With their long, smooth bodies, slow worms resemble tiny snakes but they are actually legless lizards. They are quite common throughout mainland Britain, but some of the largest slow worms are found on Ailsa Craig, an island in the Firth of Clyde with a remarkable history and managed by RSPB Scotland for seabirds such as gannets and puffins.
Photo: Lucy Benyon (Froglife)
Slow worms seem to be among the species benefitting from a pioneering project to eradicate the rats that had devastated the island’s seabird populations.
Following a shipwreck close to shore in the mid 19th century- rats invaded the island wreaking havoc on populations of seabirds, particularly puffins.
After several failed attempts to control and eradicate the rat population- a successful project was carried out in the 1990s by Glasgow University, supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Ornithologists Club.
Targeted use of humane rat poison was successful in removing rats from the island and puffins once again breed each year on Ailsa Craig.
Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Research suggests the project has also led to the boom in ‘legless lizard’ populations thanks to the elimination of competition and/or predation by rats that may have previously constrained growth rates in addition to depressing the population size.
Slow worms can be easily found all over the island lying under pieces of wood or corrugated iron left over from the island’s time as a slate quarry. When it is dry and sunny, conditions under these pieces of discarded metal can be quite warm and balmy temperatures help regulate slow worm digestion rates. Slow worms are known to eat slugs, snails, spiders, insects and earthworms.
The species is the focus of this year's Make Your Nature Count wildlife survey. Spend an hour in your garden or local park between 2-10 June and record the wildlife you see!
**Ailsa Craig is best viewed from the sea. Tours around the island run from Girvan and Campbeltown during the summer and are dependant on calm sea conditions.
Rio+20 begins today. Our Senior Land Use Policy Officer (Climate), Jim Densham, discusses the global importance of Scotland's peat.
Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson MSP and Secretary of State Caroline Spelman MP visited a Brazilian rainforest on Monday as part of their Rio+20 visit. We organised this little jaunt for them to highlight the value of tropical forests for climate change and conservation.
Peatlands have been described as Scotland’s rainforest because of the massive amount of carbon they store. Scotland’s peatlands hold 1620 million tonnes of carbon – this is ten times the amount of carbon as that stored in all of the UK’s woodland. They are home to some of our most special and precious wildlife, including red-throated diver, hen harrier, otter, mountain hare and sundew. But, like rainforest it is too easily damaged or destroyed by human activity. Peatlands have been drained, overgrazed, had trees inappropriately planted on them and even dug up and made into garden compost. All these activities, and more, dry the peat, change the vegetation and stop it being a peat-forming ‘living’ bog. It also releases carbon to the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. Scotland has a huge 1.8million ha of blanket bog, 80% of the UK’s total, but only 30% are in good condition. There is even more shallower peat, lowland bogs and peaty soils, all at risk from poor management.
Forsinard Flows nature reserve (Photo: Andy Hay rspb-images.com)
We are asking the Scottish Government to commit effort and funding to help restore 600,000 hectares of blanket bog in Scotland within 10 years. Blocking drainage ditches, managing sheep numbers, removing trees from blanket bog are all essential activities which would help wildlife return, reduce water pollution and lock up carbon. Find out more about how we have been leading the way to restore peatland habitats at our Forsinard Flows nature reserve. If you want to know more about the policies affecting peatland restoration here is a link to a report from last year.
We wouldn’t be able to save special places like peatlands or rainforests without you. Please show your support for Scotland’s peatlands at http://www.rspb.org.uk/supporting/campaigns/flowcountry/ and for tropical forests at www.rspb.org.uk/rainforests.
Stephen Owen, Warden at Baron's Haugh, tells us about the fantastic of work of volunteers on the reserve.
Stepping up at Baron's Haugh
So it is two months in to being the new RSPB warden for Baron’s Haugh nature reserve, and it has been a real pleasure getting to know this absolute gem for wildlife right on the edge of Motherwell. Starting at Baron’s Haugh has been far easier thanks to some great volunteers, many of whom have been helping for quite a while now and know far more about the reserve than I do! The reserve volunteers are out every Thursday, and once a month on a Saturday, keeping on top of the myriad of tasks required to keep the reserve and its valuable habitats in as tip top condition as possible. There has been fencing to put up, litter to clear and rhododendrons to bash, to name but a few tasks.
Spring also heralds plenty of bird survey work to be done, some at the crack of dawn, others late into the twilight. Volunteers have provided extra eyes and ears and have had some wonderful wildlife experiences at these less sociable hours, from noisy warblers in song to fox cubs playing in the sun.
My big task of the last week has been sowing a new wildflower meadow. As it is over an acre, doing this by hand is a big task. However, thanks to some enthusiastic school kids, the local RSPB members group from Hamilton and our regular volunteers, the field is sown. I wait with baited breath to see what flowers later in the summer...
Find out more about volunteering for RSPB Scotland.
Check out this fantastic video about a volunteer work party on the reserve.