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New £100k fund to improve mountain biking and protect capercaillie in Strathspey

By Gavin Musgrove

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Efforts to conserve the capercaillie receive £2m from the National Lottery last year. The funds have created nine new jobs in the Cairngorms National Park.
Efforts to conserve the capercaillie receive £2m from the National Lottery last year. The funds have created nine new jobs in the Cairngorms National Park.

Mountain bikers are fast becoming a leading light in capercaillie conservation as they prepare to deliver their own solutions for the endangered species as part of a capercaillie project in Strathspey.

A recent survey of riders in the strath, the last remaining stronghold for capercaillie in the UK, revealed that almost all riders feel responsible for the environment they ride in and are willing to change behaviours to help protect the environment.

As partners in the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project, Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland and the Badenoch and Strathspey Trail Association are now busy preparing to unlock this potential.

Carolyn Robertson, project manager for the CCP, said: “Capercaillie forests are shared spaces for people and nature so this isn’t about finding ways to shut riders out.

"This is about finding sustainable solutions based on the common ground that we’ve identified in the mountain biking community.

“Ultimately, it’s about riders identifying and owning their own solutions for capercaillie.

"Building trust so we can share information more openly is a big part of that, and helps riders develop a more meaningful understanding of the environment they use.

"If we get it right for capercaillie other species will also benefit and clearly riders want to help, so we’re putting the power and decision-making into their hands.”

To help riders deliver their own solutions for capercaillie, the project, which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has made £100,000 available.

But to access this the mountain biking community must develop workable solutions.

This might include a programme of repairing trails which have become unrideable, to reduce the need to build new trails in areas which are home to capercaillie.

Investing in trails is a win-win for bike shops, cafés and accommodation providers too.

To develop workable solutions, riders have been invited to be part of an action planning group.

Ruari Watt, Highland Development Coordinator from Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland, said: “The local mountain biking community is proud of the environment they ride in and we’re really keen to involve local riders of all abilities in this exciting opportunity.

“If we can make this community-led approach work in the Cairngorms National Park we can replicate this approach anywhere.

"It’s got huge potential and we’re really excited to be trying new and more sustainable ways of working.”

Badenoch and Strathspey Trail Association, a non-profit organisation made up of local volunteers, will have a key role to play.

Spokesman Andy Singh said: “We are very lucky to have a strong core of volunteers who give up their free time to come and be a part of what we do, and we have been blown away by the support of local landowners, businesses and the local biking community.

“With the support of the Cairngorm Capercaillie Project, we hope that we can have a lasting and positive effect on the local path and trail network whilst incorporating the protection and longevity of one of Scotland’s most threatened species.

"We are already working alongside the project’s community ranger to help us make more informed decisions regarding trails in capercaillie habitats and to assist with our goal of creating sustainable trails whilst minimising our footprint in more sensitive areas.

"We are excited to be involved in such a large and meaningful project.”

The Badenoch and Strathspey Trail Association is a volunteer run, non-profit association formed in 2019 by a passionate group of mountain bikers to provide a forum and a point of contact for anyone involved in trail maintenance and development in the strath.

The association provides a link between landowners and riders to help ensure a responsible approach to building, maintaining, protecting and advocating local mountain bike trails.

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