Jenny Tweedie, from RSPB Scotland, has this great new blog on arguably our most urban nature reserve - Baron's Haugh.
Scotland’s most urban nature reserve
Baron’s Haugh must be RSPB Scotland’s most urban nature reserve. Sandwiched between Motherwell and the M74, it’s a surprisingly peaceful location, popular with both locals and visitors, who come to catch a glimpse of the reserve’s exciting range of wildlife.
Otter, Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
It’s a good place to see otters and a stronghold for nuthatches, still a rarity for much of Scotland. In summer, sand martins and migrant songsters flit over water and trees looking for insects, and in winter, whooper swans hoot out their breathy calls across the flooded meadow.
But apart from its attraction as a home for nature, Baron’s Haugh holds something of an important historical legacy. The reserve is part of the Dalzell Estate (pronounced Dee-ell), formally a royal hunting forest, then owned for many years by the Hamilton family before passing to the local authority, which still owns it today. The RSPB purchased the land for Baron’s Haugh in 1983.
The estate as a whole is listed in Historic Scotland’s Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland as a: ‘historic designed landscape of significance’. But through the years, many of its notable features have been swallowed up by time.
In the last few months, a new project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership, has been seeking to re-discover its lost history, and re-invigorate it for future generations to enjoy.
For RSPB Scotland, this meant the involvement of our in-house archaeologist, Jill Harden, who visited Baron’s Haugh last year to carry out surveys before helping to plan the restoration works that would take place on the reserve.
Re-digging the old curling pond
The most spectacular part of this to date has been the re-digging of an old curling pond near the banks of the River Clyde, which had almost completely dried up and disappeared through years of disuse.
The work also involved planting trees in the designed parkland, including several old avenues, most notably the reserve’s ‘chestnut walk’, where new sweet chestnuts went in to replace the old non-native horse chestnuts -sadly the victim of disease.
Much of the work was carried out by volunteers, who spent many hours constructing sturdy wooden fences around the young trees to protect them from the reserve’s cattle. Children from local schools also became involved, helping to re-plant an ancient orchard, while learning more about their area’s history.
Volunteers constructing sturdy wooden fences
Now complete, the restoration project has added just one more dimension to the visitor experience at Baron’s Haugh. As well as a glimpse of that elusive otter, it’s now also possible to get a glimpse back in time: to imagine Baron’s Haugh before the motorway, and think how it might have been when the calls of the whoopers were matched with the calls of the curlers, enjoying a game not played at the site for maybe a hundred years.
Do you want to get out and see more of Scotland’s exciting wildlife? Let’s make June the time to do it! Here are some suggestions from us on what to look out for.
What to see in Scotland this month VI
If you’re a fan of outdoor swimming in Scotland even with our less than toasty climate – good for you! But if you’re not, this next sentence might not help you.
Did you know that the seas just off the Scottish coast are home to the second largest fish in the world? With a body the size of a bus and mouths large enough to hoover you up whole, basking sharks are a truly impressive sight.
Basking shark, Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
But fear not! Despite reaching lengths of up to 33ft these ‘gentle giants’ don’t actually have any teeth and only feed on plankton to fuel their colossal forms.
Summer is the best time to see basking sharks – particularly around the outer Firth of Clyde and in the waters around the Isle of Coll and the Isle of Tiree from the end of May or start of June. These secretive creatures spend most of their lives deep under water, out of sight, but during summer they’ll come to the surface to feed on plankton.
As well as the seas, you’ll want to keep your eyes on the skies this month too. Scotland gets a good number of summer migrants; birds which arrive here to breed before leaving our shores for warmer climes come autumn.
Swallows on a wire, David J Slater (rspb-images.com)
Swallows and martins, warblers, flycatchers, wheatears, whinchats, redstarts, nightingales, yellow wagtails, tree pipits, cuckoos, swifts, terns and Manx shearwaters are just some of the species to spend the summer here.
Swallows are a species a lot of us will be familiar with. They were originally cave-nesters before switching to man-made structures. It’s thought this probably happened as brick built houses became more prevalent. These little birds are remarkably versatile when it comes to choosing a nest site and have been reported in roof spaces, manholes, on beams and ledges, and one nest was even discovered attached to a paddle steamer.
Swallows are reasonably easy to identify – they have a deeply forked tail, long tail streamers, and are a sort of blue-black colour on top with a reddish brown face. Look out for them perched atop telephone wires – it’s one of their favourite places to sit!
Finally for this month comes machair. If you get a chance to see this beautiful and fragile habitat during June, or later in the summer, you should take it.
Machair habitat, Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Machair is a Gaelic word meaning fertile low lying grassy plain. It’s a coastal habitat, rich in shell-sand soil that comes alive with a huge array of rare flowers in spring and summer. The combination is so unusual that it is confined to only a few places including north-west Scotland, many of the Inner Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland, and the Isle of Lewis.
Happy wildlife watching everyone and we’ll be back with a new blog next month.
Jim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer with RSPB Scotland, has this new blog on what's coming up in the For The Love Of...campaign.
For the love of wildlife and cycling
If you are a regular reader of this blog you may remember my post about Showing the Love to Nicola Sturgeon on Valentines Day. On February 14, and ever since, we have been holding events asking people what wildlife or nature they love which will be affected by climate change.
Hundreds of children and adults have drawn their favourite animals on hearts or written something they love in nature onto our ‘For The Love Of...’ campaign postcards. At our recent Scotland’s Big Nature Festival visitors to our stand showed the love again as we created a giant ‘Love Wall’ made of children’s pictures. It was fantastic.
On Wednesday our campaign postcards and all those collected by other organisations were handed to Environment and Climate Change Minister Aileen McLeod, on behalf of the First Minister, at a Climate Rally outside Holyrood.
MSPs from all five parties spoke about the challenges ahead to meet our world leading climate targets but there was a real buzz when all the postcards were wheeled out on a trolley and handed over. A lot of love has been shown over the past months and thousands of reasons why we need strong action on climate change in Scotland and at the UN convention in Paris at the end of the year.
And the campaign is not over yet. The next big event is a lobby of MPs in Westminster on June 17. Our MPs, many of them new (especially from Scotland), need to know that we all love and care about things which will be affected by climate change.
To get to this Speak Up climate lobby three RSPB Scotland colleagues and I will be cycling from Edinburgh on a 520mile cycle ride challenge to London. We will set off from the Scottish Parliament on June 11 and arrive six and a half days later at the event.
We will also be raising awareness of the impact of climate change on wildlife as we stop off at an RSPB reserve each day along the route. Climate change is having an impact on our precious wildlife now and is affecting the UK’s special wildlife sites. We will highlight a different aspect of the challenge that nature and our reserves face from the climate each day. Follow our daily progress on our blog or on our Facebook page.
As a team we are raising money for the RSPB’s climate work. Please give a donation if you can - it will help the pedals go round! This cycle challenge certainly won’t be easy but it will be rewarding when we arrive in London to prove just how much we want to see urgent strong action on climate change.