The capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus L.) is a rare woodland grouse which in Britain is restricted to the pinewoods of Scotland. After becoming extinct in the late 1700’s, it was reintroduced in the 19th century, and the resulting population expanded until it peaked in the 1970’s (approximately 20,000 birds). The population has since fallen to under 1000 (2002). If this rate of decline was to continue it is estimated that the species would become extinct by 2010.
Urgent Conservation Management for Scottish Capercaillie
This a partnership project bringing together more than 20 private forest owners, government and non-government organisations to carry out practical measures to improve habitat for capercaillie (with part-funding from the European Commissions LIFE-Nature Programme). Research carried out both here and in Scandinavia has provided a clear picture of the habitat requirements for capercaillie, and management to create these optimal conditions is being undertaken as part of the LIFE project.
One action is the thinning of areas of Scots pine stands to improve the forest floor vegetation for capercaillie. To ascertain that management prescriptions are correct, thinning has been carried out to an experimental design (using four thinning treatments) at two sites (Easter Ross and Strathspey). Vegetation monitoring is underway, measurements have been made before thinning and will continue for each year for the duration of the project.
Development of a high cover of blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.), which is linked to the light climate of the woodland floor, is known to be key for capercaillie survival. This is because blaeberry is host to the invertebrates that the capercaillie chicks feed on. The numbers of invertebrates that blaeberry will sustain is also thought to be linked to light levels. The aim is to develop the project to investigate these issues.