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Mountain bikers in project to save capercaillie

Written by Fiona

December 16 2020

An article in The Independent newspaper in 2003 proclaimed: “The world’s mountain biking fraternity has been stopped in its tracks by an insurmountable problem, a solitary bird and its droppings.”

Seventeen years later and some of the most revered riding in Scotland still exists in forests used by capercaillie. However, finding ways around the “insurmountable problem” to stitch singletrack into some of UK’s best habitats has earned mountain bikers a rouge status among some people and groups.

But now, mountain bikers in the Cairngorms are fast becoming a leading light in capercaillie conservation as they prepare to deliver their own solutions for the endangered species, as part of the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project.

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

Capercaillie, female. Credit: Mark Hamblin
Capercaillie. Credit: Mark Hamblin

Partnership initiative

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

Carolyn Robertson, Project Manager for the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project, said: “Capercaillie forests are shared spaces for people and nature, so this isn’t about finding ways to shut out 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, to help 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.” 

Badenoch Strathspey Trail Association at work. Credit: Huw Oliver
Badenoch Strathspey Trail Association. Credit: Huw Oliver

£100,000 project funding

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, that stand to benefit the area as a whole, riders are being invited to be part of an action planning group. People interested in joining the group can apply here

Ruari Watt, Highland Development Coordinator from Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland: “The local mountain biking community are 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.

With the right support, local trail Associations, like the Badenoch and Strathspey Trail Association, a non-profit organisation made up of local volunteers, have a key role to play in facilitating community-led action.

Andy Singh, of the Trail Association, 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 while 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 Cairngorms Capercaillie Project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and led by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, is the coming together of a wider range of people in the Cairngorms National Park to help secure the long-term survival of capercaillie in the UK. It’s possible that there are now less than 1,000 capercaillie left in the UK and almost all of them live in the Cairngorms National Park. Action in the National Park is therefore critical to prevent extinction in the UK. 

  • Riders survey: See survey results are available here. The survey was created by Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland and the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project following a series of face-to-face workshops with the mountain biking community in March 2020. The survey was designed to establish how widespread the views were which were captured at the workshops and to balance vocal views, whether extremely positive or extremely negative with representative data.

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