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Capercaillie could be extinct in Scotland in 20 years, says report

Capercaillie could be extinct in Scotland in as little as 20 years, according to an expert report.

female capercaillie

The gamebird is now a protected species, but numbers are still declining

Scottish Capercaillie at risk

The report commissioned by Nature Scot looked at the causes of the decline in the numbers of the birds and at how the decline could be addressed. In recent years, a number of very large estates in the bird’s core range in Badenoch and Strathspey have abandoned all predator control as part of either forestry management or ‘rewilding’. (Read ‘Is the Capercaillie slipping out of our grasp forever?’)

Rewilding advocates have increasingly claimed that climate change, not their land management practices, is responsible for the bird’s decline. However the report was clear that this is not the case. Instead, the expert panel agreed that, “A more likely factor is predation on eggs and young chicks. The main predators affecting the Scottish Capercaillie population are crows, foxes and pine martens, and increases in predator numbers (notably the pine marten) are contributing to the decline in breeding success.”

They went on to add: “There is no compelling evidence that changes in habitat quality or availability, parasites or inbreeding can explain the recent reduction in breeding success.”

Alex Hogg MBE Chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “a sizeable chunk of Scotland’s last remaining Capercaillie forests, managed by Forestry and Land Scotland and RSPB Scotland, have had no predators controlled on them for years. The loser has been the Scottish Capercaillie. Hopefully this science is now the beginning of that damage being undone.

“Gamekeepers have been lone voices, often discredited when speaking about Capercaillie. This science is endorsement that they were correct. Now we need to undo the years of waste, and mis-spent public money, and get on and save an iconic species.”

Veteran gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen stated the matter more directly saying: “If only they had listened to the gamekeepers years ago this type of disaster would have been averted.”

The report also made clear that without radical change the species will rapidly be lost. The authors predicted that: “Scottish Capercaillie will be lost from Deeside & Donside, Moray & Nairn and Perthshire within the next 10-15 years,” and that, “if current trends continue then the Scottish population could become extinct within 20-30 years”.