Action needed to save capercaillie from extinction, say conservationists

More action is needed to save one of the UK’s rarest birds from extinction, conservationists have warned.

Capercaillie, the largest grouse species in the world, are found in Scottish native pinewoods, with many in the Cairngorms National Park.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) will hear next week that the number of birds has “declined seriously”.

The authority’s director of corporate services, David Cameron, said in a report: “The capercaillie number target is unlikely to be met and is now flagged as a red rated risk.

“Full national survey results are due in 2022 but other surveys suggest the population has declined seriously from the 1,100 birds estimated in 2016.”

The current target for capercaillie numbers is 1,200 birds.

The species was hunted to extinction in the 1700s, before being reintroduced in 1837. Numbers reached a high of 20,000 in the 1970s before a decline.

The park authority said factors affecting capercaillie numbers include lack of habitat, low productivity, predation, collisions with unmarked fences, disturbance, climate change and possibly low genetic diversity in the remaining population.

Many of these issues are faced by the species across Europe, where similar declines are being witnessed.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) criticised current conservation approaches which it said are “killing the capercaillie”.

Grant Moir, CNPA chief executive said: “Capercaillie are a key species that indicate the health and connectedness of our native pine woodlands.

“They are also a good indicator of whether we have the right balance that allows people and nature to thrive together.

“Expert opinion in the 1990s was that the population trajectory for caper in Scotland would lead to extinction of the bird by around 2010.

“That did not happen and this shows that the work of various caper projects over those two decades had a real impact. However, declines in the last six years indicate that this bird remains at risk.

“While significant headway is being made in many areas of the park authority’s work and that of the Cairngorms Nature Partnership, conservation efforts for capercaillie are yet to come to fruition.”

He said he meet with partners to look at the next steps and they will work together on a collective approach to the species.

He added:  “Nevertheless, the seriousness of the situation has resulted in capercaillie being moved from amber to red in the Cairngorms Nature Action Plan.”

Pete Mayhew, CNPA director of nature and climate change, said “further, targeted action” needs to be considered.

SGA chairman, Alex Hogg, said: “Present approaches are killing the capercaillie, short changing the taxpayer and rewarding failure.

“Millions of pounds of public money have been spent on missed targets. The public need to know in which forests birds are surviving and in which they are not. They also need to know why.”

He said what he claimed is a lack of proper control of predators means the rapid decline in the species “should be no surprise”.

He added: “If conservation groups find stepping up to the plate too unpalatable, they should make way for others that can get the job done or the capercaillie is finished.”