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Gamekeepers use Capercaillie decline to call for Pine Marten cull

Capercaillie (Photo: Terje Asphaug)

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has urged Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to allow the licensed killing of pine marten or face losing the iconic Capercaillie Scotland for a second time. The call comes after the fourth national survey into the estimated size of the Scottish population of the woodland grouse has shown a decline of 35 per cent from the previous study.

The new survey estimates the number of individuals to be 1285, a marked drop from 1980 birds recorded using similar techniques in 2003/2004. Efforts to increase Capercaillie numbers had set an initial target being to increase the population to 5000 by 2010. However, the latest survey concludes that, despite conservation efforts by groups such as RSPB, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust there has been no increase in the numbers of the distinctive black bird, which is on the conservation red list. Loss of habitat, human disturbance, wet springs and predation are among the reasons given for the decline of the bird.

Now the representative charity, The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, is urging SNH to push through licenses to control pine marten numbers. The 5300-strong organisation has argued for some time that using public money to manipulate habitat, while refusing to control the animals that predate Capercaillie, represents singular folly.

“We attended a Capercaillie Biodiversity Meeting in Perth on October 12th 2001 and told representatives from SNH that, if this was to work, they would have to consider the number of pine marten and predators,” said an SGA Spokesman. “We were told they didn’t want to talk about pine marten. Calls have been made to introduce licenses to control them and now, eleven years later, this is SNH’s chance to redress the situation. We hope sense prevails.

“If our views had been taken on board at the time, millions of pounds of tax payers’ money and valuable time would have been saved. If licenses to control pine marten are not granted, it is highly likely that the Capercaillie will be lost for a second time.”

“Predation levels across the board have risen and are now far too high for Capercaillie numbers to get above the levels required to be safe. The argument from conservation groups has been that there is insufficient forestry yet there is more forestry now than there was when Capercaillie were flourishing. There is little point in wasting public money in creating new habitat if you don’t control the predators that are eating them,” added an SGA Spokesman.

SNH say that predation by pine martens and other animals is just one factor in the decline of the Capercaillie. An SNH spokesman told the BBC, “There are a number of possible reasons for the declines in capercaillie numbers. Predation is just one of these, and in order to make sure that we focus our collective effort and resources in the right place we need to be able to establish the cause of these declines and how we should best tackle them.

“If objective research demonstrates that pine martens are causing declines in this species then the full range of options, including licensed management of those predators, should be considered.”

The RSPB has also raised concerns with the approach of the SGA. James Reynolds of RSPB Scotland told the BBC, “It is a great shame that the SGA do not direct more of their energy to trying to solve the challenges that threaten our most vulnerable species, rather than exaggerating an issue and trying to apportion blame for it to one particular sector. This lamentable attitude presents a very real impediment to helping this species fully recover from a difficult period.”

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