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Is the Scottish Capercaillie Destined for a Second Extinction?

Is the Scottish capercaillie destined for a second extinction? You could be blamed for thinking this sensationalist headline is subject to just a little bit of hyperbole. Unfortunately this is not the case, because like so many other species that are on the road to extinction, data gathered for the Scottish capercaillie population has confirmed a 50% decline in this species population over a 20 year period.

National surveys for capercaillie are undertaken every six years and are organised and managed by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The most recent survey, which was completed during the winter of 2015/16, recorded 1114 individual birds, which were associated with mature pine woodland habitat in the Highland, Moray, Aberdeenshire, Perthshire and Sprathspey (the most important region for this species of bird). The previous national survey, which was completed over the winter of 2009/10, recorded a total of 1286 individuals - 171 more birds than the current national survey.

Although the Scottish capercaillie population has traditionally fluctuated between 1000 and 2000 birds, the current population census puts the national populations at the low end of the historical threshold, which is understandably of serious concern to researchers and scientists. Despite considerable conservation efforts over the last 20 years, scientists attribute the reduction in the population to two primary factors: collision with deer fencing and breeding success, specifically, high rainfall, predation and disturbance from human activity (house-building and recreation pressure).

In response to continued declines in the population, the Cairngorms National Park has launched the Capercaillie Strategy. The initiative, which focusses on the largest proportion of the population within the national park, seeks to work with local communities to built support for capercaillie conservation, in addition to targeting management of forests to ensure better habitat connectivity.

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