Trip reports

The Cabrach outing

The Cabrach outing
Mark Sullivan

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Local Group visit to The Cabrach March 2016

The aim of this outing was to watch a Blackcock lek, located close to a road where we could see the birds in action. Following this we were to have a wander about in the area to see what other upland species we could find. However, a couple of weeks before the outing I was contacted by John Mackenzie, head keeper of the Cabrach estate, with an offer to show us around the estate.

On the day of the outing, those who arrived early watched up to 8 Blackcock "giving it laldy" as they sparred in the lek site. Unfortunately by the time the later comers arrived (0915) they had dispersed. We then moved on to the Cabrach, where we were met by one of the assistant keepers, and then by John. He spent over 4 hours showing us round and explaining his philosophy. He is enthusiastic about birds of prey - and seems delighted to have a wide range on the estate. We saw Goshawk, Peregrine and Buzzard on the day, and I had seen a Red Kite the previous week. He says that there are breeding Hen Harriers on the estate and that this year he has seen male birds on a few occasions, but no hens as yet. Merlins breed and Golden Eagles are fairly regularly seen, and there is a White-tailed Eagle in the area. He stated that his favourite bird is Goshawk - and that they breed in one of the forest blocks on the estate, where he often sees them when he is shooting Roe and Red Deer.

There are impressive numbers of waders - we had 6 species of which 5 (Oystercatcher, Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe and Redshank) nest on the estate, and there was a large flock of Golden Plovers, waiting to go further up and inland - John was not sure if they bred on the estate. He is on a mission to tidy up the estate, removing old fencing wire, baler twine and even wool, as he spent a lot of time last year rescuing waders and chicks whose legs had got trapped by such materiel.

He has plans to improve the area for wildlife (cover crops, hedging etc), and is fully aware of his legal responsibilities regarding predator control (mainly stoat, weasel, and the control of corvids). He was very open about the work undertaken to improve the area.

Putting aside the rights or wrongs of commercial shooting, all of the 22 attendees left with a new appreciation of the possibility to increase the range of bird species, along with other wildlife, while still maintaining an economic business in an area with few opportunities.

This estate had, until fairly recently, one of the worst records for persecution of birds of prey in Scotland. The new Head Keeper is determined to make a space for everything, and to create a sustainable estate with a wide range of wildlife, not a monoculture shooting "desert". He stated that the significant investment currently being made on the estate will not necessarily increase the "bag", but will mean that a diverse range of activities can be undertaken giving a longer term future.

I was really impressed by his vision, and this is the outing from which I have received the most e-mails from attendees - all of which were positive. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but if a range of birds of prey breed successfully on the estate this enterprise could become a model sporting estate.

Mark Sullivan