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 next step which is now underway led by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and NatureScot.

During the month of April, key stakeholders from conservation groups and local businesses to recreational groups including ramblers and runners, will be invited to share their views on the four areas of action outlined in the report.

A workshop for organisations, agencies, land managers and technical experts will be held in early May to explore the views shared and to use that information to focus-in on how proposals on the four areas of action could be delivered. Ms Lorna Slater MSP, the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity will then be briefed and a plan of action will be delivered thereafter.

What does the report mean for the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project?

The Cairngorms Capercaillie 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 the plan of action for capercaillie that will be delivered in response to the report.

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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