January, 2013

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.
  • The day I worked with Jon Bon Jovi!

    In his weekly blog, Conservation Manager Stuart Benn, tells us what it's like to chat about Golden eagles next to a rock star.

    The Day I Worked with Jon Bon Jovi!!

    Sometimes you just never know what is waiting around the corner!

    Back in the summer we made a film with the One Show of us fitting satellite tags to a couple of Golden eagle chicks.  That all went well and I was told that they would show it at some stage over the winter and they would let me know when.  So, last week I got a call from the BBC to say that it was going to be broadcast on the 23rd - but there was more.  Mike Dilger, who would normally talk after the film, was otherwise engaged so would I like to come down to London and be live in the studio?  Oh, and there was one other thing – I would be sharing the sofa with Jon Bon Jovi!!  Of course I was up for it – opportunities like that don’t come round every day!

    The next few days were frantic – changing previous plans and being in constant touch with the show’s researchers discussing what they wanted me to talk about and providing them with info, tracks of where the eagles had been and a hundred and one other things.  Then, before I knew it, Wednesday morning had come around and I’d been picked up from the house to be taken to Inverness airport.  Train into London and then round to the hotel – a shower, a last run through my notes and that was it, next stop the BBC.

    I was met at reception, taken up to the studio for a wee look around and then put in the Green Room although this was just a temporary residence – it was going to be JBJ’s dressing room so I would be turfed out when he arrived! 

    JBJ's dressing room.

    Slowly, other people began to come in and we started getting organised – a look at the clips and graphics they were going to show so I could familiarise myself with them, a trip to make-up (you should have seen me before I’d been in there!) and a quick chat with both Alex and Matt.  Everyone very nice and friendly and putting us at ease.  Next up was a full rehearsal in the studio when we went through all my questions and bits were tweaked and then it was just the wait for it to start.  I had long chats with the sound man, security folk, Declan Curry, the other guests, the make-up lady – anything to take my mind off the fact that I was about to appear on live telly (not that I could forget – by now Jon Bon had arrived and was wandering about).

    I was sitting just yards from the studio so when the music started playing and the crowds cheer went up I knew it had kicked off.  A last touch up of make-up and, soon enough, they came to get me – no going back!!

    I was ushered through the crowds and onto the sofa next to JBJ! Quick handshake and we talked off camera as the eagle film was showing – he loved the scenery and wanted to know where it was filmed, asked me what the parent birds were doing when we were at the nest and was really impressed with the size of the eagle’s talons.  But then we were on live – try not to think that you are being watched by over 5 million people, sitting next to rock star royalty and if you make a complete fool of yourself you will become the next YouTube viral sensation.

    We were obviously really tight for time as we could only cover some of the stuff we’d rehearsed but I got the main points about the eagles and the RSPB’s Big Garden BirdWatch across.  As ever, there just isn’t time to say all you want to and the thing I wish I’d been able to do was give praise to all the good estates and gamekeepers that look after their eagles and are proud of them but, under the pressure of the moment, it just wasn’t possible.

    Final question about feeding garden birds and that was it – I was done, phew!!  I was able to watch the rest of the show from the back of the tiny studio behind all those very, very excited Bon Jovi fans and then it was all over.

    I had hoped that there would be a chance for some photos and autographs after we were done but JBJ was taken out a side entrance and Alex and Matt also headed off so that was it – finished!

    It had been a bit of a whirl and, though I was tired, it didn’t feel right to turn in so I headed back to the hotel, had a meal and then finished up unwinding at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club with a large G&T.

    Much later I tumbled into bed but had to be up early for the trip back to Inverness so not much time for sleep though, even now, it still feels like it was all a bit of a dream.    

    Show is available on iPlayer for a wee while (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01q9g7d/The_One_Show_23_01_2013/)  and it also seems to have made it on to YouTube for the long term! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S27FWtSqHsU).

  • What's that bird?

    Test your bird ID skills ahead of the Big Garden Birdwatch (January 26-27).

    What’s that Bird?

    There is just one week to go until the World’s largest wildlife survey. So to prepare you for the big day and celebrate the start of Big Schools Birdwatch on Monday, we’ve prepared a few short quizzes  designed to test your bird knowledge.

    The Big Garden Birdwatch is open to everyone regardless of age, knowledge or experience. It’s a fun and easy way to learn more about the wildlife in your garden or local park, whilst at the same time contributing to an important piece of citizen science.

    To take part all you need is a pen, paper, an ID sheet or book (if needed) and one hour over the 26th and 27th Jan to count and record the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time, rather than adding them up throughout the hour. This means you won’t risk counting the same bird twice.

    To  find out more or register to take part visit www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

  • When Winterwatch came to town

    In his regular blog, Conservation manager Stuart Benn provides a behind the scenes look at his recent brush with fame.

    One of the things I really like about my job is that you never quite know what is going to come up next.

    The day had started as planned – a wee trip east of Inverness to meet up with Ian, my counterpart in Aberdeen.  But, rather than sit down in an office, we’d arranged to have a chat as we walked around Findhorn Bay.  The date had been set weeks ago so it was a real bonus to find it was a stunning winter’s day – crisp, clear and very cold.  It was great to talk about what we’re working on and the brilliant views of a flock of Waxwings and a Peregrine hunting pigeons were the icing on a very icy day.

    Then at lunchtime I got a phone call from our Edinburgh media team.  Winterwatch had been on and wanted someone from the RSPB to take part in the programme that evening - was I up for it?  Yes I was, so I called Euan MacIlwraith and got the info.  It turned out that it wasn’t the live telly broadcast but the web-based bit after that, Winterwatch Extra.  Could I answer any viewers’ questions and talk to Euan about what was happening on the webcams – sounded good!

    I was to be on live sometime between 9 and 10 so I made sure that I got to Aigas well before that – dashing in at the last moment wouldn’t be the most restful preparation!  I’d worked with Springwatch a few years back so I had some idea of the scale of these operations but it still surprises me just how much is involved in getting these programmes to air.  Even in the pitch dark, there seemed to be huge trucks bristling with antennae and aerials everywhere.  Inside, there were loads of folk beavering away - producers, directors, webcam operators, researchers, the list did seem to be endless!

    I had a bit of time before I was on so I watched the live show from the warmth of one of the lodges and could hear all the off-air communications to the presenters and the countdowns to the clips – all amazingly slick and professional.  Soon enough it was my turn and, as I headed off, Chris Packham passed by – much taller than I’d imagined!

    I got ushered into what looked like a normal truck from the outside but inside it was a fully set-up TV control room – banks of monitors and screens, wires everywhere and very, very cramped.  I squeezed in next to Euan got handed the headphones and we were off!

    I think I was on for 40 minutes or so but it passed in a blur – I had no idea what was coming next and, being live, you don’t get a second chance.  All a bit nerve-jangling but great fun too!  But, all too soon, it was over and, after a wee chat with Euan and the director, I made my way back to the car under the most gorgeous intense starlight.

    Who knows what today will bring but I don’t expect it will compete with my unexpected brush with the first Winterwatch ever.  I’ll definitely be tuning in again tonight and thinking back to what it was like to be part of it even for just a tiny wee bit!