January, 2015

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.
  • Gordonbush: putting the record straight

    Senior Conservation Policy Officer, Richard Evans, has this response to a recent online article on a 35-turbine windfarm at Gordonbush in Sutherland. 

    Gordonbush: putting the record straight

    In a recent online article James Delingpole states that the RSPB was “instrumental in easing through the planning process” a 35-turbine windfarm at Gordonbush, in east Sutherland.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We have asked the publishers of the article to have it withdrawn or amended but as that has not yet happened we have produced this response to help clarify our involvement at Gordonbush.

    Perhaps the most obviously misleading inference made in Mr Dellingpole’s article is that the RSPB encouraged the Gordonbush windfarm to happen. Given that we formally objected to the development through the planning process, and tried our hardest to stop it, it is hard to see how he could make this leap. This is also certainly not what the Scottish Ministers thought. In their decision letter[1] they are clear that the RSPB objected to the proposal, and maintained that objection, even after SNH had withdrawn[2] theirs.

    SNH’s withdrawal was conditional on SSE paying for research into the effects of the windfarm on golden plover (condition 6.40 of the consent[3]). The RSPB continued to oppose the windfarm but accepted that, should the windfarm go ahead despite our concerns, it would be important to monitor impacts and a research project could produce useful results. RSPB scientists were eventually appointed to carry out the research, in order to ensure that the results were as thorough and robust as possible. 

    Fieldwork is now complete, and the results are due to be submitted shortly for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The results will certainly be published when that process is complete but journal publication takes some time due to the need to ensure findings are thoroughly checked and robust. 

    Golden plover, Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    Delingpole goes on to generalise from his misinterpretation of the Gordonbush story, to suggest that:  “... rather than using its campaigning muscle to stop wind farms being built on the uplands where raptors and other rare and protected birds tend to congregate, it instead often found itself in the strange position of supporting wind projects.” In general, the RSPB unashamedly does support the development of well designed and carefully sited windfarms. We desperately need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the effects of climate change on birds and other wildlife.

    Supporting the development of windfarms, as well as other renewables and energy reduction measures, is clearly part of what we need to do to protect wildlife from climate change. Due in no small part to the efforts of the RSPB, working with Governments and industry, the vast majority of windfarms in the UK are generating much needed renewable energy and causing no significant harm to wildlife. However, individual projects can sometimes still pose a significant threat and the RSPB opposes these vociferously.

    James Delingpole has obviously forgotten about (or quite possibly selectively never heard of) the Lewis windfarm[4], or Stacain[5], or SSE’s abandoned scheme at Waterhead Moor[6] to name just a few high profile cases fought by the RSPB – never mind the many other schemes that have been dropped before reaching the formal application stage, as a consequence of RSPB pressure.

    Gordonbush is one of the few windfarms where, unfortunately, we haven’t managed to stop a damaging windfarm from going ahead.  We will be looking to work with the Scottish Government, SNH and the windfarm operators to see what action can be taken to reverse the impacts on golden plover at Gordonbush. The extent to which golden plover have been affected by the windfarm will be included in RSPB’s scientific paper, which (subject to the peer-review process) should be published some time in 2015. The content of that publication will be factual – unlike James Delingpole’s latest contribution.

  • What to see in Scotland this month

    There’s plenty of wonderful wildlife to enjoy in Scotland and each month of the year can offer you something different. This blog is all about the sights you could see across the country in January.

    What to see in Scotland this month

    Throwing your head back and suddenly kicking out your feet while whistling loudly is certainly one way to get the attention of the opposite sex.

    I probably wouldn’t recommend you try it on your average Saturday night out, but it works well for one of Scotland’s more showy species - the goldeneye. 

    Goldeneye male displaying, Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

    This striking and pretty unique behaviour is part of the courtship display for the male goldeneye and is best seen in Scotland in winter (usually January and February). The male duck will throw its head right back while letting out a loud rasping whistle and kicking out its feet to churn up surface spray – all in the hope of impressing and attracting a mate.

    A good place to spot this species is on our Abernethy nature reserve and they’ve also been seen at RSPB Scotland Mersehead.

    Goldeneye male displaying, Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

    But it’s not just courting ducks that are out in force in the chillier months - January is an excellent time of year to see gannets in Scotland, as they start returning to the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. Gannets are Britain’s largest seabird and numbers here peak at over 150,000 making it the single largest gannet colony in the world.

    Gannet adult with chick at Bass Rock, Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    Not only is the sheer number of these birds impressive, but did you know that when diving for food gannets can hit the water at more than 60 mph?! They have specially developed neck muscles and a spongy bone plate at the base of the bill to reduce the impact, as well as special membranes to guard their eyes. 

    Red squirrel, Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    Red squirrels are also a good species to try and spot in January – these mammals don’t actually hibernate they just become less active in winter. Next time you’re out on a woodland walk cast your eyes skyward and you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of red squirrels in their ‘mating chase’ with several males scurrying after a female.

    Estimates suggest there are roughly 121,000 of these charismatic little fellows in Scotland, many of them in Aberdeenshire and Tayside.

    So all in all January is a great time of year for spotting some of Scotland’s most special wildlife and if you fancy braving the recent weather it’s definitely worth seeking out!

    And don’t forget we have our Big Garden Birdwatch coming up on the weekend of 24 and 25 January which is an excellent way to spend a spare hour counting the birds, mammals and reptiles that visit your garden. Sign up here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/

  • Helping our birds through the winter

    Kat Jones, RSPB Scotland’s Public Affairs Manager in South and West Scotland, looks at the importance of feeders for birds during the colder months. 

    Helping our birds through the winter

    The weather may be chilly and the evenings dark, but, for me, this is the time of year when I look forward to seeing the bright and colourful birds that come to my feeder. Chaffinches and blue tits are just gorgeous when you see them close up and, since an experience I had last week, I have resolved to get down to the RSPB Shop for Nature and get myself a feeder to stick to my window so I can get a really good view. 

    Last week I was walking up a road close to my home in Glasgow when I heard a tinkling sound like tiny bells, looked up and saw a lime-tree full of goldfinches and siskins. They were flying back and forth from two feeders filled with seed that were attached to the window of a top floor tenement flat. 


    There were so many I kept loosing count but I reached at least 30. As I stood in wonder looking at the birds, someone emerged from the main door of the tenement and it happened to be an old work colleague (and ornithologist - surprise surprise). I never get goldfinches and siskins in my garden and so asked him the secret to the twinkling and tinkling flocks of finches.  His tip was: “I always keep my feeders topped up, and one of the feeders is for nyjer seed.”

    Now if there is one thing that needs a New Year resolution from me, it is to keep my feeders topped up. Birds need to know where food is to be found in winter. It’s a tough time of year for birds and food sources are scarce. The longer birds need to stay out foraging, the more energy they use up and the more at risk they are from predation.


    A researcher at the University of Glasgow who I have been working with recently, Ross MacLeod, explained to me that, when the nights are long, birds need more energy to survive the long night. He is looking into how birds decide how much fat to store: the fatter the bird, the more likely they are to be able to survive the night and the slower they are to get away from predators. If birds know they have ready access to food they can risk staying a little slimmer and stay agile.

    So I had better get my New Year Resolution sorted out soon, it’s nearly the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch on 24-25 January when people all over Scotland and the rest of the UK will be spending an hour recording the wildlife in their gardens and I want to be ready!

    Sign up for the Big Garden Birdwatch and discover what food and feeders different birds prefer here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/