Cattle moo-ved into Cairngorms reserve to help capercaillie
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The RSPB Scotland team at Abernethy have enlisted the help of cattle and a ‘Robocutting machine’ to help the survival prospects of capercaillie.
A three-year project has just started work on site at the nature reserve by Nethy Bridge to help improve large areas of the forest for capercaillie. The grouse is an icon of Caledonian Pine forests but there has been a serious decline in their population.
The large woodland birds are now limited to only a few areas in Scotland and Strathspey is their last stronghold, with approximately 83 per cent of their numbers being found here.
It is hoped that this project to improve the habitat will contribute to a wider effort to save this much loved bird in Scotland.
RSPB Scotland has said the project is an experiment in vegetation control.
The aim is to 'knock back' the amount of heather in the forest, and encourage more blaeberry to grow, which is an important food plant for capercaillie.
Cattle have a very different impact to deer, as they are much heavier, more akin to that of large, now extinct herbivores such as aurochs.
To achieve this, 200 hectares of Abernethy Forest will become the new temporary home to a herd of cows which belongs to a grazier from the local area.
Another 200 hectares will be managed by a contractor from Alford using a remote controlled ‘Robocutting machine’.
The final 200 hectares will be left untouched to act as a control, so the two management methods can be compared with each other and with doing nothing.
This design is built on earlier, smaller trials at Abernethy, and the results will show the best method of managing the land for capercaillie.
Uwe Stoneman, RSPB’s Senior Site Manager at Abernethy, said: “This is an exciting project, which we hope will show positive results for capercaillie and demonstrate management options that can be used elsewhere.
"If the public visit the reserve in the next few weeks they’re likely to see quite a dramatic change, particularly in the Robocutting area, but the cattle are in a more remote area of the forest, in part to minimise impact on visitors.
"However, should people visit the deeper forest between now and February, they may just hear the sound of a few cowbells – yes, cowbells – in the distance.”
The project is part of ‘100% For Nature’, a scheme part funded by the EU LIFE programme, RSPB Scotland and with support from NatureScot and others to transform the conservation status of the RSPB’s reserves in Scotland.
The aim is to boost the condition of the most important sites for nature on 11 reserves across the country including Abernethy.
This project is also receiving support funding from The Famous Grouse, and Endangered Landscapes Programme through Cairngorms Connect, and has created one assistant warden post at Abernethy for three years to oversee the project.