Capercaillie biodiversity action plan

Today, fewer than 2000 capercaillie remain in Scotland’s fragmented pine forests.

Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, male displaying, Abernethy


Together with private landowners, Scottish Government and corporate support, we are working hard to reverse capercaillie decline through conservation and advisory work.
The Government agreed a Biodiversity Action Plan for this species in 1995. The targets for this plan were reviewed in 2011 and are as follows: 
  • Increase the population of capercaillie in Scotland to 2000, by 2020 
  • Increase the population of capercaillie in Scotland to 5000 in the long term.
RSPB Scotland co-ordinated a national winter survey in 2009/10 which gave a population estimate of 1,285 birds. This represented a 35 per cent decline from the previous survey in 2003/04. This small population is split into a number of isolated groups.
This species remains at real risk of extinction from the UK and conservation action must continue. The capercaillie is a priority species under the EU Birds Directive and thus Scotland has special duties to conserve them.
RSPB Scotland is leading this action plan and is working with several partners, including Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and various land and forest managers to reverse this decline.


By employing a Capercaillie Project Officer and Assistant, with co-funding from SNH and FCS we are trying to reverse the recent declines in capercaillie. This project aims to work with the all the key estates within the current capercaillie range.


  • 2002-2007 Capercaillie Life Project - Funded through and EU Life Nature Project.
  • 2007 - onwards Posts funded by SNH, FCS and RSPB to continue the work from the previous project.

Planned Work

What do we plan to do next? 
  • Continue to work with partners, especially FCS and SNH, to undertake practical measures to improve their breeding success and survival. These measures include: reducing threat posed by fences in core areas, delivering direct management on the ground, ensuring strict implementation of relevant policies and providing advice on funding opportunities to estates under the Scotland Rural Development Programme
  • Continue working with forest managers on all key sites for capercaillie
  • Continue to undertake research and monitoring to inform conservation action 
  • Increase publicity for the plight of the capercaillie in Scotland
  • Organising regional surveys covering over 90 leks and assisting with brood counts throughout the capercaillie range 
  • Holding advisory events targeting forestry managers and estate managers 
  • Researching the impacts the recovering population of pine martens may have on capercaillie breeding success
What are the constraints to fully achieving the targets?
  • Fragmented and isolated forests providing sub-optimal habitat
  • Deer, fencing and forestry management issues. Deer numbers remain high and there is still a problem with too much grazing and browsing on many sites 
  • Cold temperatures and wet weather in June, when the chicks are small, can reduce chick survival significantly 
  • Increases in mammalian predators such as foxes and crows, particularly in fragmented forests, may be having a negative effect on productivity
  • Increases in human disturbance where capercaillie habitat and popular recreation sites overlap



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.


RSPB Scotland has worked closely with landowners and Scottish Government over the past few years to further the conservation of capercaillie, in particular Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Friends of Capercaillie and the members of the capercaillie BAP group.


The Capercaillie Project Officer and Assistant posts are jointly funded by the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS)


Coast on a stormy day

Gareth Marshall

Project Officer, RSPB

Further reading

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Habitat: Upland Habitat: Woodland Species: Capercaillie Project status: Project types: Advocacy Project types: Species protection