The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has urged Scottish Natural Heritage to introduce licenses to control pine marten numbers or face losing the iconic Capercaillie from Scotland’s countryside 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.
Millions of pounds of tax payer’s money has been ploughed into efforts to conserve the Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) in Scotland, with the 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.
Now the representative charity, The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, is urging SNH to grasp the nettle and 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.”
Capercaillie died out in the 1700s but were reintroduced to Scotland from Sweden and, in the mid- 1900s, reached levels of 20 000 to 50 000.
However, since 1970, predation pressure from foxes, badgers, woodland raptors and pine martens has increased dramatically, pushing Capercaillie to the brink.
Expensive measures by conservation groups to manipulate habitat and remove deer fences have not resulted in any increase in numbers.
A recent RSPB experiment on the impact of pine martens on Capercaillie nests showed that 18 out of 20 nests were predated yet nothing has been done.
There have been increasing calls from countryside groups for SNH, who grant such licenses, to look again at legal control of pine marten through licensing.
“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.