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Capercaillie Conservation Optimism

Is The Capercaillie Back From The Brink Of UK Extinction?

The small UK population of the threatened capercaillie ? the world`s largest grouse - may have nearly doubled in Scotland according to recent survey results. Scottish conservationists are celebrating as this species ? which only occurs in the UK in Scotland - had the dubious title of being the bird most likely to become extinct in the UK in the next 15 years.

The survey, carried out by RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) with support from Forestry Commission Scotland, has revealed there are now an estimated 2,000 capercaillie, as compared with around 1,000 in the 1999 census [The 2004 figure of 1,980 birds is an estimate derived from a sample of 643 survey sites throughout the capercaillie range. The actual population could be between 1,300 and 2,800.]. This comes as very welcome news as the capercaillie population had been in constant decline since the 1970s when there may have been as many as 20,000 individuals in Scotland. It has been wiped out once before in the UK and was successfully reintroduced in the 1830s. Since then, a concerted effort has been made to save this species from a second UK extinction.Conservationists believe there are a number of reasons for the capercaillie`s recent change in fortune. Conservation action such as removing or marking of 300 kilometres of deer fencing (which capercaillie were prone to fly into), legal predator control in key capercaillie areas, and extensive habitat management in many of the woodlands where capercaillie remain, all seems to be paying off. Much of this work was undertaken as part of the ?5m European LIFE Nature funded project Urgent conservation for Scottish capercaillie*. In addition, good weather during recent breeding seasons, which is vital for capercaillie breeding success, may have helped.

There were regional differences in the survey findings, with most birds being found in Strathspey. Very few birds were found in Perthshire, and further range contraction there seems likely, unless this can be addressed urgently.Kenny Kortland, Capercaillie Project** Officer for RSPB Scotland, said: This very positive result can be attributed to the huge effort made by many public and private forest managers in recent years to save this species. The level of cooperation has been tremendous and should be a model for other projects. However, the population is still comparatively small and needs to be increased further to ensure its future viability. We are currently working on long-term management plans with numerous foresters ? so the outlook is bright. We now know how to save this fantastic bird ? the challenge is to keep at it until success is achieved.

John Markland, Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, said: In the last few years there have been substantial conservation efforts by public bodies, conservation NGOs and private landowners to save the capercaillie, and these results indicate that we may be beginning to reap the benefits of this work. The combination of removing deer fences, which are known to cause capercaillie deaths, conservation measures to give the bird a better chance during the breeding season, and improved weather seem to be arresting its decline. Although it is too early to tell if we are likely to see a longer term recovery in numbers, this survey is certainly very good news for the capercaillie and conservation in Scotland. Bob Dunsmore, Conservator for the Highlands for Forestry Commission Scotland, said: We are delighted to hear about the increase in capercaillie numbers. In recent years, Forestry Commission Scotland has been carrying out practical work in the public forests and supporting the work of private forest owners to help reverse the decline in population. The coordinated efforts of landowners and foresters to improve habitat for capercaillie and to reduce the hazards that they face has clearly been a significant factor in the current trend. Managing our forests in ways that are sympathetic to capercaillie provides a range of other benefits and the involvement of so many interests and organisations has made this a very good example of effective partnership work.

Jonathan Hall, Head of Rural Policy, Scottish Rural Property-owners and Business Association, said: This excellent news underlines the need for integrated conservation management, rather than isolated protection. Clearly, active pest, habitat and deer fence management is essential if caper are to thrive. Positive management has to be recognised if important conservation objectives are to be met.Stuart Housden, Director for RSPB Scotland, said: The years of detailed research and trial management do at last seem to have found the winning formula to conserve capercaillie ? this most iconic bird of our native pinewoods. The population estimates are not definite as this is a difficult species to monitor, but it does look like things are improving. I pay tribute to the efforts of land managers, my colleagues at RSPB Scotland and the support we have had from SNH and the Forestry Commission Scotland. We can`t say this battle is won, but it is cause for some celebration. We must now ensure we continue to deliver the required management on the ground, particularly in those areas where increases have not yet occurred.NB For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:
Grahame Madge, RSPB press officer, on: 01767 681577. Out of hours, please telephone: 07702 196902 (mobile) or 01234 870627 (home)
Adam Harper, RSPB Scotland`s media officer, on: 0131 311 6536. Out of hours, please telephone: 07736 722181.
Sarah Roe, Scottish Natural Heritage national press and pr officer, on: 0131 446 2270*Scotland`s endangered capercaillie is the subject of a ?5 million, European Union-funded action plan aimed at reversing its population decline. Under the plan, the EU`s LIFE-Nature programme, which supports projects that implement EU nature conservation policy, contributed ?2.5 million, which was matched by members of the Caledonian Partnership. The Partnership comprises organisations working, to restore, enhance and expand Scotland`s native woodlands in order to maximise the environmental, social and economic benefits they provide.. Key partners in the Capercaillie LIFE-Nature project are Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB Scotland, Highland Birchwoods and private landowners in core capercaillie areas. Project activities include: the removal of redundant deer and stock fences and marking others to reduce the number of deaths by collision; restructuring key forests managed by RSPB Scotland and the Commission to encourage the kinds of habitat preferred by capercaillie; helping private forest owners to do the same; raising public awareness; carrying out research into capercaillie ecology; and establishing new capercaillie habitat by planting or encouraging natural regeneration.**The Capercaillie Biodiversity Action Plan Steering Group group implements the government action plan for capercaillie and provides advice to the Scottish Executive on capercaillie matters. The group includes members from a wide range of organisations representing forestry, land management, and conservation organisations and agencies. The group has been instrumental in developing many projects, including the national survey and the Capercaillie LIFE Project, and develops advice and research relevant to capercaillie conservation. For further information on the group, please contact the Capercaillie Project Officer (Kenny Kortland) on 01463 715000. The post of Capercaillie Conservation Officer is jointly funded by RSPB Scotland, FCS and SNH. The Project Officer, Kenny Kortland, provides free advice and support for forest owners and agencies.

The Forestry Commission has provided grant aid for a range of activities, which have benefited capercaillie, initially through its Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS) and now through the Scottish Forestry Grant Scheme (SFGS). In 2001, the Scottish Executive provided ?700,000 to remove redundant fences that could affect capercaillie and to mark fences still in use. The project was managed by the Forestry Commission and provided income for local contractors and sawmills.

4th July 2014