Fears Capercaillie numbers dwindling after falling by a third

Scotland’s capercaillie population is feared to have fallen by a third in six years, to just 700.

Capercaillie numbers are dwindling

Researchers say there have been indications of “quite a severe decline” in the iconic woodland species - the largest member of the grouse family - since the last official Scotland-wide count in 2015-16.Pete Mayhew, director of nature and climate change at the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), told the authority’s board meeting that a loss of habitat, predators and disturbances by humans were among the factors to blame for their decline.There were 10,000 breeding pairs in the 1960s. The species became extinct in Scotland in 1758, but was reintroduced from Swedish stock in modern times.Mr Mayhew said counts at capercaillie leks, the name for the bird’s noisy mating displays, have shown a more than one third reduction in males since the last official count of the birds.He said the CNPA’s ambitions to increase the bird’s population numbers from 1,100 to 1,200 by next year will “certainly” not be reached.Mr Mayhew said: “The target is 1,200 caper by 2022, and that came from the last winter transit count, the formal count of capercaillie in Scotland in 2015-16, and that said there was roughly 1,100 caper in Scotland.“Most, the vast majority of them, around 90 per cent-plus of them, are in the park.“Our target is 1,200 because we were hoping that with the work going on we would in a small way expand that population.“The next winter transit count is this coming winter, so right now we do not know how many capercaillie we have in the park. However, we have indicators there has been quite a severe decline in the six years, and that’s mainly from counts of males at lek that have come down in that six-year period by 37 per cent.“If we apply that to the 1,100, we’re talking something like 700 birds.“It may be even worse than that. Females tend not to survive as well as males, so it may be lower than 700. We don’t know, but we’re certainly not going to hit that 1,200 target.“The reasons for the decline are everything from habitat, fences, predators, disturbances, and possibly genetics.”The largest member of the grouse family, capercaillie were once common in Scottish woodlands, and remain common throughout Scandinavia and other parts of Europe.The modern population has continued to struggle, and has plummeted from the 1960s.The situation became so bad in the 1990s that experts believed the species would become extinct in Scotland by 2010. However, conservation projects have helped the bird to cling on.Grant Moir, the chief executive of the CNPA, explained capercaillie population numbers are a measure of the quality of Scotland’s pinewoods.He explained the indications of a severe decline have resulted in the species being moved from the “amber to red” warning category in the CNPA’s plans.He said: “Capercaillie are a key species that indicate the health and connectedness of our native pine woodlands. They are also a good indicator of whether we have the right balance that allows people and nature to thrive together.”

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