Last week we heard the news many knew already. The Capercaillie is on the precipice. The RSPB press release put the remaining numbers at 542. The reality is, it’s closer to 300.
On managed estates, where gamekeepers are trying to hold the line, they are now seeing losses, too.
Despite their efforts controlling predators, other core forests round about them are allowing the mouths which raid the Caper nests a free reign.
It is becoming harder for the gamekeepers to withstand the predation pressure from around about them. Not only that, Caper are leaving their forests, attracted by all the new habitat, and are traveling into areas with no protection- to further loss.
The net is closing. Creating connected habitats is good and well but you are also creating connected habitats for predators. If you don’t manage them, you pay a price. In this case, the Capercaillie is paying the heaviest of all prices.
For years now, Wildland, RSPB and government agencies FLS and NatureScot, in the Cairngorms Connect partnership area, have not managed foxes and crows, the biggest predators of Capercaillie.
This partnership has drawn considerable tax payer finance on the back of its long term vision and they are undertaking a study to test the impacts of allowing predators a free reign.
The problem is that the site they have chosen for that study is a fair chunk of the last remaining forests which house the Capercaillie. For the birds, these forests are just about the only show left in town.
This is not something which has crept up on the partners, unaware, either. It has been a deliberate choice.
The fact is, the Government agencies, rewilding landlords and conservation NGOs comprising that partnership now need to look to themselves in the mirror because whether we continue to have Capercaillie in Scotland depends now on what they do next.
It is they who hold the future of the Caper in their hands because the major percentage of the remaining forests are owned or managed by them.
Capercaillie survival has never been about predator control only. It has always been about both. That is clear. However, the prevailing emphasis in the projects to save the Capercaillie have always leant towards habitat creation, first; work the conservation NGOs would probably have done anyway.
Yes, creating habitat is good. We all do it, not just the NGOs. That is not the key issue now for the Capercaillie. The numbers are so low as to be almost unviable. Unless you lessen the predatory pressure, quickly, it will go. We are looking at a second Scottish extinction.
NatureScot’s Scientific Advisory group report was clear. Unless you stop the predators that are eating the results faster than the results can be produced, you will have no Caper left in 20- 30 years. Habitat, they said, was not the defining issue.
In taking a position of non-intervention, those with the Capercaillie’s destiny in their hands are making a deliberate choice.
Any body or partnership has a right to make that choice, but is it now in the best interest of Capercaillie survival?
The NatureScot Scientific report says ‘no’. We all know what needs to happen now. Therefore, if they are committed to not carrying out predator control- as a deliberate choice- it’s time to own up and explain to the tax payer and the Parliament, why.
Their predator experiment work may be very worthy. That is not in dispute. However, it could be paused, if there was a will, or re-sited elsewhere in order to deal with this conservation emergency in front of our eyes. There are vast areas of public forestry where such work could be done; FLS being one of the partners.
RSPB, too, have many reserves- and not just in nature. Last year they received £28m in grants, had an income of nearly £160m and are carrying forward almost a quarter of a billion pounds in their accounts.
Their calling card to their members is: Nature is in crisis. Together we can save it.
Well… get on with it. Surely this, of all times, is the time to put that into practice, even if it means lending a bit of cash to help pause a piece of research.
It has been suggested that a further reintroductions might happen, if worst comes to worst. If that comes to pass, those unwilling to save it in the first place should not financially benefit from ‘bringing it back’. This is about the nitty gritty of conservation. It is up to them to decide.
Blogpost: Alex Hogg, MBE. Chairman. The Scottish Gamekeepers Association.