The Western Capercaillie has declined by approximately half in the UK since 2015-16, with as few as 542 thought to persist – the lowest recorded population since the start of the national survey between 1992 and 1994.
At least 85% of the remaining population exists in the Cairngorms National Park. Action in the national park is therefore critical to prevent the species’ extinction in the UK.
There are several fundamental issues facing the species, including available habitat, predation and human disturbance. The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project (CCP) is particularly focused on the latter and is working with communities across the national park to reduce disturbance to capercaillie.
Human disturbance increases the levels of hormones that are associated with stress in capercaillie. Research has found that capercaillie can be disturbed by activity along tracks up to a distance of about 200 m, while females will flush from 26 m and males from as far as 43 m.
Last April, CCP found multiple birders and photographers at lek sites. No fewer than 17 individuals were found at one site, with 12 at risk of committing a wildlife crime by intentionally disturbing breeding capercaillie after ignoring signage on site. This was despite a campaign last spring asking birders and photographers not to visit leks. The project’s work with Police Scotland also resulted in the arrest of an individual in April who was found intentionally causing disturbance to the species.
I was fortunate enough to be taken to a secluded spot in Scotland where a rogue male Capercaillie was showing well. It was an amazing experience not only to appreciate the size of the bird but also its aggressive tendencies. I was privileged to get some quickly grabbed photos – a moment etched in my memory