Scottish keepers have urged Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to introduce licences to control pine marten numbers or face the loss of the capercaillie for a second time.

The call, from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), came after the latest survey into the bird?s numbers showed a 35% decline since the previous study (2003-2004), despite recent conservation efforts involving habitat creation and the removal of deer fences by groups including the RSPB.

The new survey estimates the number of individuals to be just 1,285 of which 75% are in the regions of Badenoch and Strathspey.

SNH had originally hoped to increase the population to 5,000 by 2010.

An SGA spokesman said: ?Predation levels across the board have risen and are now far too high for capercaillie numbers to get above the levels required to be safe. We told SNH that they would have to consider the number of pine marten and predators, but they didn?t want to talk. This is SNH?s chance to redress the situation.?

?If our views had been taken on board, millions of pounds of taxpayers? money and valuable time would have been saved. There is little point in wasting public money in creating new habitat [for capercaillie] if you don?t control the predators that are eating them.?

However, RSPB Scotland?s James Reynolds described the SGA?s position as ?riddled with basic inaccuracies and sheer prejudice?.

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