Vole monitoring scheme aims to safeguard capercaillie


An ongoing project to monitor vole numbers in the Cairngorms could help conserve the threatened Scottish population of Western Capercaillie.

Voles are an important food source for predators such as foxes and Pine Martens – but when numbers of the rodents are low, it is thought that capercaillie can become a target for the predators. 

Researchers have been trapping and counting voles in Strathspey (FLS).

By counting vole numbers, researchers can work out if they need to provide extra food to distract predators. Studies have shown that the alternative food sources, such as deer carcasses, can be used to move predators away from threatened species when vole numbers are low.

Although vole numbers are currently high, it is likely that levels in Glen Feshie, near Aviemore, are about to plummet – in keeping with the cyclical nature of vole population – meaning intervention will be required next year. Counting by researchers from Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) is being undertaken twice a year to determine their population cycle.

Capercaillie numbers are at critically low levels with some estimates suggesting there are only 542 in Scotland. Kenny Kortland, FLS wildlife ecologist, said: "In order to protect and conserve capercaillie we need to understand the behaviour of all the predators and what they're eating.

"We're taking a precautionary approach and we're intervening in trying to affect the behaviour of their predators during the breeding season and hopefully that will reduce the predation of capercaillie even more."