November, 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.
  • Limited edition pin badge to celebrate Livingstone's bicentenary

    Limited edition pin badge to celebrate Livingstone’s bicentenary

    photo via

    Calling all pin badge collectors!

    2013 is an important year as it is the bicentenary of the birth of David Livingstone, the famous 19th century explorer who travelled extensively through Malawi and southern Africa. To mark the anniversary, RSPB Scotland, in partnership with the Scottish Government and the Scotland-Malawi Foundation, are offering a limited edition pin badge of the beautiful Livingstone’s turaco, a bird of the subtropical lowland forests of the region , and named for David’s brother, Charles.

    All money raised from the sale of the pin badge will go to support  the BirdLife Partner for Malawi, The Wildlife and Environment Society of Malawi (WESM). The organisation works to introduce the public to the wonderful wildlife in the country and promote wise management of natural resources and the environment.

    Sales of the turaco pin badge will assist WESM with their scholarship programme for students at University of Malawi ensuring that students with an interest in biodiversity are able to study and go on to help nature conservation in the country .

    The limited edition pin badges are available by emailing or by phoning Nicki Wilde on 0131 317 4100. The badges will also be available at select events throughout the year.

  • When is a fungus not a fungus?

    RSPB Trainee Ecologist, Chris Knowles, explains the difference between slime moulds and fungi.

    When is a fungus not a fungus?

    I’ve been having a fabulous autumn, everywhere I go the world is sprouting mushrooms... and looking for mushrooms is usually why I am outside. I like to think I’m pretty good at finding them too, so it is always a little disconcerting when I’m led astray by puzzling pretenders.

    It took someone else to point out that I was barking up the wrong taxonomic tree with this one for example:


    1. Trichia decipiens - seen here at home, next to a pencil, being threatened with a scalpel and beginning to release spores.

    It's sometimes an easy mistake to make – the slime moulds pictured here were long thought be fungi, just as fungi were for a long time considered to be plants. It is now accepted that neither is even slightly true.

    The slime moulds (myxomycetes) are fantastically baffling and intriguing in their own right though. They spend much of their lives as tiny single-celled, amoebae-like organisms; until their food supply starts running out. Then the individual cells signal to each other chemically and come to together, joining up to form a mighty new being... well a mighty new being that looks like goo anyway.

    2.   Fuligo septica, is commonly known by the great name ‘Dog’s vomit slime mould’ or in Scandinavian folklore as Troll cat vomit. There is also a yellow variety known as ‘Scrambled egg slime mould.

    This new structure (a plasmodium) is then able to move in a similar manner to a slug, and indeed the previously independent cells now organise themselves into being ‘head’ and ‘tail’ and secrete a slime on which to travel in search for a new food supply.

    3.   Reticularia lycoperdon, (The false puffball) has changed from the mobile phase to the spore producing phase.

    Not content at shifting from being amoeba-like to slug-like... to reproduce the slime mould cells will then take on their pre-set role of becoming stalk or spore producing cells to become fungi-like structures like those shown here.


    4. The spore producing (sporangium) stage of two slime mould species.

    Their uncanny nature has not been overlooked by science either, in 2010 a slime mould was let loose on a map where small piles of oats represented the main cities and towns of Japan. In less than two days the slime mould fanned out over the map, and then shrank back to a fine network that allowed it to pass the food supply most efficiently throughout the organism. The network was a good visual match for the existing Japanese rail system that took years of planning to design.

    3.   Steminitis sp. releasing spores

    In another experiment a slime mould was used to control a small robot. As the slime mould was light-phobic it would attempt to move away from light sources, this movement would then trigger the robot to move in the same direction.

    So sometimes I do confuse these tricksy myxomycetes with fungi, but I’m sure I’ll get better at telling them apart. Especially as I’ve never seen a mushroom drive a robot train around Japan.

  • A missed opportunity for Scotland to lead on biomass sustainability?

    Alexa Morrison, RSPB Scotland Conservation Policy Officer, gives us an update on today's Scottish Government announcement on biomass sustainability standards.

    A missed opportunity for Scotland to lead on biomass sustainability?

    “They took all the trees, put ‘em in a tree museum” sang Joni Mitchell in the 1970s. Hopefully, half a century on, we won’t soon be singing, “they took all the trees, put ‘em in a dedicated biomass power station”, as the demand for using biomass (organic material such as wood from forests) to generate electricity grows at pace. Matters have not been helped by today’s announcement by the Scottish Government of disappointingly weak biomass sustainability standards.

    These standards set the environmental criteria power companies must meet to use biomass to generate electricity or ‘bioenergy’ in Scotland. They are intended to protect wildlife and ensure carbon savings. However, despite some steps in the right direction, major gaps remain meaning the standards do not guarantee biomass will be sustainably sourced or actually reduce carbon emissions.

    There are some positives in the standards, adopted to mirror those set by the UK Government in August. More carbon emissions reductions will be required, reaching 75% cuts by 2025. Until 2020, however, the target is a modest 60%, which may sound high, but we believe that delivered in the right way, bioenergy can deliver much more.

    There is a welcome commitment to use independent standards to check that biomass comes from sustainably managed sources. However, the standards accepted do not provide sufficient social and environmental safeguards. Robust standards are needed to ensure increased use of bioenergy does not drive deforestation or food insecurity, or displace vulnerable communities from their land. This can only currently be achieved through Forest Stewardship Council certification.

    The real disappointment, however, is that the Scottish Government has chosen to effectively ignore two key challenges presented by the use of biomass to generate electricity, the issue of carbon debt and indirect land-use change.

    ‘Carbon debt’ relates to the time it takes for the carbon emissions from burning biomass to be offset by new growth. Electricity producers are allowed to assume that burning biomass is ‘carbon neutral’ in their calculations, as trees and crops can be planted to reabsorb carbon. However, the European Commission Joint Research Centre concluded that whilst bioenergy from ‘residues, waste and residual wood’ can achieve carbon savings in the short term, when harvesting wood from the tree stem for bioenergy, there is an actual increase in emissions compared to fossil fuels, potentially for decades[1]. In order to avoid dangerous climate change, we need to reduce emissions rapidly, so this type of bioenergy is not a credible climate strategy.

    The risk of demand for bioenergy displacing other land-uses, or ‘indirect land use change’, has also not been addressed. This is increasingly understood as a problem in the related field of biofuels, where demand for what was hoped to be a more sustainable, low carbon source of fuel has perversely led to forests being replaced with plantation crops, resulting in loss of biodiversity and carbon sinks. However, the Government has assumed that biomass will ‘generally’ come from ‘wastes from other processes, or grown on land which isn’t suitable for other uses (such as food production)’, which is by no means certain. In other words, this risk has been addressed by simply assuming it won’t happen, rather than ensuring it won’t.

    It is essential that we properly quantify the emissions from bioenergy generation, and ensure that demand for biomass does not drive unsustainable deforestation or damage our wildlife. The RSPB believes it is possible for genuinely sustainable bioenergy to be a key part of the energy mix. We want to see support for bioenergy from waste and efficient, small-scale power generation from sustainable use of wood and energy crops, capturing heat for district heating systems or industry.  With good sustainability criteria, that faces up to the risks posed by bioenergy, we think this is possible. So far, the standards look like a missed opportunity for the Scottish Government to take a lead on biomass sustainability.

    [1] Agostini, A., Boulamanti, A., Giuntoli, J., 2013, Carbon accounting of forest bioenergy, JRC Technical Notes