Pressure is mounting for pine martens to be culled to prevent the capercaillie becoming extinct for a second time. Both, however, are protected species, which is causing intense discussion-and some objection, especially from the Mammal Society-among conservationists. The population of the world’s largest grouse, whose gaelic name translates as ‘horse of the woods’, has plummeted to 1,200-it is only found in Scotland’s increasingly fragmented pine forests.

Better summer weather is expected to boost numbers slightly, but the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) group for capercaillies fear that mounting predation by pine martens, foxes and crows could have a devastating effect and are calling for a trial removal of pine martens.

 

A 2009 study deploying cameras at 20 capercaillie nests recorded predators destroying 65% of them in the Abernethy forest, part of an RSPB reserve; scientists concluded that 57% of those nests had been ruined by pine martens, whose numbers have risen to about 3,500. ‘There is still a good chance we could save the capercaillie, but there need to be hard decisions taken,’ says the SGA’s Allan Hodgson, who also sits on the BAP group.

Ron MacDonald of Scottish Natural Heritage concurs that predation is key, but wants to take a closer look at the effects of weather and habitat loss. The RSPB suggests reducing the deer population to improve habitat and restoring Caledonian pine forests, but this may be too late for the capercaillie.

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