The UK capercaillie population is in serious decline, but communities across the Cairngorms National Park want to help.
The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project
It's possible that there are now less than 1,000 capercaillie left in the UK. And almost all of them live in the Cairngorms National Park. Action in the Park is therefore critical to prevent extinction in the UK.
In the past we’ve focused on ecological solutions to help capercaillie, delivered 'top-down', by landowners and agencies. These actions have helped, but losses continue. In response, the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project is turning to communities across the Cairngorms National Park and putting local people in the driving seat to make decisions about how they can help. It’s a road less travelled and far from straight, but one considered essential to explore in these critical times.
Saving a species on the brink of extinction will always be complex, and there is no 'one size fits all', the project's work with communities is therefore part of five essential actions to be delivered across the Cairngorms National Park from 2020 to 2023.
Essential actions for capercaillie
- Help communities to create and deliver their own community-led actions for capercaillie.
- Raise awareness of the plight of capercaillie and how people can help.
- Research the genetic diversity of capercaillie in the National Park to help inform action.
- Improve and create more habitat for capercaillie.
- Strengthen current capercaillie monitoring to enable more informed decisions.
The project has recently been awarded a ‘delivery phase’ grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and is currently putting all the wheels in motion to start delivering it's essential actions for capercaillie. For a detailed overview of the project's work at this stage, you can download the document below or scroll down this page for a more general overview.
Capercaillie habitats are unavoidably hybrid spaces, shared by people and nature. Involving local people is therefore critical to prevent capercaillie extinction in the UK.
The community of Carrbridge has played a pioneering role in this part of the project and developed the first community-led capercaillie conservation strategy in Scotland. The strategy has been developed by the Carrbridge Capercaillie Group, a group of volunteers, in response to a questionnaire distributed throughout the community. The questionnaire results clearly established that the community of Carrbridge cares about capercaillie and is willing to take action. By developing their own strategy, the community of Carrbridge will now help to lead other communities in the National Park who also care about capercaillie.
Locally and nationally the project will ensure it's messages reach and engage the hearts and minds of the widest audiences. The project is developing an online Capercaillie Hub; a one-stop-shop for communities to help build a shared understanding of the specific and current challenges facing capercaillie locally, and how to help. Capercaillie related resources will also be created for primary schools in the National Park and beyond, to inspire a new generation of residents to value and know how to care for capercaillie. And the project's Community Rangers will continue to support communities who can and want to help capercaillie.
Genetic health check
Capercaillie numbers are now so low there could be a bottleneck in the gene pool. In the face of climate change this could affect the birds’ ability to adapt and survive. To investigate the issue over 1000 capercaillie feathers have been collected by landmanagers and local residents. Using the DNA in these feathers the project will assess whether capercaillie in the UK are on the brink of a harmful genetic bottleneck, and develop an action plan in response. This may, for example involve exploring the idea of introducing birds from abroad to help expand the gene pool.
10,000 hectares of habitat
Habitat loss is a major factor in capercaillie decline. Working with landmanagers and local volunteers across the National Park the project will improve over 10,000 hectares of habitat for capercaillie through a series of habitat improvement plans and a grant scheme for small landowners. This work will involve the following actions to ensure the greatest benefit for capercaillie:
- Planting Scots pine and broadleaves to expand habitat.
- Increasing deer control to enable woodland regeneration.
- Cutting heather to enhance adult and chick survival.
- Creating screening to reduce human disturbance.
- Increasing fox and crow control to enhance chick survival.
- Marking, maintaining and removing deer fences to reduce mortalities.
- Blocking artificial drains to re-wet forest bogs and enhance adult and chick survival.
Improved knowledge and understanding
To help more people get involved in securing the long-term future of capercaillie, monitoring information needs to be as accurate and comprehensive as possible. To ensure this is the case the project has, and will continue to use existing monitoring techniques, including lek and brood surveys, and will develop and adopt new approaches, from genetic survey work, to digital tools, including a public app to help more people get involved in capercaillie monitoring.