July, 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.
  • STAR-spangled seas

    Emily Scragg, Research Assitant with the Seabird Tracking and Research team (STAR), gives the final update of the season...

    STAR- spangled seas

    This will be the last update from the STAR seabird tracking work, as we near the end of our fieldwork season. For a background to the project please see our website and our previous blog posts (here, here and here, and also a post from Martin Harper when joined us for a day at the cliffs). While the rest of the country has been basking in a heatwave, Colonsay has been experiencing some rather different weather recently!


    It has been a seemingly poor year for seabirds here on Colonsay. Birds were late to start breeding, and many did not breed at all but just spent time ‘loafing’ around on the cliffs. At this time of the year we should be seeing many large Guillemot chicks on the ledges, getting ready to fledge in numbers at night, and yet there are only a scattered few. The monitoring plots we collect data from should be able to tell us exactly how this year compares to previous ones once all the data is in and analysed.


    We have so far managed to get tags back from 44 birds of four species on Colonsay: seven from shags, eleven from razorbills, thirteen from kittiwakes and thirteen from guillemots. The tracks show that the birds are travelling to a variety of different places to feed, however whether or not the birds’ foraging strategies have altered due to the poor season remains uncertain, and we will have to wait for a full analysis over the winter.

    If you have been following this blog you may have gathered that the poor season has affected all of our teams, with fewer birds breeding and many failing half way through their breeding attempts. The results they have obtained may prove particularly interesting and we are looking forward to seeing them at the debrief at the end of the season.


    Whilst we have been here there have been a number of exciting things happening on the island. Most recently the ceilidh season has started. The island has a new police officer, and there was a live WWII bomb found that had to be taken off the island by the MoD. Colonsay can be a surprisingly busy place at times!

    We have also been lending a hand with island life and have been helping rear orphan lambs. ‘Pearl’ (the oldest) certainly knows where the food is coming from, and peers expectantly through the gate each morning in anticipation of it.


    And finally, a message directly from one of our birds. There have been some interesting ‘pictures’ drawn by some of them as they have flown around in search of food: the Kittiwake below appears to have declared its love for the Southern Hebrides for all to see.

    Find out more about seabirds and how you can help here: www.rspb.org.uk/scotlandsealife

  • Torn between two plovers

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

    Torn Between Two Plovers

    Isn’t this weather just absolutely gorgeous?

    It’s well overdue after that long, cold spring and a long, cold drink and a barbecue has sometimes felt like the best way to spend the day or at least the evening.

    But here in North Scotland, we know that such good spells don’t last forever and we need to make the most of them by getting out and about – nature responds to the sunshine too and looks its best.

    So, last week saw me heading up into the hills to do my dotterel survey. Alistair blogged recently about the work he’s doing on the birds but he can’t be everywhere at once so he has a team of volunteers to help him cover other sites and that’s where I come in.

    First up on the tops were a couple of noisy golden plovers peeping away – the first of many during the day. To me, GPs always look a wee bit portly as if they’re carrying a couple of extra pounds but maybe not as much as shown in this painting by Magnus Kjartansson, an Icelandic artist.

    There’s something about it I really like though the significance of the couple (bride and groom?) standing on the plover’s back accompanied by swans and a sheep playing trumpets is a bit lost on me!

    Except when they are on eggs, golden plovers are amongst the most showy and noisy of hill birds and you’ll soon know if they’re about. Not so its cousin, the dotterel – unassuming might be the word for them. Smaller, slimmer, better camouflaged, quieter – it can take more effort to find one but it’s really worth it when you do, there are few more stunning birds in the UK and a day with dotterel is always one to remember.

    So, I was really thrilled to find two dotterels with chicks on different parts of the hill. Unusually for birds, it’s the male dotterel that sits on the eggs and cares for the young so he is the dowdier of the pair but he’s still a splendid sight!

    As with other waders, dotterel chicks can leave the nest practically as soon as they are out the egg and can run about shortly afterwards - the ones I saw could fair sprint away despite just being a few days old. Look how camouflaged it is – all that chick needs to do is crouch down and he would disappear from view quicker than the latest reality tv ‘sensation’.

    I came down into the sunset aglow from my plover-filled day glad that I’d put the temptation of another burger and G&T to one side and made just that wee bit of effort to get out and enjoy nature while the sun shone.

  • Conducting the renewables orchestra- a step towards strategic planning for onshore wind in Scotland?

    How is the revised Scottish Planning Policy shaping up for wildlife and for tackling climate change? Alexa Morrison, RSPB Conservation Policy Officer, gives some of our thoughts so far...

    Conducting the renewables orchestra – a step towards strategic planning for onshore wind in Scotland?

    Here in the planning team at RSPB Scotland, good planning policy is music to our ears. And everyone knows that, to have a great orchestra, you need a strong conductor. They must be authoritative, responsive to their environment, and most importantly, make sure everything comes together in the best way. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have in the mixture, if no one knows where to come in, the outcome will not be pleasing to the ear.

    When it comes to planning policy for onshore wind, it’s the same idea. We need strong policies to conduct the renewables industry towards a sustainable energy mix. Good planning needs good planning policy to guide it. On the 30th April two important planning documents for Scotland’s environment were published for consultation: a revised Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) and the third National Planning Framework (NPF3). The former sets out planning policy for the whole of Scotland, covering all types of onshore development, and the latter identifies key ‘national developments’, specific infrastructure required to meet Scotland’s needs. Together, they set the course for development in Scotland for the forthcoming years. It’s crucial that they contain the right safeguards to ensure development takes place in harmony with nature.

    Planning policy for onshore wind forms a significant chunk of the draft SPP. Rightly so, as continued renewables development in Scotland is crucial for tackling climate change, a massive threat to wildlife. We need to work hard to meet our emissions targets, particularly after news announced in June, that Scotland missed its climate change target in 2011 for the second year running. Renewables development can also help to restore habitats and benefit local communities if designed and run well.

    At the same time, all development can harm wildlife, and renewable energy is no exception. We want to see a planning system that creates the right development, in the right place, at the right time. This is an important opportunity to get the balance right, to ‘conduct’ the renewables orchestra better. A key criticism we have made of planning policy in Scotland in the past, is the lack of clear direction for how local authorities should develop spatial plans (maps) to guide onshore wind development in their areas. Strategic local planning, identifying sensitive areas and providing a consistent steer to developers, means inappropriate applications should be much less likely to come forward.

    We are encouraged to see the draft SPP has made a start on this, providing a national spatial guide for local authorities to follow. Under the proposed approach, authorities will need to identify areas where wind farms will not be acceptable (National Parks and National Scenic Areas), followed by areas of ‘significant protection’ (e.g. sensitive peatland), areas of ‘less significant constraint’, and finally areas where wind farms are ‘likely to be supported’.

    As more wind farm applications are consented, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify appropriate sites. Having a consistent, national approach will help planners, developers and NGOs a great deal in meeting the challenge of deploying renewables responsibly.

    There is room for improvement in the detail however. Whilst ‘wild land’ maps have been included under areas of significant protection, maps of bird sensitivity (developed by RSPB) and sensitive peatland, which provide important guidance to developers, have been left out. These maps are all included in Scottish Natural Heritage’s ‘Strategic Locational Guidance for Onshore Wind Farms’, which provides a crucial steer to the industry. SPP should adopt SNH’s guidance as a whole, rather than pick and choose aspects from it. We also think elements of the proposed approach could be applied to other types of development, like open cast coal or landfill sites. It doesn’t matter if the orchestra is playing Beethoven or the Beatles, they all need to be kept in time.

    Whilst we are still going through the detail of the new policies, we are pleased with the direction of progress. Watch this space for more details of our response in July.  

    The consultation period runs until 23 July 2013. To read the draft Scottish Planning Policy and find out how to submit your views, visit the Scottish Government website.