signage, particularly during the breeding season from April to August, to reduce the high loss of nests and young chicks identified by the report.

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