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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Feathers fly over conservation bid
The male Capercaillie
It is thought there are less than 1,000 of the birds left
Efforts to protect a rare game bird threatened with extinction by buying a 2,000-acre pine wood in the Scottish Highlands have sparked a row.

The forest at Strathspey has been purchased by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as part of a bid to save the capercaillie.

The Revack Forest Estate is next to the society's existing reserve at Abernethy near Aviemore.

However, critics question why more than 1m of public money is being spent on some 20 new birds instead of transport and education.


RSPB Scotland is working with a wide range of people and organisations to reverse the decline of capercaillie

Dr Peter Mayhew
RSPB Scotland

Conservation management will also provide the ideal habitat for other species including the Scottish crossbill, crested tit and red squirrel.

RSPB Scotland's senior conservation manager Dr Peter Mayhew said: "RSPB Scotland is working with a wide range of people and organisations to reverse the decline of capercaillie in Scotland.

"This land purchase will enable the RSPB to manage almost 4,500 hectares of forest for capercaillie in Strathspey - the key area in Scotland for this species."

However, the move has been criticised by the rural communities organisation People Too.

Hunted to extinction

Its director, Ian Mitchell, said the money should be spent improving transport and education in rural Scotland.

He said: "It is a disgraceful way of spending public money.

"Their record of actually bringing back birds when they say they are going to is dismal, and people should be well aware that conservation is a tremendous threat to public access."

There have been warnings that the capercaillie could die out within a decade if action is not taken to protect the species.

The large game bird was hunted to extinction in the late 18th century.

It was re-established in 1837 when the Marquis of Dunblane brought 50 birds from Sweden.

Capercaillie
The forest extends an existing reserve
However, there are now estimated to be less than 1,000 capercaillie in the UK, compared to a population of 20,000 in the 1970s.

Loss of habitat, poor breeding productivity and deaths caused by wire fencing are among the factors believed to have contributed to this decline.

The species is confined to central and north-east Scotland.

The RSPB hopes to increase their number by providing the right kind of habitat.

A UK Capercaillie Species Action Plan aims to increase numbers to 5,000 by 2010.

Earlier this year it was announced that conservationists were planning to spend 5m over the next five years in a bid to protect the bird.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Morag Kinniburgh reports
"Critics argue the money could be better spent."
See also:

11 Jul 02 | Scotland
01 Sep 01 | Scotland
27 Jun 00 | Scotland
20 Apr 00 | Scotland
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