The Inner Forth is an incredible place that has been formed by nature and shaped by people. A place steeped in history that holds so much importance to the wildlife and the people that have lived here, both past and present. A place that deserves to be recognised and celebrated for its cultural, natural and historic heritage.
Over the past four months RSPB Scotland has been working with Edinburgh-based animators Interference Pattern to create an animation about the Inner Forth – a snapshot through time that looks at the changes in its landscape, industry and wildlife. The film starts with the last Ice Age and ends with what the future may hold. Ami Kirkbright, Project Assistant for the Inner Forth Futurescape Project, tells us more:‘The Inner Forth: formed by nature, shaped by people’ animation has been created as a learning resource for local schools and students to learn about the Inner Forth – its incredible history, how it was formed and what has influenced its changes. It was both easy and extremely hard to research and create this animation. Easy because there is so much to tell people about, but hard because how do we fit it all in to 6 minutes! Working with Interference Pattern has been a delight – they have truly captured the vibrancy and diversity of the area in a dynamic and captivating way, with the wonderful colours and animation style. I thought I’d provide a very quick run through of some of the topics we covered though out the animation, and hopefully you will enjoy the real thing by following the link below. Signs of the past can be found all over the Forth. The flat bottomed valley pinched between the Touch and Ochil Hills was scoured out by ice thousands of years ago, carving through the landscape leaving behind geological features such as the small hill on which Stirling Castle was built. Glaciers eroding the soft sedimentary rockOnce the ice had melted and waters receded, the Forth became more hospitable for people. Shell middens have been found around the Forth, which are evidence of early settlers using the surrounding resources. We now start to see humans shape the landscape with changes to agricultural practices and settlements. Agriculture has changed dramatically from small scale crofts to large industrial-sized operations in a very short amount of time. Building sea walls allowed land owners to reclaim land from the river and increased areas for growing crops and grazing animals. Croft with crops and grazing animals Agriculture wasn’t the only big business around the Forth. The geological make-up of the area resulted in huge coal deposits. This fuelled much of the industry throughout the area and further afield, and was at the heart of the industrial revolution in Scotland. Together with the fertile soils, this led to distilleries such as the one at Kennetpans, which exported whisky nationwide and across to Europe. As industry and the population grew, we start to see power plants, the oil refinery and more land reclaimed from the river for development. However, throughout all this change there has been one thing that has remained almost constant, the incredible wildlife. The creation of huge areas of wetlands after the ice melted meant the Forth catchment was a magnet for all kinds of species. Today, despite the huge changes to the landscape, much of the Forth estuary is nationally, internationally and globally designated for its important conservation value being a fantastic place to see wintering wildfowl and waders.RSPB Black Devon WetlandsThis is why we wanted to highlight the Inner Forth’s incredible story and importance. To show school students that they live in this fantastically diverse place full of history and amazing wildlife. We want to show them how the landscape has changed dramatically over time to become what we see today. If you look you can see evidence of this all around. We want to inspire people to venture out and see for themselves the incredible landscape right on their doorstep: visit RSPB Black Devon Wetlands and enjoy the wildlife and countryside; climb one of the Ochil hills and look down to the flat valley that was once full of ice; visit Kinneil Museum or Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway to learn about the local history of the area. So much to do and see, the only problem is where to start!
Please visit the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative You Tube channel to see ‘The Inner Forth: formed by nature, shaped by people’ animation by clicking here. Enjoy!
At the end of January we said goodbye and good luck to Assistant Warden Becky. Before she headed off to start a new adventure on Orkney, we asked her to write down a few of her favourite moments from the past 4 years. This is what she had to say.
Hi, my name is Becky Austin, I’ve been the assistant warden at RSPB Loch Lomond for 3 years 9months and 3 days. Sadly, and excitingly, today is my last day before I move to Orkney as assistant warden, making this my first and last blog. I’m looking forward to sharing some of my favourite stories and experiences of the FLART reserves. I hope you enjoy them and get to visit us and create some stories of your own.
This is a picture from one of my first spectacular experiences at RSPB Loch Lomond. I arrived here for the first time in April 2014, which coincided beautifully with the end of the osprey’s migration, from wintering grounds in Africa, to its breeding grounds in the UK. It’s a long journey and returning birds are usually keen to feed up before their focus switches to finding a mate and raising chicks. The bird in the photo was intent on catching a fish and I watched for twenty minutes as it patrolled the skies above the water, constantly looking down for signs of life below the surface. At one point it continued out beyond the edge of the water and hovered directly over me. It was fantastic to have such a great view of this wonderful and iconic bird. It continued its hunt above the water, regularly staring straight down in to the depths and hovering to focus in areas. It was so intent on catching a fish that it didn’t notice the line of trees which it promptly flew in to. I had never imagined that this powerful, breath-taking bird could be reduced to such a clumsy tangle of wings, but that is exactly what happened as it extracted itself from the finger like branches of the nearest tree. What a great start to my time at RSPB Loch Lomond.
My next story comes from further up the loch at our Inversnaid reserve. Myself, the warden Fraser, and the Inner Forth reserve assistant at the time, Alan Dorman, were all walking different transects as part of an annual survey. We were using radios to stay in contact, but they were intermittent, due to the nature of the reserve. Made up of rolling hills, craggy peaks and fantastic woodland Inversnaid is a gorgeous place to be and this will be a day I will never forget. I was walking a beautiful area of the reserve, to the west, were stunning view across the north of Loch Lomond and to the east was the imposing summit of Beinn a’ Choin. The weather was beautiful and as I skirted the bottom of a hillock my eyes were drawn upwards to two fantastic golden eagles, circling less than 40m up. They seemed completely unfazed by me, wheeling about and slowly rising up on a thermal. At this point the radio crackled to life and I heard Alan’s voice asking for my location. Without taking my eyes off the birds for a moment I spoke in to the radio asking Alan if he could see the eagles to the west of him. He replied very excitedly that he could, to which I replied, ‘that’s my location, underneath them’. I’ll probably never use a golden eagle to pin point my location again, but I don’t need to, because I know I’ll never forget doing it the first time.
Last but not least we move to the Inner Forth reserves, where I have assisted the warden Ally with a variety of tasks on several of the reserves she manages. It’s always a great day with tea and biscuits provided even in the most remote locations. It’s been wonderful to work within such a close team not just for me but for the volunteers as well. It means we get to work in different habitats, for different species and with a wider range of people. There are two days which have always stuck in my mind. One, where the volunteer’s enthusiasm was measurable in flames, a first for us all. The second one was while we were removing an area of birch woodland, next to a wetland site, to enhance the area for many breeding and roosting birds. On this particular day I was quite happily chainsawing away when the happiest bug I have ever seen landed on my arm. Other than being a little startled I fell in love with its ridiculous bobble head and lime green colour, a birch sawfly larvae as it turned out.
By far the best memory I will take to Orkney is my time working as part of this wonderful team. I have loved every moment and worked and volunteered with some of the most dedicated and enthusiastic people I’ll ever meet. Thank you to each and every one and keep up the hard work. I can’t wait to be back as a visitor and see all the fantastic things you’ve been up to.
With so many fascinating reserves brimming with wildlife around the Forth, it only makes sense to share some of the wonderful stories about the work we do, the people we meet and the wildlife we see. I'm Ami Kirkbright, the Assistant Warden for the Forth Reserves and I thought I'd start by introducing RSPB Black Devon Wetlands, one of five reserves under the Forth Reserves umbrella and a wonderful place for both wildlife and people.
The thing about RSPB Black Devon Wetlands I love the most is the transformation from urban townscape to openness and nature. We are so lucky to have this gem of a reserve on the outskirts of Alloa in such close proximity for people to easily come and enjoy. Signing a 21 year lease to manage and maintain this reserve in 2015 makes it one of the RSPB’s newest reserves, and 2017 saw a huge increase in activity on site, with major habitat management, improved access, a series of events and lots of wonderful work from our volunteers.
The viewing screen from across the pools – David Palmar
I thought as we get going in 2018 I would share some of my highlights of 2017. Why it’s such a pleasure to work here, and why it’s such a great place to come and visit.
Watching this reserve evolve over the past three years from when I was a Forth Reserves volunteer to now, has been incredible! So much has been achieved and we have so many people to thank for it - the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative (IFLI) and our awesome volunteers to name just a couple. IFLI is a four-year Heritage Lottery Funded partnership that centre on recognising and celebrating the natural, cultural and historical heritage of the Inner Forth and is working with communities all over the area. It has been a HUGE help getting the reserve up and running and making it such an incredible place for people to visit. It has helped improve the access to and around the reserve by funding new and improved paths; our incredible and unique viewing screen (fast becoming an iconic structure within the landscape); benches so you can ‘Take and pew and enjoy the view’; habitat works such as new pools and scrapes for wildlife; and our new set of pond dipping platforms so we can engage with children and adults about the diversity of aquatic invertebrate life living in the ponds. None of this would be possible without the support of IFLI. There is so much more but I would need another blog just for that, but it is hugely appreciated! If you would like to see what IFLI has been up to over the past four years, apart from the work at Black Devon Wetlands, and what it has planned for its final farewell, check out the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative website.
Surveying Black Devon Wetlands – David Palmar
Working with our incredible volunteers is another highlight! Rain or shine, wind or snow, (occasionally all four at the same time), they come out and help us do all kinds of practical tasks on the reserves. This can be anything from building the boardwalk leading to our viewing screen, to cutting down tree mallow on Fidra (one of our sea bird islands further out in the Forth) or some litter picking, no job is too big or too small for this fantastic team of people. The most recent project they have been helping out with on the reserve is the building of our pond dipping platforms. Our volunteers have dedicated over 200 hours of their time to help us complete this huge task - for which our cold, numb hands thank you immensely!
Volunteers working on the board walk and pond dipping platform – David Palmar
However, my BIGGEST highlight is the number of people we’ve connected with over the past year. Despite its location so close to Alloa, the reserve was a bit of an unknown. So in order to put it on the map and get the name out there in the wider community, we officially launched RSPB Black Devon Wetlands in April 2017, and celebrated with a Family Fun Day. We had storytelling, treasure hunts, pond dipping, wildlife watching, all with the comfort of a beautiful yurt and wood burning stove plus plenty of cake to go around. Local people and wildlife enthusiasts were out in force and over 100 people came to explore the reserve on that one day.
This was a huge boost for us and we have since had many other events highlighting Black Devon Wetland’s amazingness, which included Black Devon After Dark where we did moth trapping and bat detecting. But it’s not just about the natural heritage of the site, there is also the cultural heritage. For instance we held an Historic Landscape event, discovering the reserve’s fascinating past and getting an exclusive look inside the Clackmannan Tower, which overlooks the reserve, with a guided tour from Historic Environment Scotland.
Various event at RSPB Black Devon Wetlands
It truly has been all go for 2017, and 2018 will be no different. We have a list of upcoming exciting events which can be found on the RSPB Black Devon Wetlands website, ranging from a Dawn Chorus to a sunset guided walk with a Family Fun Day in between, so something for everyone!
Please head on down to experience this wonderful place and get in touch if any of our 2018 events take your fancy!