Meet Priscilla Gordon-Duff, Project Board member

Priscilla and her husband Alex support their son Torquil and his wife Fiona in the running of Drummuir Estate, in Banffshire. Graduating in Anthropology and Sociology, Priscilla returned to university to gain a Diploma in Land Economy in Aberdeen. She spends a lot of time volunteering her experience in forestry and land management to local and regional development committees. Priscilla is a member of the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project Board.

Priscilla Gordon-Duff at Drummuir Estate. Image source: Scottish Land & Estates

Words by Priscilla Gordon-Duff

During the creation of the Cairngorms National Park about 20 years ago, I recall the concept of a ‘porous boundary’ featured in the consultation process, which meant those in outlying communities could be part of the Park’s work. I am someone who benefitted from this: I have attended training courses, participated in site visits and been inspired by the work of those involved in land management in the Park. More recently, I have become a Project Board member for the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project.

Long ago, before the creation of the National Park, I came to live and work at Drummuir, Banffshire which is about 15 miles outside of the Park. It seems strange, historic, or even tragic, that at that time capercaillie roamed the woods here at Drummuir Estate, and were considered ‘fair game’ as part of an organised capercaillie shoot. Highly prized due to the challenge of actually shooting one, eating it was quite a different matter. As my father-in-law used to say, tough meat with the flavour of pine shoots is an acquired taste.

Our taste for capercaillie has changed hugely over these past 50 years. Little did I imagine then that around 30 years later – 2006 I think – I would be attending a European Union LIFE funded conference in Ballater where landowners, agency and charity representatives met to celebrate the success of achieving funding to manage the habitat and increase the numbers of capercaillie from the precarious count of 2000.

Was it really 50 years ago that I stared in wonder at the large native bird, shot in the early 20th century and stuffed, an ornament in the library in Drummuir Castle? An ornament that went on to contribute to the LIFE research on the DNA of Scotland’s ‘caper’?

And now? Now in our Board meetings I hear of the continued challenges to the stock of capercaillie in Scotland. Attempts to improve, manage or extend habitat for these iconic birds have kept a small and precious population alive, but possibly not enough to ensure a future here for them.

What cheers me as I listen to fellow Project Board members discussing their work is not the capercaillie statistics, but how this bird has gathered a following of people with a diverse variety of enthusiasms and purposes. Individuals who care about the environment in which they live, work, play (or possibly all three).

Capercaillie are struggling to survive, and rather belatedly we human beings are realising that we also are struggling in a changing world. The work of the Project is to share knowledge, listen, and encourage action to address the serious challenges faced by capercaillie. In doing so, it contributes not only to a future for capercaillie but also one for our landscape and for ourselves.

It seems unlikely that capercaillie will return to Drummuir, but then who would have thought that beavers would be swimming in a Scottish river again …

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