December, 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.
  • Go Wild!

    Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn tell us how his childhood experiences were different to those of children nowadays but hopes this could be about to change thanks to the 'Project Wild Thing' film.

    I climbed a tree this week.

    Maybe an odd thing for an adult to do but I got the urge after I’d seen the Project Wild Thing film.


    When I was a kid, I used to climb trees all the time and no trip to the local park was complete without scrambling up into the branches of something or other (I’m still not great on tree identification!). I was doing it for fun but, without knowing it, I was also keeping fit, testing my abilities, gaining independence, building my self-confidence, working out how to solve problems.

    The world looks different when you’re up a tree.

    Children don’t climb trees so much now – they’re told it’s dangerous, they might get hurt, they might get dirty – and a little bit of adventure disappears from their lives.

    This is what Project Wild Thing is all about – kicking back at the couch potato, risk adverse culture we’ve turned into - reconnecting kids (and adults!) with the outdoors, reconnecting us with nature.

    Check out their website for loads of ideas or go along and see the film – it’s showing at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh on Monday 16 December or, if that’s not handy, maybe there’s another screening near you. The Guardian tells us that the film will change your life – wouldn’t it be great if it did. But if it changes children’s lives that would be truly wonderful!

    Speaking of going wild, I’m going to fulfil two lifetime ambitions next week. I’ll be visiting one of the most ambitious wildlife projects in Europe – the Oostvaardersplassen near Amsterdam - and I’ll also be seeing Chic live in concert!

    I’ll be blogging about both in 2014 but, in the meantime, have a great break over the festives and why not go wild too!

  • Broubster- an archaeological haven

    Jill Harden is an archaeologist with RSPB Scotland. She's been out exploring archaeological sites on our reserves...

    Broubster – an archaeological haven

    One of the standing stones overlooking Lochan Ealach and the Broubster reserve.

    Having explored various parts of Caithness in the past, Wednesday’s visit to Broubster was one that I had been particularly looking forward to. And I wasn’t disappointed. What a fantastic reserve!

    The signs were good as we arrived – first one and then a second kestrel flew over the open ground, repeatedly hovering and then moving on. Their review of the landscape proved to be similar to the approach that site manager Dave Jones and I took during our tramp across the waterlogged land. We found ourselves splashing to a historic site, stopping, exploring and considering, making notes and taking record photos, and then moving on. Time after time. We went from the long, low, stone farmsteads that were probably used until the 1960s, back through the millennia to the 2,000 to3,000 year-old remains of round houses and their field systems of the Iron Age or Bronze Age. We then passed even deeper into the past, visiting prehistoric standing stones and the remains of a stone circle that must be at least 4,000 years old.

    The stones were the reason for the visit – assessing the site conditions as part of an RSPB historic environment project which is grant-aided by Historic Scotland. These monuments are amongst the list of Scheduled Ancient Monuments on RSPB reserves, and require particular consideration when developing site management plans or doing work. Here at Broubster they appear to be fine, although the area immediately around the site of the stone circle is now particularly wet.

    While the area where the stones are is one of heather moorland today, it would have been an area of open grassland in later Neolithic times when they were erected. Perhaps there were areas of scrub and small patches of woodland nearby too. But it isn’t only the habitats that have changed through time. There is also no obvious evidence of the later-neolithic settlements associated with the farming communities who set the stones up. They must be buried under today’s farmsteads just to the west, or perhaps they’re under the peat closer by.

    The flagstone stalls of the byre, part of the longhouse close to Torr a Chaise.

    It isn’t just these scheduled sites that are of archaeological significance at Broubster. There are at least a couple of other areas that would seem to be worthy of recognition as nationally important monuments. Towards the north end of the reserve is a palimpsest of visible remains. On the heather moorland there are prehistoric round houses, a burnt mound (a prehistoric cooking site, although some interpret mounds like this as saunas!) and traces of fields. And close by, on the improved grassland, is a historic abandoned farmstead.

    However, from a vernacular building perspective it is the farmstead by Torr a Chaise that is probably of greatest value. It is a classic Caithness longhouse, some 45m long and 4m wide. It is single storey, with a barn at the south end, living quarters in the middle and byres at the north end. There is a parallel range of buildings just to the east: storage sheds, I presume. Today none of the roofs survive – the Caithness flags have either fallen in or been removed. A quick glimpse at the outside of the longhouse suggests that the walls are of drystone construction, but they clearly aren’t. In places inside the clay bonding is still visible, holding the walls together. In the barn the slots for the timber crucks that held the roof in place can be seen. And an even closer look reveals that the farmstead has been altered over time, including adding extra spaces for stalling cows, and inserting dividing walls. And all of this just by casting a rapid eye over the place.

    So much could be done to bring this small part of Broubster to life. Recording it accurately, speaking to local people and researching the archives to learn about the families that worked the farm back to the mid-18th century, seeing how the landscape looked before the river was re-routed. The wallheads could also be conserved so that the longhouse survives as both a useful habitat for nature and a vernacular highlight. Just because it is no longer roofed doesn’t mean it is of little significance. I feel that it is a gem that deserves our care.


  • Scotland's national bird

    Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, tells us why he thinks golden eagles should be Scotland's national bird.

    Scotland’s national bird

    Winter has really hit with a vengeance here in the Highlands – storm force winds, blizzards, trains and ferries cancelled, and the mountain hares are turning white. But golden eagles are already thinking about next spring.

    I was up the glen the other day in perfect weather for spotting eagles – showers scudding in on a fresh breeze giving the birds plenty of lift and concentrating their activity into the dry spells. And sure enough, I was only 15 minutes from the car when I saw my first eagle of the day – a bit distant but still unmistakable with those big straight wings and splayed ‘fingers’. It hung over a herd of deer for a few moments sizing them up for any signs of weakness but seeing none drifted off and took three steep dives – eagle display!

    Eagles won’t lay their eggs until late March but now is the time for the serious business of ensuring that they still have a mate and territory when that time comes. So, whilst other wildlife is battening down the hatches for the winter, adult eagles are patrolling their bit of hill seeing off intruders.

    They are hardy birds, but it’s a tough world out there for eagles to survive – the weather is something they’re adapted to cope with but dealing with unfriendly humans is more of a challenge. The latest statistics paint a depressing picture but eagles deserve much more respect and the law-abiding majority of us will prevail.

    Please show your support by adding your name to those asking for golden eagles to be named as Scotland’s national bird – petition closes on Friday 6 December so you’ll need to be quick!!