What next for the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project? 

Two years have flown by since the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project began. The project’s ambition to secure a long-term future for capercaillie in the UK has never been more important with the species predicted to become extinct in the next 20 to 30 years unless more action is taken at scale and on all fronts.  

There are several fundamental issues facing the species, not least available habitat, predator management and human disturbance. The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project is particularly focused on the latter and is working with communities of interest and place across the National Park to enable more people to enjoy the area responsibly and in so doing, reduce disturbance to capercaillie. This has never been done at scale before and far from starting to wrap things up as the project enters its final year, the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project is scaling up work to deliver even more for capercaillie and people in the Cairngorms.  

The project has already … 

  • Enabled communities to deliver their own actions for capercaillie based on the views of over 2,700 people 
  • Engaged over 3,500 people through events and activities 
  • Secured the arrest of 1 individual for recklessly disturbing capercaillie  
  • Received over 3,300 hours of volunteer support  
  • Collected over 200 droppings to test the use of genetic material for monitoring  
  • Restored over 50 hectares of forest bog 
  • Created over 100 hectares of new woodland 
  • Delivered enhanced predator control over 7,000 hectares 
  • Marked or removed over 13,000 meters of fencing 
  • Allowed capercaillie to move freely over 360 hectares of forest by cutting heather 
  • Collected over 600 DNA samples to determine the genetic diversity of the UK capercaillie population 

The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project is a coming together of individuals, organisations and groups that collectively hold a range of views related to capercaillie, but our strength lies in the fact that we are all pulling in the same direction and over the next year, as we approach the end of the project, we will be pulling even harder.  

The project will be … 

  • Enabling communities to deliver more actions for capercaillie 
  • Helping the dog walking community to identify and deliver win-wins for capercaillie and dog owners  
  • Involving more volunteers 
  • Improving another 1,000 hectares of habitat  
  • Delivering more enhanced predator control in capercaillie breeding areas 
  • Identifying whether we need to expand the gene pool 
  • Learning from the Capercaillie Emergency Plan in Germany’s Black Forest 
  • Establishing whether droppings can be used to monitor vulnerable populations 
  • Informing new work to continue building a future for capercaillie as part of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy 

We’re looking forward to the work that lies ahead and we are proud to be one part of the ongoing work for capercaillie across the Cairngorms; work which spans decades and is a truly collective effort. Individuals, organisations and project’s like ours continue to work hard for capercaillie, each in our own way, as the species remains in a perilous state and needs all our help. This ongoing need is not unusual when dealing with a highly vulnerable species and we are passionate about playing our part in addressing that need, and helping to secure a long-term future for capercaillie in the UK. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported the project over the last two years. If you would like to get involved before the project ends, whether you are new to capercaillie conservation or you know the birds well, please do get in touch. 

Capercaillie, Tetrao urogallus, male displaying surrounded by hens on lek at sunrise, April

How does the project’s work fit in with national work for capercaillie?

The Capercaillie Framework set out a series of recommendations to help secure the long-term future of capercaillie in the UK. The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project was awarded funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to take forward some of the recommendations in the Framework related to population monitoring, habitat creation and enabling communities to play a part in reducing human disturbance.  

As the project does not therefore cover all the fundamental issues facing capercaillie there is currently a lot of additional work going on outside the project led by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and NatureScot.  

In February, a new report by the NatureScot Scientific Advisory Committee advised that the main factors driving poor productivity in the Scottish capercaillie population 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 insights and learning the project can offer on the benefits and challenges of enabling community-led solutions to reduce human disturbance is unequalled anywhere else in Scotland. The project will therefore play a central role in helping to shape any extended programme of work delivered in response to the report. 

The project’s work to determine the genetic diversity of the UK capercaillie population will also be a strong foundation for any consideration of translocation. Lessons learnt from the project’s funding of fence marking and removal and habitat improvement will also feed into the design and implementation of future funding programmes. There may also be an opportunity to review the workplan of the gamekeeper employed as part of the project, to contribute to any further work on the management of protected species, should that be an outcome. 

In September, the results of the latest national capercaillie winter survey will be published and provide an up-to-date estimate of the UK capercaillie population. This crucial information will be used to shape work delivered in response to the NatureScot Scientific Advisory Committee report. 

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