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.

  • Culture Vulture

    Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, reflects on the links between science and art and drawing inspiration from nature.

    Culture Vulture

    Back in February, I spent a week with friends in a beautifully converted old farmhouse at Buseu, high in the Spanish Pyrenees.  By day, Woodlarks sang right at the door but after sunset all was still, lit only by stars of such brilliance that I’d only ever seen their like before in the deserts of Morocco and central Australia.  So tempting to remain indoors by the roaring log fire with the convivial company always ready to refill my glass with the local vino tinto, yet, despite the piercing night cold, I had to keep stealing out for just one more look at that stellar show. 


     In fact, I was so loathe to miss any of the display that I took to sleeping on a couch upstairs below a huge picture window so the stars were the last thing I saw before I turned in.  Well, not quite, for at the other end of the room sat a carved wooden head of a Lammergeier, its form and detail discernible even in the faint starlit glimmer.  Simple yet compelling, its red-ringed yellow eye fixed on you, drew you in, demanded attention.  It fascinated me and I would gaze on it until tiredness and sleep finally won. 

    I’d been captivated by that stare before. 

    New York’s Museum of Modern Art houses an impressive collection of late 19th Century French work and the van Goghs, Renoirs and Monets draw plenty of admirers.  But one painting makes people pause and look and come back and come back again – The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau, simple yet compelling and, again, it’s that piercing lion’s eye that does it.

    Photo: via

    Famously, Rousseau never left France and drew inspiration for his fantastical exotic paintings from the exhibits of plants and stuffed animals that he saw in Paris.  But nature forms such a central and dominant theme of his art that I can only imagine that he felt a deep connection with those animals and birds, and used them, in turn, as a device to connect us with his paintings.

     I always find it surprising that science and the arts are seen as somehow different.  Yet our appreciation of the natural and physical worlds, art and music often does come down to the same emotional equation - that certain indefinable quality that attracts you, makes you think, makes you view things differently and all to be had by simply looking at the stars, a spider’s web, a robin or into a lion’s eye.

  • 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!