June, 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.
  • Natural solutions to living in a changing climate

    Jim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer (climate), says nature can provide solutions to some of our most pressing problems...

    Natural solutions to living in a changing climate

    View across Loch Insh by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    If you travel to Inverness or Aviemore by train or up the A9 by car you speed past the RSPB’s Insh Marshes nature reserve (you get a better view by train). The reserve is a huge wetland habitat in the floodplain or ‘strath’ of the River Spey. It’s a beautiful place – a mosaic of habitats and home to special wildlife. Wading birds, such as curlew, redshank and lapwing love the wet grassland for nesting and finding bugs to feed their chicks. When I visited a few years back the place seemed to be teeming with them.

    Insh will be as important for wildlife in the future as it is now. As the climate changes, large, well managed and well connected habitats like those in Strathspey will be essential to help wildlife maintain healthy populations and cope with climate trends and shocks.

    But Insh isn’t just a lovely place for the birds or for the 15,000 visitors each year, it is a good example of how nature can be valuable to our economy and society. The floodplain or ‘strath’ is prone to flooding in winter and spring following heavy rains or snow melt. Insh Marshes stores flood water during these times and can help protect Aviemore and other downstream settlements from flooding. It is estimated that this avoids the need for additional engineered flood defences for Aviemore costing some £1.7 million to construct and maintenance costing over £80,000 per year.

    We know that in Scotland we are likely to experience increasingly wet winters and more extreme rainfall events because of climate change. This makes the water storage properties of Insh and other natural habitats even more needed in the future.

    Insh Marshes features as a case study in a new RSPB Scotland report we published last week – Helping Nature to Help Us. It highlights solutions that nature provides to some of our most pressing problems – issues that we will face more and more in a changing climate. The report says that in readiness for living with climate change and its range of impacts, as a society we need to work with nature and employ natural ecosystems to provide sustainable, long-term and cost-effective solutions. We call on Government to help make this happen.

    Resilience to climate change and the capacity to adapt to a shifting climate will be essential in the future. This is as important for the birds and wildlife of the Insh Marshes as it is for the people of Aviemore and for us, wherever we live in the world. 

  • A hidden gem

    Chris Knowles, RSPB Nature Counts Trainee Ecologist, has been out and about at our Baron's Haugh nature reserve near Motherwell...

    A hidden gem

    A ‘hidden gem’, an ‘overlooked treasure’, perhaps even a ‘best kept secret’, these metaphors might be clichés, but they all go someway to describe the Baron's Haugh RSPB reserve near Motherwell.  After spending the last few weeks around some of Scotland’s finest Lochs, I didn’t know what to expect from somewhere so ‘urban’. Once there though, I wasn’t just impressed but over the course of the day I found the largest number of fungi on a survey so far (and the biggest).

    Figure 1. The Dryads Saddle fungus (Polyporus squamosus) can grow up to 60cm across.

    The reserve has a wonderful range of habitats, yet as is often the case, I was immediately drawn into the woodlands near the entrance.  It was here, under mature broadleaf trees that I came across the Green Elfcup (Chlorociboria aeruginascens) for the first time... well, sort of... the Elfcups were nowhere to be seen, but they had left conspicuous evidence. These fungi cause a blue-green stain to appear in the wood where they grow.

    Figure 2. Historically this coloured wood was known as 'Tunbridge Ware', and was used in decorative furniture veneers.

    The areas of woodland here vary in the tree species they boast and their age, so I was keen to survey them all. To reach the woods at either end of the reserve I followed a bankside path that allowed wonderful views over the Clyde to one side, and glimpses of the wetlands bordering the main pool on the other.

    Figure 3. A green and leafy stretch of the river Clyde

    It was very tempting to pause here with my binoculars as both areas were busy with birds, however my attention was captured by some plant rusts. These micro-fungi have a bad reputation for damaging cereal crops, but on this occasion they were only bothering the nettles. I was really attracted to their colour because although many flowering plants were showing themselves to be glad of summer arriving, these rusts were the only orange blooms I saw all day (even though they were less than 1mm in size – ‘small is beautiful’ could be my final cliché from Baron's Haugh).

    Figure 4. Spot the odd-one-out...


  • Cathedral thinking

    Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn is back with a new blog...

    Cathedral Thinking

    Have you ever sent one of your mates a text or email and then got really annoyed because they didn’t reply immediately?  Or skipped a track on your playlist because you couldn’t wait the three minutes it would take to get to the one that you wanted to hear right now?  Yep, me too – we can be a pretty impatient bunch.

    I got thinking about this last week when I was down in York - it was a nice summer evening so I decided that the pubs by the river could wait and strolled up to the Minster to have a wee sit outside.  No matter what your religious beliefs (or lack of) are, it’s an impressive building and a bit of an understatement to say that a lot of work went into it.  250 years of work, in fact.

    York Minster (bbc.co.uk)

    This is worth repeating - it took 250 years to build York Minster.  So, the people who wanted a cathedral and designed it never got to see it finished.  Nobody they ever knew got to see it finished.  Neither their grandchildren nor their great-grandchildren got to see it finished.  Yet they still went ahead and started the events that led to the building we see today.  This needed vision and foresight, and it was all done with the absolute knowledge that they wouldn’t see the finished product.  It is as far from instant gratification as you can get.  Imagining and starting long-term projects that you will never see finished – there’s a name for it, Cathedral Thinking.

    I think it’s brilliant that people are willing to do things that they know they won’t see come to fruition but it requires you to believe in two things.  You need to believe that there is a future.  Ducking back quickly to York Minster, one hundred years into the build the Black Death hit and by some accounts over half of the entire population of England was killed by bubonic plague.  It must have seemed like the world was ending but they carried on. 

    And it also requires you to believe that the people in that future will continue what you started - that they will still be driven by the same emotions and feelings as we are, that they will share the same values and be inspired by the same things.

    I blogged recently about the ‘State of Nature’ report and how we all need to start doing our bit for wildlife, to start putting something back.  And we need some quick hits – helping create a pond which newts will soon make home, planting flowers for bees and butterflies. 

    Good for nature, good for you.

    But as I looked out the train on the way back to Inverness at the passing countryside, I thought we need Cathedral Thinking for nature too.  Just as someone once looked at a flat, empty spot in Yorkshire and could think of it being filled with a magnificent cathedral, we can imagine a different kind of countryside.  One of old forests, of animals now extinct in Britain that we can bring back, of large areas connected together and not just poor fragments.       

    None of us will live to see all of it happen but we can make a start.  And the millions of people whose lives will be enriched by these places and who we will never know will be so glad we did.