August, 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.
  • Going with the Flow

    Genevieve Dalley, RSPB Trainee Ecologist, tells us about a recent trip to Forsinard Flows.

    Going with the Flow

    As a trainee ecologist I get to travel around Scotland, waving nets and poking through pond weed in search of freshwater invertebrates.

    This week I was at Forsinard Flows, right at the very top of Scotland. The birds have largely moved on by this time of year but there is still plenty of interest, such as the carnivorous sundew plants (below) coming into flower.

    There was also an abundance of dragonflies and damselflies – with common hawkers whizzing past my ears and female black darters (who are in fact bright yellow) busy laying eggs in the sparkling pools.

    Common hawker dragonfly (Aeshna juncea).

    Female black darter (Sympetrum danae).

    I was also lucky enough to have a ‘first’ moment: the first time I have ever seen the incredible egg laying behaviour of the emerald damselfly.

    Once mated, the male continues to hold onto the female and together they slowly climb down a piece of reed and head underwater to lay their eggs.

    This is a risky business! It is difficult to break the surface tension to enter the water for such small creatures, and once under the water they risk being eaten by predators such as fish. They then have to attempt to break the surface water tension on the way out – not always managing to release their wings and fly again.

    Male above and female below. These emerald damselflies enter the water.

    Completely submerged, the female starts to lay eggs.

    I also had the chance to work on a project investigating the potential of some of the lochs at Forsinard for breeding Scoters. I got to use a variety of methods to survey for freshwater invertebrates (a food source for Scoter chicks) – and have fun messing about in a loch with a dry suit!

    Me (left) and fellow trainee ecologist Kirsty Godsman (right) in a loch in the depths of Forsinard.

    There is a serious side to this work – Forsinard holds a large proportion of Britain’s breeding common scoter population, which is currently a red listed species. Their numbers halved between 1995 and 2007 and the reasons for this are not fully known. However, there is a team of dedicated people determined to find out quickly and hopefully will be able to reverse this decline.

    Common scoter chicks photo Andy Hay.

    The interactions between fish, invertebrates and scoters are complicated and it is essential to untangle this web of interactions. An initial three-year study has investigated the behaviour of scoters, finding a preference for large invertebrates and shallow lochs. In light of this information, the current project aims to test various management methods to see how best to manage lochs for breeding scoters.

    These are beautiful birds but can often be overlooked as they spend a lot of time in places where few people get to see them. Once they have bred in places like the lochs of Forsinard, they up sticks and live out to sea for the winter months – making them very hardy birds!

    So, if you find yourself visiting Scotland this summer, or are not yet decided on where to take your travels, why not give Forsinard Flows a visit?

  • Good news for Scotland's seabirds

    Allan Whyte, RSPB Scotland Marine Policy Officer, gives us some good news about seabirds.

    Good news for Scotland's seabirds

    There is a glimmer of hope reflecting on Scotland’s sea. Invariably it is bad news when seabirds make the headlines, but recent announcements by the Scottish Government have bucked the trend.

    14 draft Special Protection Areas (SPAs) have been announced for seabirds, along with the designation of 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including six for black guillemots and three for sandeels.

    The announcements are an important first step towards creating a network of protected areas for seabirds and great news for RSPB Scotland and our supporters who have been campaigning for this for over a decade. We at RSPB would like to thank everyone who has taken part in our campaign and made this happen.

    Scotland is home to globally important populations of seabirds, with 95% of the EU’s great skuas, 67% of the EU’s northern gannets and 65% of the EU’s black-legged kittiwakes all breeding on Scotland’s coasts. Climate change and poor management of Scotland’s marine environment has contributed to declines in seabird populations in Scotland, with around half of our seabirds disappearing since the mid 1980s.

    A recent report, published by RSPB Scotland, identified key seabird feeding areas the Government must designate to meet its international obligations, so the draft SPAs announced are an important first step, but more must be done to properly protect seabirds in Scotland.

    RSPB Scotland’s Director, Stuart Housden said “The designation of draft Special Protection Areas is an excellent first step on what will be a long journey towards securing a healthy marine environment in Scotland. However, the real test will be how well these sites are protected and managed to help restore Scotland’s seabird populations. Although we are now at last making progress in protecting key areas, our seabirds are still without the protection they need further out at sea where they feed. The Scottish Government must bring forward more SPAs for seabirds soon and also recognise the value of MPAs for other seabirds like razorbills, kittiwakes and Arctic terns.

    “A number of crucially important areas, for example parts of the outer Firth of Forth, have not yet been protected for seabirds, despite their enormous value to gannets, kittiwakes and other species. Worryingly this is the same area being scoped for large scale offshore wind development. We will not stand idly by and let such areas be damaged. RSPB Scotland looks forward to continuing working with the Government to finish the designation job, enhance the seas around our coasts and restore our seabird and marine wildlife heritage.”

    These sites have the potential to protect and enhance Scotland’s marine environment, benefit our world class industries and our coastal communities; the challenge of unlocking that potential is still to come. Watch this space!

  • In search of the mountain ringlet

    James Silvey, RSPB Scotland Nature Recovery Officer, tells us about a recent attempt to find a sun-seeking butterfly.

    In search of the mountain ringlet

    Mountain ringlet by Oliver Smart (

     “It could be there, you just never know till you look”. That’s what I found myself telling the group of eager volunteers who had donated their time to searching for the elusive mountain ringlet butterfly on the slopes of Beinn a’ Choin, at our Inversnaid reserve on a beautiful sunny day in July.

    The mountain ringlet Erebia epiphron is a peculiar insect and our only truly montane butterfly species. Try as hard as you like, you will not find this butterfly lower than 400m but it has been recorded as high as 900m. Superficially the butterfly looks like its close relative the Scotch argus Erebia aethiops but its habits couldn’t be more different.

    Apart from living where most butterflies would fear to tread, the mountain ringlet is also a real sun worshipper. Unless there is bright sunshine during its short 2-4 weeks flying period the mountain ringlet refuses to fly. Even a passing cloud will see individuals charging down into the grass, awaiting the next wave of sunlight before returning to their slow flight over the vegetation.

    The nearest population to Inversnaid is found on the southern slopes of Ben Lomond, 7km away as the butterfly flies. As far as we know this population is the most southerly in Scotland and one of the most isolated.

    Mountain ringlets are present on Haweswater reserve in the Lake District but as yet no populations have been found on any of RSPB Scotland reserves, which sounded like a challenge.

    Looking at maps and aerial photos Inversnaid looked well suited. Wet gullies looked to harbour large patches of mat-grass (the caterpillar’s only food plant) and southerly slopes would provide plenty of basking locations for the adults. Standing in the car park in the baking sunshine it looked even better.

    Our destination was a 2hr climb to the start of the survey site at 500m with a further 2hr climb to the end and summit at 770m.

    Along the survey route the habitat looked fantastic, mat-grass dominating the wet gullies and tormentil and wild thyme providing perfect nectaring sites for the adults. Everything looked ideal apart from the lack of mountain ringlets.

    Intrepid volunteers at the summit.

    Other butterflies and moths (including a couple of beautiful wood tigers) were seen in good numbers but it seemed the mountain ringlet was absent from the site. It was hard to be disappointed though especially when we reached the summit of Beinn a’ Choin with the sun shining, overlooking Loch Lomond and with countless new records of other species for the reserve. 

    On the walk back down and with Ben Lomond and its population of mountain ringlets looming in the distance, I couldn’t help but think the future still looked positive. Grazing on the reserve has been hugely reduced since RSPB began management of the site allowing a variety of montane plants to flourish. It seems the area is primed and ready for an enterprising female to take the daring flight over from Ben Lomond and begin the colonisation process.

    It feel like time is all we need and Inversnaid has plenty of that.