January, 2014

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.
  • Challenges of habitat management- Inversnaid

    Some of you have been in touch recently with concerns about work to control feral goats at our Inversnaid reserve. For more information on this issue please see the email below.

    Goats and the Inversnaid Special Area of Conservation

    There has been a lot of concern over the welfare of the goats at our Inversnaid reserve and we wanted to send a reply to everyone that has taken the time to email us on this issue.

    As the country's largest conservation organisation, the RSPB cares about all nature, and the reduction in number of these wild goats is a decision we've been forced to take with a very heavy heart. Our Inversnaid reserve is not only a beautiful woodland it is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which means we are legally bound to protect it from damage, from whatever source.

    In May 2012, we were advised by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Government conservation advisors, that the condition of the site was deteriorating and rare flora were at risk. In their opinion, this was the result of heavy grazing by the wild goats and because of the site's legal protection we had no choice but to do something to halt the damage.

    The intention has never been to eradicate the goat population at Inversnaid, but to reduce the numbers to a level that maintains a harmony with the reserve. We initially sought a proposal for re-locating the goats, but didn't manage to find a viable alternative and so we were left with no choice but to go ahead with the cull.

    Recent publicity has brought forward other offers of help with re-location, including an offer from Hillside Animal Sanctuary, which had not been made to us previously, but which is now being investigated.

    So now we have an offer of somewhere to put the goats, but we still have no clear way of corralling them or safely capturing and transporting them the long distance to Norfolk. The terrain at the reserve is very steep, dangerous and difficult to access and the animals are naturally wild as they have never been domesticated. So we need to be sure that whatever we do, all the appropriate animal welfare, legal, health and safety and other official requirements are met.

    It's too late to put all these measures in place for this year, as the cull is nearly over and has to be completed by the end of this month to avoid the breeding season. We sincerely hope we can find a way forward in discussion with experts in animal welfare that allows us to meet SNH's concerns and avoid the need to cull in the future.

    We would like to re-assure you that we will be actively pursuing these new offers of help, to try and see if an alternative solution can be found to this complicated and unfortunate problem.

    Thanks again for taking the time to email us

    Dr Mike Clarke
    RSPB Chief Executive

     UPDATE

    The goat management work at Inversnaid to protect the internationally important site has come to an end for 2013. No further goat managment is planned until September 2014. On Monday 9th December RSPB Scotland met with representatives from a range of interested parties, including Scotland for Animals, the Feral Goat Research Group and SNH to discuss alternative options for addressing goat-grazing pressure. Recent interest in our work at Inversnaid has resulted in a variety of suggestions and offers of assistance, which we welcome. We will now include a full assessment of these new options in our annual review of management to restore this amazing and special habitat to favourable condition. Working with experts and interested parties, we will reach a clear decision on a way forward which offers a sustainable and legal solution.

  • Soil is amazing – honestly, it is

    Jim Densham, our senior land use policy officer, tells us why we should really care more about soil.

    When I have told people I am writing a blog article about soil the general reaction has been mild laughter. Soil just isn’t sexy or inspiring. However, when you think about it, you realise soil is vital for life. It underpins our ecosystem foodchains and is the medium in which we grow our food so it’s pretty important. Perhaps we are conditioned to not like dirt from childhood – “Wipe your muddy feet before you come in here”. Let’s face it, unless you are a farmer or a soils scientist most of us don’t think about soil, let alone be inspired by it.

      credit: Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com

    Just think about wildlife’s interactions with soil for a minute. Starting at the smallest level 1 teaspoon of soil can contain 10,000 different species of bacteria and fungi. Soils are packed full of tiny organisms, much of which is food for birds and other wildlife. Think of a blackbird pulling a worm from the ground or a curlew probing for invertebrates. Soil is the place in which many insects spend their larval stage and where other animals burrow to hibernate or give birth. Even some birds, such as kingfishers, sand martins and puffins use burrows. And, I haven’t mentioned plants which grow in soil, and habitats which are where they are because of the soil type.

      credit: Chris Gomersall (www.rspb-images.com)

    Are you inspired yet? What about the other less known functions of soil. Scotland has abundant peaty soils which store more than 10 times the amount of carbon as in all the UK’s forests. Our soils filter and store billions of litres of water, and preserve our culture and archaeology. And of course, soil is used to grow food and timber, worth millions to the Scottish economy.

    Last month Government launched Scotland’s soils website http://www.soils-scotland.gov.uk/ and I was asked for my opinions of it. I think it’s a useful website bringing together lots of existing information, literature and science and presenting it coherently. There are some good stats, cool infographics and information about why soils are important.

    One gripe is that it could do more to outline the current state of Scotland’s soil or the pressures on it. For example, RSPB Scotland is very concerned about the state of our vast peatland soils and habitats in Scotland. 40% of peatland sites designated for nature are in unfavourable condition and there is little data on the quality of soil in other peatland areas http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/peatlands_tcm9-263559.pdf . The State of Scotland’s Soils report http://www.soils-scotland.gov.uk/documents/15130508_SOSreport.pdf highlighted the issues affecting our soils. It listed many threats to soil biodiversity and considered it as a high concern, but also showed many uncertainties due to lack of data.

    But, what I want the new website to do most of all is to inspire those who manage our countryside to appreciate all the functions of soil and manage it more sustainably. Soil is one of the building blocks of life - essential for wildlife, ecosystems and our economy. If we are to look after our soil we need to stop taking it for granted and value it for ALL its many benefits. Should it be Government’s job to inspire the public about soil through this new website – probably not. Should the website be used and developed to inspire land managers about soil and how to look after it – yes. Should it be Government’s job to put measures in place to protect and enhance fragile and finite soil stocks – very definitely.

      credit: Ben Andrew (www.rspb-images.com)

  • Inversnaid habitat management update

    Inversnaid habitat management update

    A bit of a recap:

    As we have explained in a previous blog, doing conservation  sometimes requires that we make very difficult decisions. And it is at one of Britain’s most special woodland habitats, the Atlantic oak woodlands of Inversnaid, that we have recently been engaged with the realities of these challenges.

    These woodlands, exquisitely beautiful and running alongside Loch Lomond, are globally important for their lichens, mosses and bryophytes and are home to pied flycatchers, wood warblers and a host of other species. However the woodland is no longer in good condition due to the impact of the increasing numbers of feral goats living in the woodland and damaging the trees, lichens, mosses and eating any seedlings and saplings.  We have been told by the Government’s environment adviser SNH that we need to reduce the numbers of goats or gaps in the woodland will widen, and another fragment of this important habitat will be lost.

     An update

    We had explored a relocation option as part of our internal processes, prior to approving the cull target, however recent publicity has brought more offers of help and assistance to our attention. In view of this we met with some of the interested parties and are now exploring the options that this has opened up. As part of assessing the feasibility of relocation we have put our grazing and livestock specialists in touch with a couple of places that offered the potential of space for the goats.  Two of these sites have been back in touch with us and we will arrange for a visit from RSPB staff to assess the facilities with a view to welfare of the feral goats.

    We are also in the process of engaging an independent animal welfare expert to do a full options appraisal on how best to reduce the impacts on the woodland from the goats at Inversnaid. This expert will report specifically on the implications and efficiency of each option with particular focus on animal welfare.    This study will then be used to inform our decision making when choosing the best methods reducing the impacts of goats on this precious habitat at Inversnaid.