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Fake nest trial could be a lifeline for the capercaillie

Pine martens pose a real threat to the British capercaillie population but both species are protected.

Researchers have filled fake nests with chicken eggs as part of a trial designed to help save the 500 capercaillie left in the UK. Capercaillie eggs and chicks are predated by pine martens, which are also a protected species. 

Over an eight-week trial the University of Aberdeen team placed deer meat near the artificial nests in the Cairngorms to see if predators could be dissuaded from eating the eggs. The false nests had an 83% survival rate. Following these results, diversionary feeding is now being rolled out by Forestry and Land Scotland and the RSPB. 

Journalist and conservationist Patrick Laurie told ST: “This is an interesting piece of work that may turn out to have some practical benefits for capercaillie conservation, but the parlous state of capercaillie in Scotland has placed them almost beyond the point of recovery. 

“The bigger lesson is just how far conservationists are prepared to go to avoid lethal control of pine martens. This study is valuable, but it seems to dance around the central problem. For so long as the idea of culling pine martens remains out of the question, calls for urgent action sound oddly tepid and conditional.”