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.
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!