May, 2012

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Scottish Nature Notes

Keep up to date with the latest wildlife and nature news in Scotland. Regular blogs from RSPB Scotland's conservation teams across the country. Writing about Scotland's amazing wildlife & natural environment.
  • Reserves are not like buses...

    With buses they say you wait for ages and then two come along at once. But special places for nature are scarce and becoming rarer.

    In an exciting partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Parkwe've secured a special part of Scotland for nature and people.

    View over Wards Estate

    Why is it so special?

    Is it the stunning views with wetlands, woodlands and snow capped mountains (yes, they were still snow capped last week)? Or is it the wintering white-fronted geese that make a 3,000 mile round trip every year from Greenland?

    Perhaps it's the 200+ species of flowering plant (an eighth of the species recorded in the whole of Britain)? Or maybe the lamprey, a primitive eel-like fish, which can be traced back to 200 million years before the dinosaurs existed? Possibly it's the vast range of small beasties that exist, often out of view.

    Male Greenland white-fronted goose.

    Despite having only just got to know the site, I suspect it is all of the above and more. And that is at the centre of our plans.

    We want to protect what we know is here, find what hasn't already been discovered and allow existing and new visitors more opportunities to enjoy the stories and experiences the landscape and wildlife has to offer.

    Making it happen

    Well, the first step has been taken.

    Following support form the National Park Authority, SNH, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the generous donations of our supporters through an appeal, we have secured purchase of the land. The next step will be to appoint a site manager (lucky devil!).

    We have already started the important process of talking to the local communities, gathering information about the site and monitoring the wildlife. Next will be formulating a plan to improve the site over the coming years.

    In the meantime, if you want to visit the reserve there is a path from the Millennium Hall in Gartocharn which will give you a flavour of the site and its potential.

  • What do Beyoncé and the Slavonian grebe have in common?

    RSPB Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, is back to tell us about his work with the stunning Slavonian grebe.

    Slavonian grebes

    The weather has taken a real upturn since the weekend and the Highlands have come to life – ring ouzels piping from corries, divers wailing across lonely lochans and crested tits purring in the old Scots pines.  But, for me, the sight and sound of Slavonian grebes chittering softly to each other before pumping up their gorgeous orange-yellow ear tufts to show themselves at their best, eclipses them all.

    Slavs are one of those birds, like goldeneye or red-throated divers that occur in a band right round the northern hemisphere and, whilst common in world terms, are restricted as breeders in the UK to small parts of Scotland.  And Slavs are more restricted than most – last year there were just 29 pairs on a handful of lochs round Inverness and the recent counts give little room for optimism, plummeting like the FTSE 100 on a bad day.  But they are still with us and, by far the best place to see them is at the RSPB’s Loch Ruthven reserve, the single best site in Britain.  I popped in there early on Saturday – the birds are back and looking absolutely splendid (so much so that even Beyoncé has copied the look!!).


     I’ve been lucky enough to work with Slavs for the past 20 years and much as I love my days with eagles and dotterels, the times I have with the grebes stand out.  But, for much of that time, we’ve been trying to work out why they have such a restricted distribution and quite why they have declined so much.  To be honest, the answer has eluded us so far but a new collaboration is giving us hope that we won’t be in the dark for much longer. 

    In early March I spent a few days in Reykjavik talking to Icelandic and Norwegian Slav grebe workers.  Interestingly, Slavs in Iceland are increasing rapidly whilst northern Norway is doing the exact opposite and, by pooling our knowledge, we’re beginning to get a clearer picture of what might be going on across their range and not just our wee bit of it.  And, of course, once you know what the problems are you can start doing something about them.

    It’s early days yet and we’ve still a lot of work to do but I’ll be giving a talk about what we know about the Slavs and where we’re going next at the Scottish Birdfair.  Why not come along – it’ll be great to see you and there will be loads of other things to do too!

  • In praise of the Monadhliaths

    Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, has been out and about in the Monadhliaths searching for ring ouzels.

    In praise of the Monadhliaths

    Loch Ness and the Cairngorms are two of the most famous places in Scotland, yet sandwiched between them lie the largely unknown and unloved Monadhliaths (think Mona Lisa without the S).  This range of hills hardly rates a mention in walking books and when they do they get universally panned and dismissed as dull, featureless, boring.  But I love them; their solitude, their hidden corners, their sense of space – 30 minutes from Inverness and I can be amongst the quietest places in Britain.  So, when the areas for this year’s national Ring ouzel survey were chosen and some fell within the Monadhliaths, I was first in line to volunteer. 

    photo: Andy Hay (

    Good survey days have been in short supply this topsy-turvy spring but last Saturday looked good and I was away up the glen bright and early.  There’s a lot of suitable country out there and the ouzels can be elusive so we shorten the odds of finding them by playing a MP3 of their song – the male, thinking an intruder is in his territory, sings back or comes to check out the rival and allows us to mark it down.

    Save for the white crescent on their breast, ring ouzels look very like Blackbirds and are really their upland equivalent.  Their songs are similar too, though whilst a Blackbird’s strikes us as mellow and homely, the ouzel’s is wilder, more piercing, further carrying and this is no accident, they have to be to be heard over the winds that blow most of the time up in the hills.

    Several hours of MP3 broadcasting, puffing up and down slopes resulted in a grand total of five ouzel territories - I could well have missed some but there’s another visit scheduled in a few week’s time so I’ll see how that compares.  But, even five would have made it one of the best areas in the previous survey, in 1999, so at least in this part of the world Ring ouzels seem to be doing well though we’ll need to wait and see if that is borne out nationally.

    Survey done, I ambled back down the glen on a lovely sunny afternoon – Oystercatchers yelped from a field, a Red squirrel ran across the track and Common sandpipers skittered away along the river.  The sandpipers are really hyper and it doesn’t take much to set them off and, once they get going, they don’t stop – the Joe Pasquale of the bird world!  All in all, a great way to spend a day.

    And speaking of good days, no surveys for me this coming Saturday as I’ll be at the Scottish Birdfair – hope to see you there!

    You can find out more about ring ouzel surveys here.