RSPB Scotland is seeking assurances a new housing development planned for the Highlands, that would roughly double the size of Aviemore, will not harm capercaillie in their only remaining Scottish stronghold.
Planning permission is currently being sought by 'An Camas Mòr LLP' for 1,500 houses to be built next to the Rothiemurchus Estate, in the Cairngorms National Park, that could result in an additional 3,000 people living in the area.
RSPB Scotland has submitted a response to the Cairngorms National Park Authority on the planning application, raising concerns about the An Camas Mor development and asking for information about potential negative impacts on the nearby capercaillie population and how these will be mitigated.
Strathspey is the last remaining Scottish stronghold for the endangered capercaillie, a bird which is strictly protected under Scots and international law, and is one of the most iconic species in the national park.
Several forests close to the proposed development are home to much of the country's surviving capercaillie population. However these birds - which nest and often feed on the forest floor - are particularly sensitive to disturbance, especially by dogs, walkers and cyclists.
Capercaillie will avoid areas where they might be disturbed because this causes them stress; this leads to a reduction in their available habitat which can prevent them from breeding. There are only between 1,000 and 2,000 capercaillie left in Scotland with an estimated 85% of them being found in Strathspey.
Dr Pete Mayhew, Senior Conservation Manager for the RSPB in north Scotland, said: "RSPB Scotland is not opposed to the development of new housing in suitable locations, and of an appropriate size, within the Cairngorms National Park. However we are concerned that this planning application does not include any information on the potential impacts of the proposed housing estate on capercaillie.
"If approved, the development would roughly double the size of Aviemore, resulting in much larger numbers of people using the forests for recreation, including cycling and dog walking. This will inevitably increase disturbance to capercaillie. However, the current plan does not include any measures to ensure the already dwindling population of this rare species will not be negatively impacted by the development. It is essential that this information is provided to allow the Cairngorms National Park Authority to make a fully informed decision on the application."
The Cairngorms National Park Authority will now consider all comments made on the planning application, and RSPB Scotland hopes that they will require the applicant to provide more information to address concerns for local wildlife. The public should then have an opportunity to comment on this additional information, before the National Park Authority decides whether to approve or refuse the application.
To read RSPB Scotland's response to the planning application in full, go to: http://www.eplanningcnpa.co.uk/online-applications/files/70711043246986E16535E02827189673/pdf/2017_0086_DET-RSPB_RESPONSE-100125825.pdf