February, 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.
  • Edinburgh Phoenix – Help them to say “Yes In My Backyard!”

    RSPB Scotland Youth Officer, Nicole Brandon has this new blog on a fantastic new project the Edinburgh Phoenix group are raising funds for. 

    Edinburgh Phoenix – Help them to say “Yes In My Backyard!”

    This February, Edinburgh Phoenix group are asking for help in raising the funds for a huge new project at Hermitage of Braid. But time is running out for them to win support, so please read on to discover more about their ambitious and truly wild new venture!

    You may have seen in past news from this group, that they have spent many hours over the last three years designing, building and maintaining a beautiful little raised bed garden as part of their ongoing relationship with Hermitage of Braid. Now, they have an opportunity to do much, much more.

    Thanks to their steadiness and dedication, the Edinburgh Phoenix group are now the only community group still tending to the community section of the raised bed garden; this has earned them a special opportunity to take charge of the whole area and transform it into a walk-through wildlife garden.

    Their plans are truly exciting:

    “We believe the wildlife garden project will allow the group to make a lasting contribution to wildlife conservation in the area. It will also be an invaluable project in terms of bringing together the different voluntary and community groups that work in the area, demonstrate to the public a range of measures they can take to make space for nature (from bird boxes to ponds) and most importantly allow the teenage members of RSPB Edinburgh Phoenix to develop career-relevant conservation skills.”- Edinburgh Phoenix Group

    From creating their own pond, to planning and signposting paths, to creating and maintaining a miniature meadowland, the experience the Phoenix group will gain from this project shall be second-to-none. Most importantly to them, the garden will be an extension of the original raised bed project completed in 2013. It will be for many different garden users, with special attention made to keep it accessible and fun for those with visual, learning or mobility challenges which can sometimes keep people from fully enjoying and experiencing wild spaces.

    Funding to make this walk-through wildlife garden possible is being raised through the new fundraising programme called YIMBY. Short for ‘Yes In My Back Yard’, YIMBY is a tool to help people raise money to improve their local area, and enable local activism from young people to find a broader audience. However, there is a catch – they only have a limited time to raise the funds needed. £1100 is their target, and with £250 raised so far and a closing date of Feb 21st, they have a lot yet to do to reach it.

    If you’re keen to learn more about the Edinburgh Phoenix group’s  project, or you’re already convinced to give a few pounds towards helping them reach their goal – please click through to here: https://www.justgiving.com/yimby/phoenix#/ and get involved!

    And to everyone who has read this far, here is a big wild thank you, from Edinburgh Phoenix!

  • For the love of skootie alan

    Jenny Tweedie from RSPB Scotland talks us through climate change, musicals and her love of arctic skua in this new blog. 

    For the love of skootie alan

    Arctic skua, Andrew Tweedie

    When I was about nine years old, I went to see a musical called Yanomamo;  it was probably my first real experience of global conservation issues. Sting made it famous in the 1980s, but for those who don’t know it, the show is a series of songs that highlight the incredible biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest, before depicting its slow destruction at the hands of loggers, ranchers, and government policy.

    It’s cheerful stuff, and to a child, it was particularly hard-hitting. But it wasn’t my only experience of conservation 80s-style. Anyone who watched Blue Peter in that (of course golden) era could not have been unaware of the so-called ‘Greenhouse effect’, flagged up between accessories made from washing-up liquid bottles, and the devastating tragedy that was the vandalism of the Blue Peter fish pond.

    I suppose I thought, naively at the time, that people were sorting it all out, that if I was aware of global warming and sloths being burned out of their homes, somewhere, someone would be working on it. Because we had clever scientists, and people with big brains who could create computers, and digital watches, and top-loading video recorders. Surely one of them was coming up with a solution to deforestation and paying heed to the warnings about the ice-caps melting, and all those other dreadful things that we were already being told about 30 years ago.

    But the truth is that since I sat and watched Yanomamo, around 400,000 square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed (and that’s just in Brazil), and far from finding a solution to global warming, 2014 was the hottest year on record - for everyone everywhere.

    So my magic scientists and smart people haven’t managed to stop our seemingly inevitable march towards self-destruction, and I’m no longer naive enough to imagine that I can leave these issues up to other people. Which I guess is one of the reasons that I work for RSPB Scotland.

    However, the thing about climate change, as with the destruction of the rainforest, is that it’s just so big. One person alone can’t solve it, and it’s hard enough to even fit it neatly as a concept into your brain. It’s also terribly abstract. Human beings like facts, and respond best to absolutisms, rather than vaguely appealing-sounding predictions about warmer summers.

    But if the higher instance of extreme weather, droughts, food shortages, flooding and record-breaking cyclones aren’t enough to wake us up, then what is?

    For me, it’s been small things in unexpected places.  

    In July 2011, I visited Fair Isle, a tiny island that sits between Shetland and Orkney, battered by winds and seas, and home to some truly amazing wildlife. One of the birds that nests on Fair Isle is the Arctic skua. Known locally as skootie alan, it’s a beautiful bird with an unexpectedly ferocious reputation. Stray into their nesting area, and you’ll know about it soon enough, as they’ll aggressively drive off any intruders, and they don’t pull their punches.

    Arctic skua chick, Andy hay

    One blustery afternoon while out for a walk, we were gifted with an amazing display from a pair of Arctic skuas, swooping and diving around us with all the skill and agility of fighter pilots. It went on for an age, and wasn’t in the least bit aggressive. At the time, it seemed more like the birds were just having fun.  

    Arctic skuas didn’t fledge a single chick on Fair Isle in 2011. In fact, they didn’t fledge any chicks in 2013 either and only managed one for the whole island in 2012. The skuas weren’t being aggressive towards us out on our walk, because they had nothing to protect.

    Arctic skuas, like their big brothers the bonxies (great skuas) are pirates, or kleptoparasites to give them their proper name. They earn their living by stealing food from other seabirds. There’s less food coming in now, as many seabird numbers nose dive across the UK, a phenomenon that scientists believe is directly related to warming seas. There’s less for the skuas to steal, and the Arctic skuas have also become vulnerable to predation due to their dwindling numbers and the pressure for food.

    Some estimates predict that they will no longer be breeding in Scotland at all by the end of the century. From the emerging pattern of breeding failure, I think it might be much sooner.

    I think what affects me now when I think about climate change, is actually not the grand disaster and destruction that worried me so much when I was young. It’s these sudden, quiet revelations. It’s the knowledge that an obscure bird on a remote Scottish island that few will ever visit, is unable to feed its young.

    This isn’t something that’s just going to impact upon generations to come, it’s happening now.  And even though I’ve never invented a top-loading video player, I have to believe that we have the power between us, to stop it.

    For the love of skootie alan.   


  • What to see in Scotland this month II

    There have been some really crisp clear days so far this month – perfect for wildlife watching. This blog is all about some of the wonderful wildlife you can see around Scotland in February.

    What to see in Scotland this month II

    When I was little my favourite creature to spot any time I was outdoors was a ladybird. One of my neighbours used to have a huge hedge all the way around her garden and me and a couple of friends would wedge ourselves in between the branches looking for these beautiful beetles, before collecting them up to count their spots and waiting for them to fly away off the ends of our fingers.

    Seven spotted ladybird, Sebastian Knight.

    There were never as many to see there in winter though, and I later learned that the low temperatures in Scotland at this time of year make ladybirds inactive. Many will tuck themselves away to avoid the cold, so you may spot several huddled together in the cracks of tree trunks or the corners of your garden shed - some even use window frames for shelter and may just invite themselves inside if given the chance.

    There’s a common myth about ladybirds that the number of spots on their back indicates their age, and as I’m writing this I think my mum might have told me that when I was young. But their bright colouring and pattern is actually for protection - it basically warns predators that they don’t taste nice. Any species which eats one is unlikely to want to go back for seconds and the spots serve as a helpful reminder.

    Waxing feeding in hedge of Wild privet, Andy Hay

    Another couple of species you may want to look out for this month are snow bunting and waxwing. Both of these birds are winter visitors in the main, though there is a small number of resident snow bunting here.  Waxwings will be around for a few months yet and normally stick to the east of the country.

    These stocky little birds are pretty acrobatic when it comes to feeding and are able to catch flying insects. They’ll visit any habitat that provides them with food and are known to turn up in parks, gardens, and relatively busy public places - especially if there are berry-bearing bushes to snack on!

    Snow bunting, Scottish Natural Heritage

    The snow bunting is the most northerly-breeding of any land bird on earth, in some places living very close to Inuit settlements. In February look out for them on the seashore feeding along the strand-line, or on rough grassland near the coast. During the winter months there can be up to 12,500 snow buntings in Scotland, arriving here from Iceland, Greenland, and Scandanavia.

    Scarlet Elfcup, www.first-nature.com

    For those of you who scour the forest floor when out and about – bear in mind a fungus known as the Scarlet Elfcup. Though with its fantastically vibrant red colouring it’s quite hard to miss. This is a winter species that appears on dead sticks and branches, often buried in leaf litter and moss. You’ll usually be able to see them until early spring and they’re more common in the west of Scotland where it’s wetter.

    The Scarlet Elfcup makes a tiny puffing sound when it releases its spores into the air and if you pick some of these you’ll feel the outside of the cup is covered in an almost matted coating of tiny hairs.

    Happy wildlife watching and we’ll be back with another ‘what to see’ blog in March!