Fears are raised that a plan to build hundreds of new houses in a Scottish National Park could have a negative impact on the area’s Capercaille population
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WHEN YOU BECOME a birder, one of the first things you do is look at a bird book and drool over all the UK’S species – what a variety, from wildfowl to waders to warblers and everything in-between. But there are some which stand out, often bigger, more colourful species. There is one that is here all year, big and colourful in its own way, but now becoming very rare in its location and well on the way to becoming extinct in Britain. What if this same bird was threatened by a developer wanting to build 1,500 houses in its home range? And this development was to be in a National Park, as well as in an area of habitat which has been reduced by 99% over hundreds of years (this species prefers mature habitat, not newly-created). The bird is the Capercaillie, and it lives in the Caledonian Forest once stretching over most of Scotland. But now a planning application has been submitted for a new housing development that would double the size of Aviemore, and there are concerns from RSPB Scotland and others that it will harm Capercaillie in their only remaining Scottish stronghold. Planning permission is being sought by An Camas Mòr LLP for 1,500 houses to be built next to the Rothiemurchus Estate. RSPB Scotland has submitted a response to the Cairngorms National Park Authority, raising concerns and asking for information about potential negative impacts on the nearby Capercaillie population and how these will be mitigated. Capercaillies are strictly protected under Scottish and international law. The birds, which nest and often feed on the forest floor, are particularly sensitive to disturbance by dogs, walkers and cyclists. They avoid areas where they might be disturbed because this causes them stress. The new development would be right next to most of the remaining breeding Capercaillies, with 85% of the population (estimated to be 1,228 birds), close by. Dr Pete Mayhew, senior conservation manager for the RSPB in north Scotland, said: “We are not opposed to the development of new housing in suitable locations within the Cairngorms National Park. However, we are concerned that this planning application does not include any information on the potential impacts on Capercaillie. If approved, it would result in much larger numbers of people using the forests for recreation, including cycling and dog walking. The current plan does not include any measures to ensure this rare species will not be negatively impacted.” I was very privileged to find my own Capercaillie lek in the area earlier this year. I sat and watched a single bird lekking for an hour and a half, from just 200 yards away, and once he started lekking he only travelled 10 yards back and forth. But the most important event I witnessed was when the cock bird was disturbed. He actually froze for 14 minutes, even though the disturbance only happened for around one or two minutes. Continuous disturbance at a lek site could mean less lekking, or hens laying unfertilised eggs. Let’s hope the plans are not approved!
Part of the area marked for housing development in the Caledonian Forest