It's possible that there are now less than 1,000 capercaillie left in the UK. Almost all of them live in the Cairngorms National Park. Action in the National Park is therefore critical to prevent extinction in the UK and build a long-term future for the species.
Saving a species on the brink of extinction and planning for the future at the same time will always be complex. There is no 'silver bullet'. The project's work therefore involves five essential actions delivered across the Cairngorms National Park.
Five essential actions
The project's essential actions for capercaillie are being delivered across the National Park.
1. Community-led action
From residents and visitors, to businesses and mountain bikers, the project is enabling communities across the National Park to identify and make their own decisions about how they can help capercaillie.
Capercaillie habitats are shared spaces where people and nature coexist. Involving residents and visitors to the National Park and making decision based on social data and understanding, as well as ecological, is critical to building a long-term future for capercaillie in the UK.
2. Raising awareness
Through community-led action the project is helping more people to recognise the plight of capercaillie, the things we can all do to help and inspiring a wider range of people to become capercaillie ambassadors; in their own way.
Volunteers are donating thousands of hours to help raise the profile of capercaillie. Local events and national media coverage are pulling people in. And capercaillie related resources created with primary school children will inspire a new generation.
3. Genetic questions answered
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 and work out what we can do to help, DNA extracted from over 1,000 capercaillie feathers, collected from across the National Park, is currently being analysed by the project, and compared against other capercaillie populations in Europe and Scandinavia.
4. Ten thousand hectares of habitat
The project is working with landmanagers and volunteers to improve over 10,000 hectares of habitat for capercaillie; as the birds need more space to survive.
This work includes planting Scots pine; reducing deer numbers to enable woodland regeneration; creating natural screens to reduce human disturbance; controlling foxes and crows which predate capercaillie; and blocking artificial drains to restore forest bogs, which capercaillie use for food and water. A grant scheme is also available to create and improve even more habitat for capercaillie.
5. Improved knowledge and understanding
The project is using traditional monitoring techniques and developing new approaches, using trail cameras, thermal imagers and genetic material, to build a more detailed picture to inform more effective action, now and in the future.
A public app has been developed, enabling a wider range of people to get involved in capercaillie monitoring, and by collecting and anlaysing droppings at lek sites, the project is piloting a new way to monitor the size of the UK capercaillie population with greater accuracy and less disturbance to the birds.