One of Scotland’s most iconic birds is facing extinction despite efforts to reverse decline in numbers.

New research by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has shown that capercaillie numbers in Scotland have nearly halved in 10 years, with as few as 304 birds remaining in 2020, compared to 580 in 2010.

The figures show capercaillie heading towards extinction unless further measures are put in place to save this iconic bird.

The largest grouse in the world, capercaillie was once widespread across Scotland before going extinct in the 1780s. Following reintroduction efforts in the 1830s it is now only found in old pine forests in the Scottish Highlands, primarily in the Cairngorms National Park.

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Capercaillie are now red-listed and protected in the UK. In the 1970s there were around 20,000 left in Scotland but since then numbers have been declining despite efforts to help them.

When transect-based national surveys were first carried out between 1992 and 1994, they indicated there were around 2,200 birds left in Scotland. By 1999 only 1,073 were thought to remain.

During the 10-year-long GWCT study, numbers declined by 48%, with the biggest decline in the last five years of the study.

Dr David Baines, Head of Uplands Research at GWCT, said: “Declines are associated with a reduction in breeding success, which varies annually in relation to poor weather in June when chicks are growing and increased signs of predators such as pine marten in recent decades.

“This has happened despite efforts by land managers to improve habitat, and legally control foxes and crows.

READ MORE: Only 'landscape scale' intervention can save the Capercaillie

“To reverse the trend and save the capercaillie from once again dying out in Scotland, we need to take urgent action and conservation measures must be stepped up, including legal predator control, reducing predation risk by pine marten and further reducing the risk of bird collisions with deer fences.”

The study found that capercaillie colliding with deer fences can have a devastating impact. However, Trust research proved that by marking fences, bird collisions can be reduced but not prevented.

Despite this knowledge, GWCT say that many fences dangerous to capercaillie and black grouse remain and of these many are unmarked and this new study suggests those fences are still impacting capercaillie by killing full-grown birds.

Dr Baines added: “By 2020, the risk of capercaillie extinction in Scotland was 23% after 25 years, 95% after 50 years and 100% after 100 years.

“When we removed deaths caused by fences from our analyses, the likelihood of extinction went right down to 0% after 25 years, 3% after 50 and 40% after 100 years, highlighting that fence removal must be an immediate and high priority to help save the capercaillie.”