Kara Brydson, Senior Marine Policy Officer at RSPB Scotland, tells us about a recent visit to one of the wildlife wonders of the world.
Visiting Scotland's seabird cities
Imagine leaving work at the end of an unremarkable day. Within the hour you’re at what Sir David Attenborough calls ‘one of the wildlife wonders of the world’. That’s what I did on Wednesday night, along with 30 others on an RSPB Scotland ’Date with Nature’ boat tour around Bass Rock.
Bass Rock is the iconic giant white lump of volcanic rock in the outer Firth of Forth, just a few kilometres offshore from North Berwick. It’s white because for much of the year it’s home to 150,000 gannets – and in late autumn when the birds set off on their long migration south, often as far as West Africa, they quite literally leave their mark.
Bass Rock is so special for northern gannet that it has given the bird its scientific name - Morus bassanus. But it’s not all about them – on our two hour trip we saw guillemots, razorbills, fulmar, shags, arctic tern and kittiwakes, all hanging out on the lower ledges of the Bass, or shooting (or bobbing) past our catamaran. Common and Grey seals were hauled up on the rocks below and peeking out from sea caves.
With this wildlife spectacle so close to Scotland’s capital city, it’s easy to forget that, shockingly, numbers of Scottish seabirds have plummeted. Over the past 20 years, two thirds of all our kittiwake and three quarters of Arctic tern and Arctic skua have disappeared. There are three main threats to seabirds: climate change, lack of fish such as sandeels, and industrial developments at sea. Marine Protected Areas can give seabirds a fighting chance against these threats. You can help us urge the Scottish Government to protect seabirds at sea. Visit our website to find out how www.rspb.org.uk/choosesealife.
You can fall in love with other islands on the Firth of Forth: RSPB Date with Nature cruises leave from South Queensferry, Edinburgh on 9th June, 19 June, 29 June and 10 July. Call 0131 331 5000 to book.
Scotland's seabirds are suffering devastating declines. We have one chance to help them where they need it most - out at sea. Support Marine Protected Areas for seabirds and give them a fighting chance.
Find out how you can help protect seabirds visit: rspb.org.uk/choosesealife
New foraging blog from James Reynolds, RSPB Scotland Head of Media & Communications.
Nature's Larder Part 2
I spent an all-too-brief couple of days south of the border at my parent’s home in Cheshire at the weekend to celebrate my father’s birthday and see my sister, brother-in-law and three little nieces, too.
On the Sunday morning, before I set off to return to Edinburgh, I took my two eldest nieces – 10 and 6 – on a short walk to see what nature had to offer on my mum and dad’s doorstep. I always enjoy doing this, as I usually get to see the world a little bit differently in the company of my sister’s children.
Immediately behind my parent’s garden are spring-sown arable fields interspersed with pockets of woodland and crisscrossed by babbling streams. After strolling on paths next to fields that were alive with the lilting calls and eye-catching aerial display of peewits and a group of brown hares chasing each other in the middle (a privilege to see in themselves), the path meandered towards some woodland and dropped several metres into a deep green lane.
Here it became more shaded and damp as it descended to a wooded valley, where the floor was a carpet of bluebells on either side of the muddy track. As we were strolling along with me pointing out a few different edible herbs (jack by the hedge or garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and cuckoo flower, or lady’s smock (Cardamine pratensis) and getting Kitty and Madeleine to have a nibble and taste, something bigger and better caught my eye that would make a much more exciting hedgerow meal.
Encircling a large rotten ash stub on the left bank of the path was a fantastic colony of the fungus Dryad’s saddle (Polyporous squamosus). I don’t ever recall seeing quite so many perfect specimens in one place, and enjoyed showing the girls this beautiful bracket fungus, and letting them see how each was shaped like a miniature riding saddle for a small animal.
But as soon as I had done this Kitty - quite rightly - asked me about the fungus’s name, and what a Dryad was. And, of course, I couldn’t answer because, like the names of many things that one learns in life, I had simply accepted it without question and never really given a second thought to why it might have found this puzzling nomenclature.
Now, having returned home and thumbed through various identification books and consulted the ‘Wiki oracle’, I am enlightened as to the origins of its charming name: apparently, Dryads were nymphs of Greek mythology representing the female spirit of trees who could conceivably fit and ride on this mushroom. What a fantastic story to share with my nieces, and help inspire and interest them in the wonders of the natural world. I wish I had known on the spot and could have told them there and then, but I plan to Skype them this week and reveal this brilliant little nugget of etymological knowledge. And hopefully, in revisiting our woodland walk adventure in conversation this week, the whole experience will become more memorable to them and their connection to nature will itself grow and become an important part of their lives, too.
We didn’t pick any of these fruiting bodies, and I have never eaten them, but most of the identification guides classify this as an edible, though requiring careful preparation. Apparently, the outer edges of each fruiting body are the desirable part, as the rest can be woody and tough, particularly in the older, larger specimens. Once harvested, as is the case with many mushrooms, they are best thinly sliced and fried in butter with bacon. I’d probably add a finely chopped shallot and some cream and stock – and maybe even some finely chopped wild garlic leaves (see last blog) to that and make a delicious mushroom sauce. I have yet to find a mushroom that doesn’t benefit from such treatment, which both softens their texture and intensifies their flavour.
I’ll be out again over the coming days and weeks looking for more hedgerow comestibles. Various species are late because of the very prolonged winter and cold weather, so I am still hoping that this will be the year that I collect my very first wild morel! I will keep you posted.