The total project budget is £2.9 million, consisting of a £2,036,100 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) and £873,029 of match funding from:
- Balmoral Estate
- Cairngorms National Park Authority
- Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland
- Forestry Grant Scheme
- Rothiemurchus Estate
- Scottish Forestry
- Seafield & Strathspey Estates
The NLHF grant constitutes funds from the National Lottery. These funds are reinvested into the country’s natural and cultural heritage and can not be spent on other priorities.
The Cairngorms National Park Authority does not receive funding from the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project.
Previous funding for capercaillie conservation, in particular from the European LIFE fund and Scottish Forestry, significantly improved conditions for capercaillie from the late 1990s to 2006. It's generally accepted that without this work capercaillie may well have gone extinct in the UK. But capercaillie are still in a perilous state and need our help. This is not unusual when dealing with a highly vulnerable species.
The project is led by the Cairngorms Natonal Park Authority and delivered in partnership with:
- Badenoch and Strathspey Trail Association
- Balmoral Estate
- Brook Forestry
- Cairngorms Business Partnership
- Carrbridge Capercaillie Group
- Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland
- Forestry and Land Scotland
- Groves Forestry
- Rothiemurchus Estate
- Scottish Forestry
- Seafield and Strathspey Estates
Research shows that capercaillie tend to avoid areas near people, thereby limiting the amount of space they have to live.
In response, the project is working with communities to identify sustainable solutions that ensure people and capercaillie can thrive alongside each other. Solutions may, for example, involve improving path networks for more people to enjoy in areas that are not sensitive for capercaillie.
The project will not be introducing byelaws or access restrictions and all work delivered through the project is compliant with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
Foxes and crows are amongst the main predators of capercaillie and for many years they’ve been controlled by some land owners and managers to benefit the species. Others have decided not to control foxes and crows to allow for a range of predators to create balance.
Pine martens and badgers are known to prey on capercaillie but as protected species they can only be controlled subject to and under licence in specific circumstances.
The project respects the range of views related to legal predator control and is not seeking to impose any one view on others. The project itself is the coming together of organisations and communities that collectively hold a range of views on the matter.
The project was set up to benefit capercaillie and given the critical status of the species, with possibly less than 1000 birds left in the UK, advocates an effective, evidence based approach. In accordance with this approach the project is supporting predator control for capercaillie where land managers wish to undertake it.
Funding for predator control is already available through the Forestry Grant Scheme (FGS) but is restricted to areas within 1.5km of a lek and not on open ground. During the project's development phase, areas were identified on both Seafield Estate and Rothiemurchus Estate where these criteria limit the ability of both estates to maintain effective levels of predator control to benefit capercaillie.
In response, the project has and will continue to provide grant support to both estates to undertake predator control work for capercaillie on behalf of the project.
In the case of Seafield Estate this support is helping to fund a new full-time gamekeeper and on Rothiemurchus Estate, a seasonal gamekeeper. The work that the gamekeepers are undertaking is complementary to that already carried out under FGS on both estates and provides increased effort in targeted areas. Both estates are also match funding the financial support provided by the project.
The project's Capercaillie Habitat Grant Scheme also aims to help other landmanagers undertake predator control for capercaillie which is not funded or viable through the Forestry Grant Scheme.
Capercaillie numbers in the UK are now so low that the population is likely to be experiencing a genetic bottleneck. This will limit the genetic diversity of the species and in the face of climate change, this could affect the birds’ ability to adapt and survive.
To investigate this issue over 1,000 capercaillie feathers have been collected by the project from across the National Park. By analysing the DNA from the feathers, and comparing it with other capercaillie populations in Europe and Scandinavia, we can identify what we need to do to help the birds and develop an action plan in response. This may involve exploring the translocation of birds to help expand the gene pool.
However, the successful translocation of a ground-nesting bird like the capercaillie is not without significant challenges. Of 21 attempted reintroductions across the capercaillie range, only the Scottish reintroduction in the 1830s is known to have been successful, and this saw the birds introduced into a very different landscape than we have today. Great care and planning will therefore be required to ensure that any project of this sort is successful.
Signage and information has, for many years, been informing people that they are in a capercaillie area. In birding circles, news travels and if people really want to see capercaillie they will no doubt find a way. The difference now is that the project is working at scale with communities of interest and place across the National Park to enable more people to enjoy the area responsibly and reduce disturbance to capercaillie. This has never been done before. Part of this work is about building trust so information about capercaillie, including the bird's whereabouts, can be shared more openly where appropriate to help people develop a more meaningful understanding of the environment they use.
The project is researching the genetic diversity of the UK capercaillie population. It's also researching whether it’s possible to produce a more accurate estimate of the size of the UK capercaillie population using genetic material gathered at lek sites. Knowing, more accurately, how many birds there are and how genetically diverse they are means we can significantly increase the effectiveness of conservation action for capercaillie. The project is also researching how people think and feel about capercaillie to help communities identify and deliver actions to help the species.
The project's tender to analyse the diversity of the UK capercaillie population was awarded to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the wildlife conservation charity that leads Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park. An expert team are conducting the work in the RZSS WildGenes Lab, the only zoo based conservation genetics lab in the UK.
In 2019, the project invited land managers from across the Cairngorms National Park to carefully collect capercaillie feathers over the autumn months when the birds have finished breeding and moult. Stalkers, keepers, foresters, rangers, ecologists and field surveyors all responded. Local volunteers were also trained to help. It's the DNA from these feathers that the RZSS WildGenes is analysing.
The research is due to be completed by March 2023. It takes time because it requires the development of new genomic tools specific to the UK capercaillie population that are optimised for degraded DNA samples, such as those obtained from non-invasive collection techniques, like the collection of dropped feathers.
It takes at least 12 months to develop the new genomic tools and then the use of these tools to obtain genotype data from the feathers takes a further 6 months. It is only at this point that the analysis can begin.
It will help shape the future management of the species in the UK. By establishing the genetic diversity of the UK capercaillie population we will be able to identify whether or not we need to consider measures to help expand the gene pool to aid the long-term survival of capercaillie in the UK, for example by translocating birds from other areas. The genetic research will also help us to create tools to study other capercaillie populations across their global range.
Yes. Reducing disturbance and improving over 10,000 hectares of habitat will help the other species that live alongside capercaillie, from wood ants to golden eagles.
Expert opinion in the 1990s was that capercaillie would be extinct by around 2010. Efforts to help the bird at the time ensured that that did not happen. However, capercaillie still need our help and the project’s work is part of a collective approach currently being considered in light of the latest Scottish capercaillie lek data, which suggests that more needs to be done to build a future for the species as part of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.
Capercaillie are a specialist species only able to survive in a narrow range of environmental conditions. They require extensive areas of Scots Pine dominated woodland. In the UK, this resource is only available in Scotland. A lack of suitable habitat is a known issue for capercaillie in the UK and a recognised cause of population decline. Limited habitat which is also fragmented can cause capercaillie populations to become isolated. This can compromise their genetic health and increases the likelihood of inbreeding. Less habitat means capercaillie may also be more prone to the impacts of predation and human disturbance.
The project is helping to fund the cost of planting thousands of native trees on Seafield and Strathspey Estate, Baddengorm Woods and Balmoral Estate. This will expand capercaillie habitat by over 150 hectares.
The project is also helping to fund the cost of thinning an area of woodland on Balmoral Estate. By removing some trees from the wood, more light will reach the forest floor. This will encourage blaeberry to grow; a food plant which capercaillie depend on.
The UK Forestry Standards (UKFS) and Guidelines, regulated and monitored in Scotland by Scottish Forestry, apply to all UK forests and woodlands. By meeting the requirements of the UKFS, forest and woodland owners, managers and practitioners can demonstrate that forestry operations and activities are both legal and sustainable.
The project and its partners, including Scottish Forestry and NatureScot, work on an ongoing basis with Seafield and Strathspey Estate, Baddengorm Woods and Balmoral Estate to ensure all forestry operations undertaken on behalf of the project are compliant with the UKFS.
Specific to capercaillie this means adhering to the following recommendations:
- Forestry operations are avoided within 1km of lek sites between 1 March and 15 May.
- Areas planned for thinning are checked for capercaillie nesting activity beforehand.
- Surveys to confirm the presence of a lek can only be carried out under licence from NatureScot.
- If a capercaillie nest is found during forestry operations, forest managers must prevent disturbance by marking an exclusion zone of 100m radius around the nest.
- If a capercaillie nest is suspected, but not confirmed, the coupe should be avoided until after 14 June.
- If a brood is disturbed during forestry operations, all workers should be withdrawn to a distance of at least 100m from the brood for a couple of hours. This will allow the hen to return to her chicks and move them away from the disturbance. Workers must ensure that the brood has an escape route of tree cover to get away from the operations.
- If the forest compartment has a rich blaeberry ground cover (the preferred brood habitat), and such habitat is limited in the forest as a whole, operations should be postponed in that area until late July if possible.