Capercaillie conservation is an urgent priority for RSPB Scotland. We have produced numerous management plans for capercaillie, agreed and supported by SNH and FCS, and continue to work with many managers of private forests. Action on the ground is being combined with policy advocacy. We work closely with FCS to target government conservation funds at key areas.
RSPB research has demonstrated the problems posed by deer fencing, which causes direct mortality and grazing preventing regeneration of native pinewood. RSPB Scotland was a main partner in developing a EU Life project application for capercaillie and was heavily involved in managing this project. This £5 million, five-year project halted the decline of the species.
The most recent national survey, in winter 2009/10, indicated a decrease in population, with 75 per cent of capercaillie being concentrated in Strathspey. The population estimate derived from the survey was 1,285 individuals (95 per cent confidence intervals 822-1882). Lek surveys indicate that capercaillie numbers remain stable and are even increasing in parts of Strathspey but declining seriously elsewhere.
Conservation action is under way on every important site within the current capercaillie range. However, in general, deer numbers remain high and there is still a problem with too much grazing and browsing on many sites, with deer fences still killing birds in some areas.
As a result of the combined work of RSPB Scotland, SNH and FCS, there have been continued improvements to forestry policy, especially in relation to the removal and marking of fences. These will have brought direct but un-quantifiable benefits to the capercaillie population.
RSPB Scotland reserves support significant numbers of capercaillie and are amongst the most important sites for this species. Through an extensive advisory programme, large areas of improved habitat have been created in many forests through cooperation with forest managers and land owners.
When weather conditions are good during the breeding season, it is hoped that breeding success will be improved on many sites. Over the last five years productivity has varied markedly at sites where surveys are carried out. In years with good breeding conditions the national average has been around 1 chick per hen - sufficient to increase the population - but it has been much lower than this in years with poor conditions. Conservation efforts are attempting to increase breeding success in the good years to mitigate against the poorer ones.