01/02/2006
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Back from the Brink. No 3

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This is the third in a series of articles to highlight some of the remarkable success stories achieved by the RSPB through their work to save some of Britain's rarest birds. Few birds can compare with a fine Capercaillie but this huge grouse became extinct in England in the 17th century, with the last known Scottish record in 1785. The species was reintroduced in Scotland from 1837 onwards, and soon flourished.

Capercaillie: Scotland. (Photo: Dean Eades) Capercaillie: Scotland. (Photo: Andy Brett)

Numbers peaked in the early 1900s, but habitat loss as a result of the two World Wars resulted in a declining population. Throughout the rest of the century this trend continued, despite a slight increase in the 1960s. By 1999 only 1,000 birds remained. The decline in Scottish Capercaillie numbers was mirrored in many European countries.

In order to address the decline it was necessary to identify the causes. Research found that poor breeding success and collisions with deer fences were major factors contributing to the rapidly diminishing population. Studies found that Capercaillie chicks need a diet rich in invertebrates and that blaeberry was the best habitat for the chicks. This habitat was scarce due to heavy grazing by deer, but fences designed to keep out deer caused high levels of mortality amongst the Capercaillie through collisions. In 1988 the RSPB bought the Forest Lodge Estate at Abernethy, and by addressing these problems numbers of Capercaillie increased to 100 birds. As a result of the work at Abernethy, conservation work on a large scale is now being undertaken at key sites for the species in Scotland, supported by EU funding.

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More than 50,000 hectares of native pinewoods have been planted in Scotland, and the network of Capercaillie Natura sites (Special protection Areas) is also being expanded. All key forests for Capercaillie are now being managed with the species in mind. Hopefully, this work will ensure that the Capercaillie population will reach secure levels and will be there for future generations to enjoy.

For further details of how the work of the RSPB has led to this conservation success story, click here to read a PDF which gives the full story.

If you like this sort of work then please consider donating to, or joining, the RSPB.

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