Scotland?s capercaillie has enjoyed the best breeding season for almost 15 years, according to results made public at a two-day conference earlier this month to discuss the future of the iconic Scottish bird.

A census in 1999 revealed there were only 1,000 birds left north of the Border, but in 2004 another survey revealed that conservation methods were paying off. Since then, the numbers have increased even further. However, the Scottish Gamekeepers? Association (SGA) warned that the future success for the bird relies on methods of control of protected predatory species.

This year?s survey covered 19 sites across the country and found 88 hens had reared 121 chicks. One site in the Strathspey forest is reported to have had an exceptional year, with 13 hens rearing 40 chicks.

Rhona Brankin, Scottish Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development, opened the conference by saying: ?It?s great news to hear of the success of this year?s capercaillie breeding season. I am delighted the decline has turned round and that there is good evidence local populations are increasing.?

Calum Kippen from the SGA warned attendees that there was still work to be done, particularly where the birds? predators are concerned.

Mr Kippen said: ?We are delighted that this year has been successful for capercaillie breeding but the Government should be cautious before claiming this project has been a success in either conservation terms or being good value for the taxpayers? 7.3million euros.? Mr Kippen claimed money could be better spent in other areas to help the birds.