‘End is nigh’ again for capercaillie, warn experts

THE capercaillie could become extinct in Scotland for a second time unless its predators are controlled, according to conservationists.

This year’s brood survey by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) found only 300 to 400 birds now live in Scotland, with 90% confined to part of Strathspey.

That number has fallen from around 2,200 birds when the survey began in 1991.

The GWCT found the capercaillie – which is the world’s largest wood grouse – breeds better in years with a dry June and in woods with fewer carrion crows, pine martens, and other predators.

Despite a dry June this year, the survey found only 0.4 chicks were fledged by each female, below the 0.6 chicks needed to maintain numbers.

This marks the fifth year that the figure was below 0.6 chicks, with fewer chicks hatching and fledging than in Europe or Russia.

The capercaillie became extinct in Scotland in 1785, but was reintroduced from Sweden.

Conservationists now predict the bird could become extinct in our nation once again within the next 30 to 50.

David Baines, GWCT’s head of upland research, said: “The end is nigh for capercaillie unless we quickly turn around the low chick survival.

“Pine martens have increased in recent decades and are known to consume capercaillie eggs and chicks.

“Their licensed removal from key capercaillie strongholds is urgently required to help avoid species extinction.”

Will Anderson, chief executive of Seafield and Strathspey Estates, which hosted this year’s survey, said: “We have been managing and extending our forests to benefit capercaillie for [more than] 30 years and it would appear that neither habitat extent nor quality is limiting their numbers.

“We are concerned that, in a year where weather is also unlikely to be a limiting factor, we have such poor brood numbers.

“We carry out legal predator control but there is no mechanism available to us for managing the impacts of protected predators and we await the response to the ministerial briefing, following the NatureScot report, for guidance on what further steps we can take to halt the decline of this important component of our pinewood habitats.”

Rory Kennedy, Scotland director at the GWCT, added: “NatureScot’s scientific advisory committee provided a bold, evidence-based road map for saving the last of our capercaillie.

“If public bodies and private landowners now choose to ignore its recommendations then they need to be held accountable for the inevitable extinction of this species in Scotland.”

Read more stories on Scottish Field’s wildlife pages.

Plus, read about Nordic biodiversity in the September issue of Scottish Field magazine.