Jenny Tweedie, from RSPB Scotland, has this new blog on The Great Trossachs Path opening between Callander and Inversnaid.
Travel the Trossachs
I’m probably not what you might call massively outdoorsy. I love nature, and I love being out in nature, but I don’t particularly like having to make too much of an effort to get there. And I suspect I’m not alone.
For those of us who think that gaiters are animals which live in swamps, the great outdoors of Scotland can seem a bit intimidating. So when anything comes along that makes getting out into nature just that little bit easier, I think it’s definitely something to be celebrated.
The Great Trossachs Path is just such a thing. It’s a disturbingly long-distance route all in; some 30 miles from Callander to Inversnaid, but there is of course, no obligation to walk the whole length (and there are shorter paths on the way). Like the West Highland Way, however, I suspect there will be many people who will relish the opportunity to throw off their office shoes and get out there into the wilds for a few days: the sense of achievement on the path’s completion no doubt over-riding any sore muscles experienced en route. And for cyclists, the path is well enough surfaced to take your bike the whole way, though you’ll need a bit of oomph to get up the steeper sections!
The path is a milestone for The Great Trossachs Forest project, a partnership for RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, and Woodland Trust Scotland. The whole scheme, which has been running since 2009, has been focussed on creating a massive area of native woodland through planting and natural regeneration. But a key idea for the project has also been to make it as beneficial for people as it is for the wildlife.
Nature is already enjoying the fresh wildlife corridors that are growing up due to the habitat work, and now with the completion of the path people will be able to get out there and enjoy it as well. And what an area it is to enjoy!
The Trossachs is famed for its stunning landscapes: misty woodlands, majestic lochs, and heather-clad mountains. But the history of the area is every bit as notable, with a significant emphasis on exciting stories from the times of Rob Roy. Famous artists and writers through the ages have helped to ensure the Trossachs’ reputation, with everyone from Walter Scott to Jules Verne using is as a location, and the Glasgow Boys captured its beauty in several of their most famous paintings.
An extra addition to the path is a Visitor Gateway Centre at each end, built with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and sited in the Garrison car park at Inversnaid, and the Lendrick Hill car park at Brig o’Turk. These beautiful buildings provide important facilities (like toilets!) but will also act as centres of learning, allowing visitors to interact with local wardens and other staff, and find out more about the area.
Of course they can’t be on hand 24/7, so another useful addition is the launch of a Great Trossachs Path app, which will provide smart phone users with a world of information as they move through the area. Local map firm HARVEYS, have also printed a new paper map of the whole forest, for anyone who likes to do things the traditional way.
If you’d like to know more about the path, the perfect way to get involved is to take part in the Trossachs Fun Fest, from April 11 – 18. With a wealth of great outdoor activities stretching over the whole week, you’ll be able to explore the area, and join in with everything from a marathon to a mini-beast hunt. RSPB Scotland is offering both a guided tour on Loch Lomond, and even a whisky tasting at Inversnaid. All details are in the poster, or you can check out the website: http://www.thegreattrossachsforest.co.uk/great-trossachs-path/great-trossachs-funfest.
As for me and my aversion to the great outdoors, well I’ve already tried a bit of the path (from Stronachlachar to Inversnaid), and I can certainly confirm that it’s a stunning area, with lots of discover, and plenty of gorgeous scenery to enjoy. And if I can do it, then I think anyone can do it! So get outside this spring and summer, and experience the wonders of the Trossachs, without having to get your feet too muddy.
You will have to take your midge spray though…(but not until after April!)
Better late than never as the old saying goes. Here's our blog on the wildlife to look out for across Scotland in April.
What to see in Scotland this month IV
Personally I don’t think there are many good reasons to get up and out of the house before dawn. If someone mentions it, my first reaction is usually to shudder at the mere thought.
Black grouse, Andy Hay
As you can probably tell I’m not really a morning person, however there is one wildlife spectacle that is capable of convincing me otherwise (even if just for that one day) - the possibility of seeing a black grouse lek.
At sunrise, black grouse males will gather at communal ‘lekking’ grounds to strut their stuff, fight, display, and basically do anything they can to try and grab the attention of a female. The whole proud performance is accompanied by a low soothing note known as ‘rookooing’ - a sound that can carry more than ¼ mile!
Black grouse males, Andy Hay
Each male has his own territory to defend meaning fights can often break out between rival birds, and the closer a male stands to the centre of the lek, the higher his status. These displays happen during most months of the year but April is the peak time, and although these beautifully charismatic birds are always wonderful to see, managing to catch a lek is truly special. RSPB Scotland is running several black grouse events this year, so check them out if you’re interested.
Now, when it comes to impressive aerial acrobatics, the blue tit might not be the first species to spring to mind but the return of some warm weather seems to inspire them. The males perform a sort of floating display with the male parachuting towards a low perch from a height to try and capture the attention of potential mates. Look out for this behaviour next time you’re out on a spring walk!
Blue tit, Ray Kennedy
From mid-April large white butterflies will be flitting around our gardens once again, with the females looking for suitable plants on which to lay her eggs. These butterflies are widespread and will turn up in all manner of green spaces including parks, gardens, meadows, and hedgerows including on Orkney and Shetland. Large whites have a very powerful flight and are capable of migrating over considerable distances.
And, one final garden visitor to keep our eyes peeled for this month is a nice simple one to recognise - the hedgehog!
Hedgehog, Eleanor Bentall
These prickly little creatures will start turning up again at this time of year after a long winter of hibernation, wandering into gardens and waddling around parks in search of a good meal. Hedgehogs are drawn in by lawns and flowerbeds where they can find beetles, slugs, and earthworms, making them a firm favourite with many a keen gardener looking for an efficient way to rid their veggie patches of common pests.
When threatened, hedgehogs will roll themselves into a sharp little ball to deter predators; a single hedgehog can have as many as 16,000 spines making up this impressive coat of armour.
Happy wildlife watching everyone and we’ll be back with a new ‘what to see’ blog in May!
RSPB Scotland Nature Recovery Officer, James Silvey, has this new blog on climate change and the wildlife that could be lost to it.
For the love of... Dunes
At school in the 90’s it was called global warming, the planet was heating up and cartoons showed the earth trapped, sweating in a greenhouse to illustrate the peril. We now know there is much more to climate change than warming temperatures and rising sea levels.
Natterjack toad, Jeroen Stel
Predictions suggest an increase in droughts and floods along with prolonged heat waves for some, and cold spells for others. Basically our weather is likely to become more extreme and unpredictable putting even more pressure on our natural places, species and of course, ourselves.
In the winter of 2013-14 after a trip to RSPB Scotland's Mersehead reserve in Dumfries and Galloway I was shown first hand just how devastating this extreme weather can be.
The reserve lies on the Solway coast, an incredible habitat of vast mudflats, natural saltmarsh and rolling sand dunes. In 2012 the sand dunes on the reserve stood at an impressive 4m high and protected the species-rich dune grasslands found behind its bulk from the wind, salt and spray the sea aimed in its direction on a daily basis.
Dunes really are incredible habitats, and free from the development pressures of golf courses and caravan sites they provide a unique habitat for hardy plants, invertebrates, birds and - in the case of Mersehead - the endangered natterjack toad.
Natterjack toad in pond, Roger Wilmshurst
One of only two native UK toad species, the natterjack is restricted in Scotland to the dunes and saltmarsh habitats that scatter the Solway coastline. This picture had remained largely unchanged until December 2013 when the worst recorded storms of a generation battered the UK with western areas suffering the full force of the storm.
Mersehead, like many areas was not spared the onslaught and vast areas of the reserve were left littered with debris and flooded with sea water which took weeks to fully drain away. As for the dunes, they were almost completely destroyed. Tonnes of sand, along with the plants and invertebrates associated with it were washed into the sea. So too we feared, were a good number of the natterjacks.
It was with some relief therefore that on April 23rd 2014 the first male toads started calling to signify the start of the breeding season - somehow the toads had survived.
It's a testament to the tenacity of our wildlife that recovery like this can happen, even the dunes are re-growing (1m tall last time I saw them in November). But how resilient can they be if subjected to a rise in these weather events? By their very nature dune systems are dynamic, unpredictable places, subject to change and with an ability to recover. Even so, full recovery on this scale will take years and if storms like the ones seen in 2013 increase in frequency, it is easy to see how some of our most special places will simply be washed away.
If you love dunes, natterjacks or our coasts please add your voice at www.rspb.org.uk/fortheloveof or send a message to the First Minister asking her to act on climate change.