Scottish lawmakers to curb Highland weasel's fowl habit

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The Independent Online

The pine marten, the rarest British mammal, could become the latest animal to pay the ultimate price with the Scottish Executive for its anti-social feeding habits.

Following in the footsteps of hedgehogs, ruddy ducks and deer, proposals are being considered to allow gamekeepers to cull the pine marten in an attempt to protect stocks of another rare species, the colourful grouse the capercaillie.

About 3,000 pine marten remain in secluded areas of the Scottish Highlands and Grampian. Before coming under the protection of the the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), the species had been brought close to extinction by fur trappers, gamekeepers and a decline in its wilderness habitat. However, numbers are increasing and the mainly nocturnal breed of weasel is a threat to the capercaillie, killing its chicks and prompting fears the rare fowl could become extinct in Scotland.

Capercaillies, famous for the odd clicking and gulping calls of the male, were driven to extinction once before, in the late 18th century, but reintroduced in the mid 19th century. However with less than 1,000 breeding pairs in the wild, the survival of the species is precarious at best.

Now, following proposals from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the Executive is to consider amendments in the forthcoming Nature Conservation (Scotland) Bill to allow ghillies to kill or relocate pine martens that threaten the nesting birds.

However, Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB are both against any change in the legislation. "There has to be hard evidence that the capercaillie is being endangered by pine martens and so far we haven't seen any," said George Anderson of Scottish Natural Heritage

An RSPB spokesman agreed that there was no evidence to suggest pine marten pose a serious threat.