A CAMPAIGN urging people to stay away from capercaillie habitats has been hailed as a success.

Last year, official figures showed that the number of capercaillie in Scotland had fallen to just 542 birds with conservationists stressing the need to limit human disturbance if the species is to survive.

The Cairngorms Capercaillie Project based in Cairngorms National Park – where 85% of Scotland’s capercaillies are found – launched the “Lek It Be” campaign in March supporter by the RSPB, Police Scotland and numerous other community and conservation organisations. 

After a birdwatcher was arrested for disturbing capercaillie in the park in 2022, the campaign called on wildlife watchers, hikers and photographers not to go looking for the birds.

It also saw a raft of proactive measures aimed at increased safeguarding of the population, with police officers patrolling lek sites from dawn and CCTV installed to observe whether anyone was going against the advice.

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Volunteers, rangers, land managers and police officers have spent more than 400 hours patrolling at dawn with the vast majority of people leaving the birds in the peace.

More than 30 birdwatchers, photographers and wildlife guides were encountered during the patrols.

However, just three – two birdwatchers and one wildlife guide – chose not to leave the birds alone and were subsequently given advice by Police Scotland.

In July, capercaillie numbers were found to have increased for the first time in eight years, with the latest survey of lek sites (areas where males return annually to compete for mates) finding 168 males, an increase of 19 from 2022.

Plans are already underway for a repeat of the project next year, with the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project looking for feedback from the general public.