RESEARCH into the breeding and dispersal of Capercaillie in Strathspey has concluded that without further managed 'landscape scale' intervention to improve breeding success, the already threatened species will continue to decline.

The Scottish Capercaillie has been declining in range and numbers since the 1970s, and there may now be less than 1000 birds remaining, chiefly in Strathspey.

The study 'Observations on breeding and dispersal by Capercaillie in Strathspey' was undertaken by scientists from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust over four years from 2016 to 2019, co-funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Forestry, Forestry and Land Scotland, and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

The researchers radio-tagged six females which allowed 12 possible breeding attempts to be followed. Nine clutches were laid of which six then hatched, with three probably predated by pine martens. Of the six broods, only two fledged chicks, a chick survival rate of just 8%. The low chick survival could be due to predation, poor post-hatch weather or impacts of sheep tick, but these all require further study.

Dispersal distances of the tagged birds ranged from 3.5 km to 16.3 km, highlighting the importance of conservation action across neighbouring forests and at landscape scale.

Dr Kathy Fletcher, senior research assistant at GWCT, who with Dr Dave Baines, its director of upland research, co-authored the study, said: “This study highlights just how low capercaillie breeding success is now in the heart of its range. If we wish to have any chance of stabilising numbers, it will require further studies that focus on why chick survival is so low, with subsequent management interventions at landscape scales.”


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