August, 2012

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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.
  • Learning to slow down and enjoy nature

    New blog from Jim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer (Climate). He's been traveling to RSPB Scotland reserves by bike and public transport...It can be done!

    Learning to slow down and enjoy nature 

    Someone accused me of not being very low-carbon because I planned to use the train and ferry to travel to Coll and Tiree during my sabbatical. I laughed. I didn’t fancy either the cycle ride from Glasgow to Oban, or the swim. After all, part of the idea of my sabbatical is to show people that it is possible and realistic to visit RSPB reserves without a car.  Anyway, swimming to Coll is out of the question unless you are the Olympian Keri-Anne Payne or the masochist David Walliams.

    It’s true that the ferry is not exactly low-carbon. You would have to do the maths but if you were on a half-full ferry in winter it might be more carbon friendly per passenger to fly in a full plane. But if you did fly you would miss the chance to spot wildlife on route. I saw porpoises, a pod of 20-30 common dolphins, basking sharks, seals, and gannets spearing themselves into the sea, plus the beautiful views during the voyage up the Sound of Mull and across to the islands. I prefer the slow route and with Calmac ferries investing in some diesel-electric hybrid ferries, the ferry journey might become cleaner and greener too.

    Gannets by Andy Hay

    Getting to the reserve on Coll was fine by bike. It’s about 10 miles to the reserve from Arinagour where the ferry offloads, a bit up and down but not too arduous. The views are worth it and being on a bike you feel in the countryside and closer to nature. The destination in the west of the island is worth it too; Machair with its unique mix of shell-sandy soils, grassland and flowers; huge sand dunes; long sweeping beaches; and farmland managed carefully for the secretive corncrake. Tiree is flatter and greener with beaches dotted around the island. The land managed by the RSPB on Tiree is a large Machair plain and a sensitive site, hence why it is not an advertised reserve.

    Machair on Tiree

    Both Coll and Tiree are amazing places to enjoy nature and on a bike you can pootle along and stop when and where you like along the single-track roads. I’ll admit I’m not very good at this slow cycling philosophy – I like the ride too much. But I’m learning to slow down. I was inspired by two people I met on Coll who took most of the day to cycle their hired bikes around the island - they had seen so much wildlife. On Tiree I put my mind to a slow ride to where I was staying for the night and was rewarded with a view of a female hen harrier hunting low over the moorland.  With so much nature all around why not take some time to slow down and enjoy it.

    Cycling on a track through the dunes on Coll

    Find out more about my sabbatical travels at 

  • Act won, seen nothing

    Allan Whyte, Parliamentary Officer, reflects on the Scottish Government's commitment to address climate change.

    Act won, seen nothing

    It’s hard to imagine a city more alive than Edinburgh is in August.  Every year the festival descends upon Auld Reekie and ferments in an explosion of culture, attracting people from all over the world.  Tourists arrive in their hundreds of thousands expecting all the cultural kitsch that is Scotland: tartan, the castle, whisky, shortbread, bonnie wee lassies, bagpipes and, of course, the weather.

    Al fresco evenings can be whittled away, swathed in the summer balm, sipping on cool Gorgie-Brewed IPA; then, the next day, you are an umbrella in a sea of plastic, Saltire-emblazoned ponchos.

    Typical Scottish weather: reliably unreliable.

    The Scottish year in weather is a kaleidoscope of flood warnings, road closures, drought, sunburn and snow drifts.  It seems like every year the media reports record-breaking rainfall, record-breaking high temperature and record-breaking low temperatures.  Is this a prolonged freak weather pattern or is it, as science suggests, climate change?

    A Met Office report shows that over the past decade there have been a series of weather extremes and, since 1960, temperatures in the UK have risen.  This is already affecting the wildlife and wild places we love[1] – and will only get worse[2].

    Arctic terns and other seabirds are feeling the effects of climate change (Photo: Kalil Zibe). 

    In 2009, the Climate Change (Scotland) Act was given Royal Assent making it law for the Scottish Government to meet its own targets and proactively tackle climate change head on.  This was a revolutionary piece of legislation that, after years of campaigning, showed that Scotland has the ambition to be a world leader in the race against the clock to slow down the effects of human induced climate change.

    So, we have the act. What’s changed?

    Not a lot really.  The Government has introduced some schemes to tackle climate change but the most recent emissions results for Scotland were published last month.  Not only did Scotland miss its targets, but emissions have actually gone up.  Ironically, the Government blamed this failure on bad weather.

    There is a danger that the Climate Change Act will become lip-service legislation and that climate change will not be treated as the serious issue that it is.  We need a strong Government to step up and deliver real emissions reductions.  Perhaps, when we live in a society obsessed by conventional economic growth[3], climate change and its effects on nature are never going to be high enough up the political agenda.

    To help address this, you can do something!  You can make politicians aware that you care about nature and climate change and you want them, as your political representative, to make changes.

    Politicians aren’t just people you read about in the news; they provide a service which needs to be utilised to improve society.  You can write to your MSPs or call them to arrange a meeting at their office, or you can join others for a mass lobby at Holyrood.

    Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS), of which RSPB Scotland is a member, is organising an event in October at the Scottish Parliament where you can attend and speak to your local MSP about climate change and what you want  the Government do about it.  The event is called Get Your Act Together - Details of the event are available here on the SCCS website.  We’ll also post more information on our social media sites, so look out for it.

    This is one great opportunity to let those who represent you at Holyrood hear what you have to say about climate change and what you want done about it.  If you’d like to continue to help RSPB Scotland in our campaigning work after October, please get in touch


  • Oasis

    Brand new blog from Conservation Manager Stuart Benn.


    No blog from me last week because I was well away from my usual habitat - travelling round the south of England on a fact-finding tour.  The idea behind the trip was to meet up with RSPB staff and talk to them about how they go about their jobs.  The Scottish Highlands and, say, East Anglia could scarcely look more different yet the principles of conservation and communication are the same and it’s good to pick up fresh ideas and think how they can be applied back home.

    No need to go into any of the details of the chats here but, instead, I’ll just highlight a couple of places that made a big impression.

    First up were the RSPB Reserves at Lakenheath Fen (near Cambridge) and Ham Wall which sits on the Somerset Levels under the shadow of Glastonbury Tor and which is twinned with the Shapwick Heath National  Nature Reserve next door.  A visit to any of those places in 1995 (during the heyday of Britpop – Pulp and Oasis were amongst the headliners at Glastonbury) would have revealed either carrot fields or worked-over peat diggings with a distinct lack of wildlife.  But, since then, those places have been taken on and managed by conservation organisations and the transformation has been nothing short of monumental.

    The main form of management has been to get water back on site and then let either nature take over or give it a helping hand by planting reeds and such like (these words do not even hint at the level of work that this entails!).   Today, these are fantastic wetlands – the home of cranes, bitterns, otters, dragonflies, egrets and hundreds of other species.  As a testament of what can be achieved with a lot of vision and a lot of work, I can’t think of better examples and they are truly inspirational places to visit. 

    The other wonderful places that we took in were the chalk grasslands at Denbies Hillside (a National Trust site near Dorking in Surrey) and the Dorset Coast between Durlston and Lulworth (owned and managed by the County Council and a private estate, respectively).

     These were alive with butterflies – Chalkhill blues, Silver-spotted skippers, Lulworth skippers, Gatekeepers, Walls, Marbled whites and a dozen or more other species.  The variety was great to see but it was the numbers that got me – clouds of them flitting over the hot turf and I’m sure I saw more butterflies there in a couple of hours than I have ever seen in total in my entire life.  Absolutely magical.

    We need more oases.