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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

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - BY JOHN MILES

Young birder wins pres­ti­gious schol­ar­ship – plus, a chance to WIN £500 worth of sleepout gear

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

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