Research shows Scotland’s Capercaillie population has declined


A new study, carried out by RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), estimates that there are just 1,114 Capercaillie left in Scotland, making it one of the country’s rarest birds.

Capercaillie – the world’s biggest grouse species – is Red Listed as a Bird of Conservation Concern and is at real risk of extirpation in Britain, according the RSPB. It is found in mature pine woodlands in parts of the Highlands, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Perthshire, with Strathspey holding around 83 per cent of the remaining population. It is assessed every six years, with the most recent study conducted in winter 2015-16. The previous survey, undertaken in winter 2009-10, put numbers at around 1,285 individuals.

An innovative five-year initiative, the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project, is being developed to help the species. Spearheaded by the Cairngorms Nature Partnership, the scheme will work closely with communities to build support for Capercaillie conservation, as well as aiming to create bigger, better managed and better connected forests to support long-term survival of this and other species in pine woods.

Conservationists have identified two main reasons for Capercaillie’s low population density: relatively low levels of breeding success and an increase in deaths from collisions with deer fences. The latter can be reduced by marking fences, decreasing their height or removing them; however, resolving the former is more complex.

Breeding success is adversely affected by high rainfall in June, when the chicks hatch, and predation. The number of chicks Capercaillie raise is only relatively high when both of these factors are low but, unfortunately, wetter summers have become more frequent due to climate change, while the small size and fragmented nature of the forests these birds inhabit allow easier access to predators.

There is also growing evidence that human disturbance can be an issue as it causes Capercaillie to avoid using large areas of otherwise suitable woodland – limiting the potential for population recovery.

Capercaillie in pine wood
Capercaillie is a localised breeding species, found in Scottish native pinewood, a rare and vulnerable habitat. Photo by Dave Braddock (www.rspb-images.com).

“Vital conservation work such as establishing rich feeding areas for adults and chicks, promoting woodland creation in the right locations to increase habitat and carrying out targeted predator control around breeding sites has already brought benefits,” said Sue Haysom, Policy and Advice Officer at SNH. “Now we need to build on this with energy and innovative approaches developed by experts and local communities to ensure that future generations can experience this magnificent bird.”

Key to the project’s success will be partnerships with National Park communities. Local residents will help the project team design sensible approaches to improve recreational opportunities for locals and visitors while reducing disturbance to Capercaillie.

Andy Ford, Cairngorms Nature Manager, commented: “People are key to securing the future of Capercaillie in the National Park. We want to empower people to be inspired to get involved. The project implements the Cairngorms Capercaillie Framework, a blueprint for a strategic approach to saving the species from being wiped out in Britain through targeting future management at a landscape scale. We hope to develop a programme of conservation action to support the long-term survival of the bird and provide a model to save ‘at risk’ species in National Parks around the world.”

Written by: BirdGuides.com