Skip to main content

New Powers to Mountain Bikers to Help Save the Iconic Capercaillie

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.


In a really innovative move and recognising the importance of the mountain biking community to the area and the project, £100,000 has been made available from the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project to help riders deliver their own solutions for capercaillie.

A bird of the Old World, capercaillie have been living in Scotland’s pine forests since the last Ice Age. The largest grouse in the world, powered by pine needles; capercaillie are iconic. In the UK, capercaillie are only found in Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park is the last stronghold for the species. Once in abundance, capercaillie numbers are now dangerously low, with fewer than 1000 birds thought to be left.

In June of this year the National Lottery Heritage Fund announced a £2 million funding package to create community-led projects, delivered through the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project, to help save one of the UK’s rarest and most fascinating birds.

Supporting our mountain bike community to develop varied and sustainable mountain bike trails and promoting our responsibilities as riders is key to our role within DMBinS and our Highland Coordinator, Ruari Watt is an integral part of the project. Ruari is working closely with the project, the local trail association and the wider riding community as part of the Highland Bike plan and an important part of this, within the Cairngorm National Park, is to help develop a network of amazing mountain bike trails, both for locals and visitors, with the protection of the capercaillie at its heart.

Small changes in riders behaviour can make significant impacts of capercaillie habitats. Often riders are not aware of how easy it is to negatively impact caper, or conversely how simple it can be to minimise of remove impacts, or actually improve the quality of capercaillie habitats.

Read the joint press release below, and find out just how you can get involved.

Media Release – 15 December 2020

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

Seventeen years on and some of the most revered riding in Scotland still exists in forests used by capercaillie. Finding ways around the ‘insurmountable problem’ to stitch singletrack into some of UK’s best habitats has earned mountain bikers a rouge status with some.

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 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.

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

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.

“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.” said Ruari Watt, Highland Development Coordinator from Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland.

“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.

“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” said Andy Singh of the Badenoch and Strathspey Trail Association.”

“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.”

Key Topics

Browse more from across the site by related topics

You may also like


Become a Supporter