The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project is helping to put communities of both place and interest at the heart of capercaillie conservation. Central to this is the process of listening, finding consensus and co-creating solutions that will help both communities and capercaillie to thrive, where research indicates that human disturbance reduces the living space available for capercaillie.
The project is focused on enabling communities to get involved, share ideas and coalesce around solutions to help ensure sustainability. As this takes time there are other elements of the project that also ensure we do what we can in the short term to help capercaillie. For example, the project is proactively advising and supporting land owners able to create and enhance woodlands for capercaillie within the Cairngorms National Park. To learn in more detail what the project’s doing to help capercaillie, read about the project’s working groups and their latest actions here.
The project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, LEADER, Scottish Landfill Communities Fund, the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund awarded the project a grant of £346,500. Together with just over £53,000 from LEADER to fund the project’s Carrbridge Capercaillie Community Ranger post, £15,000 from the Scottish Landfill Communities Fund, and financial support from partners the total funding is approximately £500,000. The Cairngorms National Park Authority are the recipient of this funding which can only be spent on the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project.
The project is currently in a development phase during which time ideas are being researched, scoped and piloted. This phase ends in March 2020 when a second application will be submitted to the National Lottery Heritage Fund seeking funding to deliver the ideas that have been tried & tested. If successful, the project will begin delivering those ideas from 2020 to 2023.
Carrbridge was chosen because of the combination of local capercaillie populations and the diversity of residents and visitors to the village.
A working group made up of residents from the village is helping to guide and advise the project. To learn more about the group’s work you can read regular updates here. If you’d like to join the group please contact Carolyn, the Project Manager [email protected]
Carrbridge’s Capercaillie Community Ranger, Emma, is also present in the village on a weekly basis meeting residents and visitors and listening to their thoughts and ideas. If you’d like to get in touch with Emma please contact her via email [email protected]
February marked the start of residents sharing their ideas related to a number of topics from volunteering to Emma’s role and signage in the local woodlands at an event held in Carrbridge Village Hall. Since then Emma has been hosting drop-in sessions in the village cafes and pub to provide further opportunities for residents to share their ideas. Carolyn has been taking the time to visit residents at home and an online survey is available to all here.
The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project wants to enable more people to get involved in capercaillie conservation. As such the project has an inclusive approach. In the context of Carrbridge, project events in the village have been open to all to ensure people who want to learn more about capercaillie and how they can help can access this information.
Within Carrbridge it’s considered important to also engage visitors with capercaillie as the village provides a notable amount of visitor accommodation and the surrounding woodlands are used by visitors as well as residents.
This is not an objective of the project, but would be supported if the community arrived at the idea and there was consensus for it.
On behalf of the project, Emma, the Carrbridge Capercaillie Community Ranger, is piloting her role to work out what are the most effective things such a person can do within a community to help people learn more about their local capercaillie and get involved in looking after them.
Emma is currently present in Carrbridge on a weekly basis meeting residents and visitors and listening to their thoughts and ideas. Subject to what residents and visitors feel they need and want from Emma, her role over the coming year could include work related to recruiting and supporting volunteers to help look after the woodlands around the village to engaging more people with wildlife on the woodland trails.
Emma is employed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and her post is fully funded by LEADER (EU funding).
To contact Emma please send her an email [email protected] or give her a call 07773 475 559
This project is exploring how we can co-create, with woodland owners and users, ways for endangered species to thrive alongside people for the benefit of all. Through this process the project will be listening to what people value and enjoy about their local woodlands and using this information to help shape new ideas and opportunities. This may include improving existing paths to provide more people with opportunities to enjoy their local woodlands, whilst also providing improved habitat for capercaillie that will help to secure their long-term survival.
In the case of any male capercaillies becoming rouge birds in and around Carrbridge village, it may be necessary to temporarily limit access in order to protect both the bird and members of the public.
Research indicates that human disturbance reduces the living space available for capercaillie, this includes disturbance from people exercising their dogs. An additional risk associated with dogs is the chance they come into contact with capercaillie, particularly chicks before they’re able to fly.
Currently around 2 million people visit the Cairngorms National Park each year and just over 50% do so with their dog/s. In the context of visitors alone this means up to 1 million dogs in the Park each year. With just over 1,000 capercaillie left in the Park, all at risk from disturbance, the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project has naturally been exploring potential ways of working with dog owners and their dogs. In so doing the project has taken advice from people who’ve achieved success in enabling dogs and their owners to access what they need and enjoy the outdoors whilst also ensuring other animals aren’t at risk.
As any form of meaningful work with user groups in the Park takes time, there are no plans within the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project to pilot dog training and or a dog exercise area in Carrbridge as part of the project’s pilot work in the village. The project outlined the idea as part of its application for funding but this work is no longer part of the project plan due to changes in the project timetable.
Around Carrbridge, as is already the case across the Cairngorms National Park, dog owners will still be asked to keep their dogs on leads in sensitive areas around the village during the months of April to August when capercaillie are nesting and raising their young. This message will be shared as appropriate, for example via signage in the woodlands around the village and by Emma, the Capercaillie Community Ranger, who may be on the woodland trails with her collie Mousa.
This project is aiming to raise the profile of capercaillie to inspire and encourage more people to get involved in looking after the species. In so doing the project is also aiming to help inform people who may or may not be aware of their potential impact on capercaillie.
To help people learn more about how they can minimise their impact on capercaillie the project will be working with the community of Carrbridge to pilot new approaches and ideas related to woodland signage. The community is also helping to pilot the roles of a Capercaillie Community Ranger and local volunteers who could all help to engage more people with capercaillie and help manage disturbance where necessary.
Capercaillie are both rare and elusive birds so it can be difficult to monitor numbers, but monitoring is essential in order to help evaluate conservation methods. As capercaillie return primarily to the same lek sites each year lek counts are at present the simplest and most accurate way to monitor populations. It’s also essential to record the locations of lek sites so these can be protected, for example from development. Although lek counts may have a disturbance risk the presence of surveyors has not been found to prevent birds from lekking. Surveyors make every effort to minimise disturbance and the birds still return to these sites and call in close proximity of the pop-up hides used by surveyors. Other survey techniques that don’t require the presence of surveyors have been trialed but none have been found to be suitably accurate.
The EU funded Capercaillie LIFE project which ran from 2002 – 2007 significantly improved capercaillie habitat in key areas and helped to establish best practise in managing capercaillie woodlands. Without the project it is entirely possible that capercaillie would now be extinct in the UK; but we need to do more. As summarised in an infographic here, habitat, climate, predation and woodland management are all factors which affect capercaillie numbers. Another significant factor is human disturbance; this is something the Capercaillie LIFE project did not cover but is central to the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project.
The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project recognises the role of predator control in the context of capercaillie conservation, in particular as there are only around 1,000 birds left in the UK. The project is working with land owners who already exercise predator control for capercaillie, for example controlling foxes within a designated distance of a capercaillie lek. Where lek sites are on the edge of a forest it’s not always possible to control predators on bordering land if it’s not also forested. The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project is working with land owners to explore solutions to scenarios such as these.
Beyond the project, research is underway to help people understand more about predators and capercaillie as there are many schools of thought. One is that some predators are known to have a negative impact on capercaillie and should be managed within the law. Others believe all approaches to predator control are both inappropriate and unsuccessful.
The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project brings together and works with many different landowners with a range of opinions and approaches to land management, all with the common aim of doing their bit for capercaillie. The project will both support those already carrying out legal predator control and support the monitoring underway as part of the Cairngorms Connect project to understand what happens when you let the predator guild function more naturally and don’t exercise any control.
There are a suite of protected species including pine martens, badgers and raptors that are known to prey on capercaillie. Within the law these protected species can not be controlled.
Until we know more about the factors contributing to the declining numbers of capercaillie in the UK and the genetic health of the current population it would be irresponsible to introduce more birds to the country. As part of the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project survey work is being undertaken to aid our ongoing understanding of capercaillie populations in the Cairngorms National Park. This includes collecting and analysing feathers to help assess the genetic health of the population and inform future actions.