Captive breeding of capercaillie

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I THOUGHT I’d time-warped back to 1 April when I read your article “Capercaillie crisis sparks radical plan” (News, 28 July).

Any credibility the Scottish Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (SGWCT) had was totally lost when their director of upland research, Dr David Baines, seriously suggested catching wild pine martins and keeping them captive from March to August to let capercaillies breed without predation. Dr Baines also stated: “There has been an abundance of pine martins over the years and their range has increased.” This suggests that the SGWCT know as much about wild animals and conservation as I know about the molecular structure of rocks on Pluto.

There is of course the risk that some numpty in the Scottish Government will be daft enough to take this nonsense on board and waste public money just as they did by funding a useless trap and release programme to remove sparrowhawks from the vicinity of pigeon lofts.

Both capercaillies and pine martins suffered centuries of persecution by the game shooting fraternity. Pine martin numbers are slowly recovering but the capercaillie may well become extinct in Scotland for the second time.

If sport shooters really want to repair the damage they have caused and help re-establish populations of both these creatures there are several more realistic options to be considered. They could stop culling corvids and small animals which eat the eggs and chicks of pheasants and grouse. Corvid eggs and chicks and young weasels, stoats and hedgehogs are all part of the natural food chain and easier prey for pine martins than trying to take the eggs or young of capercaillies.

Shooters could stop using lead shot which pollutes and poisons our environment and can be directly ingested by capercaillies as they swallow grit used to help digest food in their gizzards.

Gamekeepers, instead of breeding non-native pheasants to be blasted by shotguns and run over by cars, could start a captive breeding programme to produce young capercaillies to be released into the wild. It would not be simple to do but it would be far more worthwhile and cheaper and easier than breeding pandas in ­Edinburgh.

John F Robins, 
For Animal Concern Advice Line

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