For photographers and birders alike there are few species higher on the ‘must-do’ list than capercaillie, the world’s largest grouse and denizen of Scotland’s fragmented pine forests. Sure they are big charismatic birds, but they are also rare and under normal circumstances are unlikely to be seen without a not inconsiderable amount of effort and local knowledge. All of this conspires to make the caper a sought-after subject.
It’s no secret anymore that there is a so-called ‘rogue’ capercaillie in a pine forest near Kingussie – he’s even been on Autumnwatch. Anyone who had a mind to keep his presence a secret (me included) might have got away with it even five years ago, but the speed of information exchange today, ensures that this bird will attract increasing attention for the rest of his life. The big question is whether that attention is detrimental to this particular individual or whether being up close to such an icon of the pinewood, nurtures a greater empathy with the plight of the species as a whole. I don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is that however regrettable it might be to those who want this bird to themselves, it ain’t going to happen. So should we be thinking about this differently?
There is no doubt that a group of people – photographers, birders or otherwise – surrounding this bird, conjures up the perception of harassment; it looks ugly. But is it detrimental to the caper? I’m no scientist but I’m not sure it is and moreover, does it really matter?
Conservation is a luxury of an affluent society and despite the doom-mongering, we still live in a very affluent society. Shouldn’t we then be exploiting that affluence? How about charging to see the caper? Or at least asking for a donation to a forest conservation charity? Now of course this is a legal, political and cultural minefield but my point is that rather than pretend we can keep such a wildlife spectacle under the hat, perhaps we should be shouting it from the rooftops, inviting in the TV crews and exploiting the opportunity for community engagement, even profit? We’ve all seen RSPB do it successfully with urban peregrines, why not rogue capercaillie?
Ok my cheek is bulging a little from my tongue but it’s the conservatism within conservation that sticks in my craw. The conservation movement cannot on the one hand whip us all into a frenzy about the visual spectacle that is the natural world, and then on the other, deprive us of access to the very best bits – or at least frown upon those who are seen to buck the system. Nobody owns the birds, least of all any single conservation body.
Before my mailbox fills with a deluge of accusations, I’m not advocating recklessness or law-breaking here, I’m not even talking specifically about capercaillie, I’m just suggesting a shift in our mindset to be less precious, less sensitive, less worthy and dare I say, less arrogant about showing people the really sexy stuff that Scotland (or anywhere else) has to offer. If we want their money to put nature back in order, it’s the very least they can expect in return.