Stuart Benn, Conservation Manager, tells us about a project to restore peatlands in the Flow country.
Bogs haven’t always enjoyed the best press.
Phrases like bogged down, bog standard and bog off really just reflect how we’ve treated them in the past – the home of brigands, monsters and disease, wastelands only fit for drainage and planting up with foreign trees.
But attitudes are changing – increasingly, we see that bogs are brilliant for wildlife, inspiring places of big skies and twinkling stars, and safehouses for vast amounts of carbon that does us a lot more good locked up underground than it would swirling about in the atmosphere.
And bogs don’t come much bigger than those of the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland in the far north of Scotland – so spacious that you could fit Greater London into them and still leave room for a squelchy border. If you want a big bog with big benefits then look no further.
And those benefits are about to get even greater thanks to the Flow to the Future project being run by the Peatland Partnership - they have ambitious plans. Damaged areas will be restored; researchers will learn more about how the bogs contribute in the fight against climate change; staff will work with local schools and local communities in all kinds of imaginative ways; visitors of all abilities will have opportunities to experience the bogs that they’ve never had before and, through the virtual world, the bogs will be brought to those who can’t visit.
Good news for the bogs, good news for the Flow Country, good news for the planet. And good news for the local economy too.
Keep an eye out as the plans unfold and take shape - this bog is on a roll!
Find out more about our Forsinard Flows reserve here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/f/forsinard/
Trainee ecologist Kirsty Godsman tells us about a recent trip to the island of Coll.
Meloe, is it me you are looking for?
If you have read my previous blogs, you will be aware of a group of beetles called Oil Beetles (of the genus Meloe). There are 5 species belonging to this genus in the UK and all are fairly uncommon. Some are incredibly rare. I was sent on a mission back in May to try to find one of these rarer beetles on the Hebridean island of Coll along with RSPB colleagues, James Silvey and Genevieve Dalley and invertebrate experts, Scott Shanks and Suzanne Bairner from Buglife. The beetle in question was the Short-necked Oil Beetle (Meloe brevicollis) and, until about 2008, it was thought to be extinct in the UK. At present there are two small populations in the UK – one in Devon and the other in Coll.
Genevieve, myself, Suzanne and James off to search for Oil Beetles in the sand dunes
Arriving on the ferry from Oban, our hopes were high as the weather report was good (for the next few days at least) and we were well prepared. So we enthusiastically packed our lunch and loaded up the car and, just as we were about to set off to meet Ben, the RSPB warden on Coll, there was a sudden, loud, thunder clap! Now, a little rain won’t put off your average ecologist but it certainly will cause most of the insect life to scarper for shelter! Nevertheless, we stuck to the plan and headed for our first site – waterproofs and all. It was cold, windy and wet and we weren’t finding much but the weather was slowly becoming favourable again. Heads down, we searched until...
Short-necked oil beetle (Meloe brevicollis).
Found one! Everyone rushed over to see what Suzie had found and, sure enough, we had our first Short-necked Oil Beetle (Meloe brevicollis). Now the sun had come out and the wildlife seemed to be following it as we were up to 5 oil beetles in no time and started to see some of Coll’s other incredible invertebrates such as the Red-shanked Carder Bee (Bombus ruderarius) and the Moss Carder Bee (B. muscorum).
Moss carder bee (Bombus muscorum) and Red-shanked carder bee (Bombus ruderarius).
Although relatively common on Coll, both of these species are very rare on the mainland but so it was an absolute treat to get to see so many. After the first day we had seen 50 Short-necked oil beetles and a whole range of other bits and bobs, including a sighting of a Corncrake – what a great start!
A calling Corncrake (Crex crex).
As the sun was shining on day two, we all felt quietly (or maybe not so quietly?) confident about what we might find on our hunt. And sure enough, we found plently! On top of more oil beetles, we saw some Green Hairstreak butterflies (Callophrys rubi), lots of Dor beetles and some Belted Beauty moths (Lycia zonaria).
James and Suzanne searching for oil beetles, a Green Hairstreak butterfly (Callophrys rubi) and a Spring Dumbledor beetle (Trypocopris vernalis).
A male Belted beauty moth (Lycia zonaria) – females are wingless.
On day three, we were going to go all out and try to find oil beetles at a new site in the south of the island. But the weather was really not on our side. Cold, wet and windy, we walked for hours and hours looking for the beetles and found nothing. The habitat looked perfect but the cold had chased everything into hiding... or had it? Were they even there at all? Were we imagining things?
Day 3 – cold and misty but still pretty!
We had just one day left to hunt for oil beetles and it was cloudy but warm. So we split up to increase our chances of finding anything. It was a slow start but eventually we started finding them! So we decided to move on to some un-surveyed sites including yesterday’s seemingly ideal dune grassland. After much debate over where we were and where we were supposed to be (it really should have been more straightforward on an island with as few roads as Coll) Genevieve and I set off into a field looking for oil beetles. As we topped the small hill in front of us, we were confronted with dune grasslands as far as the eye could see... very promising. We began looking for a good, sheltered slope to start looking but before we could reach one, we found a little male Short-necked oil beetle at our feet. After a short photo-shoot, we started searching for more. And we were not disappointed. As it got late we made our way back to our rendezvous point with James to see if he had found anything in the south. It was a hugely successful day in the end with another 47 Short-necked Oil Beetles (156 in total), two new sites for the species on Coll and some very happy beetle hunters!
A happy beetle hunter and a very obliging oil beetle!
Have you spotted any oil beetles lately? Be sure to let Buglife know via: http://www.buglife.org.uk/oil-beetle-survey _
Read more blogs by Kirsty:
It's easy to do simple things to help your garden wildlife. Giving simple advice as to what those things should be, isn’t so easy.
The reason is that everyone’s situation is so different. Your garden might be a small decked area in the centre of a city, or a vast sweeping vista of beautiful lawns and exotic trees overlooking the sea. You might have a pond or a patio, even a pergola. There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to making your outdoor area suitable for all the insects, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles that might want to use it. But there are some general things that we can all do and adapt to whatever situation we’re in.
So here are my top five basic gardening tips for wildlife:
1 Go organic
Practicing organic gardening makes good sense for wildlife, whatever your situation. There are plenty of ways to improve your soil or add extra oomph to containers, without resorting to chemical fertilisers, and lots of ways to tackle pests without reaching for something toxic. In a well-balanced garden, wildlife will help you fight back against the slugs and aphids, and even on a balcony, there are alternatives to chemicals.
Peat bogs are fabulous homes for nature
2 Be peat-free
Peat belongs in the ground, not in our gardens. In its proper place (ie a peat bog) it creates a fabulous habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including carnivorous plants, lizards, and threatened birds, like hen harriers. It also stores carbon, can help alleviate flooding, and makes a wonderful place to visit and enjoy. You can grow plants without peat, and peat-free alternatives are available and work really well, so try to use them whenever possible.
3 Encourage pollinators
Some of the greatest wildlife losses in recent years have been amongst our pollinating insects (bees, butterflies, hoverflies etc). Providing flowers for them not only supports a wider population, but can also help the fruiting plants in your own garden. Flowers in containers work well, and look great even in tiny areas. In larger gardens, you might consider planting some wildflowers, or growing some fruit trees for early blossom. Try to have things blooming for most of the year, and you could also put up a bug box for things like hibernating butterflies and ladybirds.
Consider planting some wildflowers
In Scotland, it rains a lot. But that doesn’t mean we should be careless with water in the garden! Try to avoid sprinklers, and watering in the middle of a hot day is pointless, as so much will evaporate. Evening is best. Use mulches to retain water, and try not to have large expanses of bare soil. Water can also be good for wildlife and putting out even a simple container for bathing and drinking will be appreciated by everything from bees to hedgehogs. But remember to clean it out and top it up regularly.
5 Respond locally
If you want to help your local wildlife, then why not do some investigating into what needs help in your area. You might find that you’re on a migration route for butterflies, or that your local house sparrows could do with a hand. You may even find that you could install something like a barn owl box, or do some work to encourage water voles!
Whatever you choose to do in your garden, even small changes can make a big difference for wildlife, so it’s definitely worthwhile.
For more tips, you can request a free Giving Nature a Home guide from our website http://homes.rspb.org.uk/
Peat bog by Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com), bee on cornflower by Jenny Tweedie