September was an impressive month for onshore wind in Scotland. Output rose by 36% from last year, and on two days, wind turbines provided output equivalent to more than our total electricity needs – the first time this has happened twice in one month. Renewables now provide around 60% of our electricity needs, with onshore wind providing the lion’s share.
This is good news for the climate, which in turn protects our wildlife. The recently published 2016 State Of Nature report showed that species we know and love, such as the kittiwake and capercaillie, are already suffering from the effects of our changing climate, and tidal habitats like saltmarsh are being lost because of rising sea levels.
There is an urgent need to reduce emissions to tackle these issues, and we therefore continue to support more renewable energy in Scotland. However, it remains vitally important that wind farms are located to avoid harming our special species and habitats. Poorly sited projects can harm birds, and damage habitats like peatlands, which store vast amounts of carbon in addition to providing homes to many species. However, our experience tells us, where projects are located away from these areas, they are unlikely to pose significant threats.
RSPB Scotland continues to invest a great deal of time engaging with onshore wind. Between 2005 and 2015, we reviewed just under one thousand applications – around two every week. We objected to between13% of proposals between 2011 and 2015 – compared to 9% from 2005 to 2010. However, of this 13%, we withdrew our objection around a third of the time, after more information was provided or plans were dropped or improved. The slight increase in objections over time reflects the fact that appropriate sites are, understandably, becoming harder to find. Having said this, our recent report, The RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision, has shown there is still significant scope for more onshore wind in Scotland, if we plan this carefully.
We will always fight hard against proposals which threaten sites and species of conservation importance, such as our current campaign to protect the Flow Country in Sutherland from the proposed Strathy South wind farm. Proposed on a site completely surrounded by land designated for its wildlife importance, and home to iconic species like red-throated diver, hen harrier and the rare wood sandpiper, this is clearly not the right place for a large wind farm.
We also aim to ensure that the wind farms that do go ahead incorporate benefits for birds and other wildlife. For example, we provided conservation advice to inform the recently consented Aikengall IIa wind farm in the Scottish Borders. This scheme includes various measures to improve the condition of the upland heathland and mire habitats and also improve the diversity of the native ‘cleugh’ woodland.
Wind farms are far from the whole story when we’re talking about planning energy systems for the future though. Whilst good progress has been made in electricity, change has been slow in heat and transport, which account for the majority of our emissions. Our new report with WWF Scotland and Friends of the Earth Scotland, shows we should be aiming for 50% renewable energy by 2030, and delivering low carbon heat and transport is key to this.
In the coming months, the Scottish Government will publish a draft ‘Scottish Energy Strategy’, aimed at securing the transition to low carbon energy - the first time we have had this kind of long-term plan for our whole energy system. RSPB Scotland will work hard to make sure the strategy takes wildlife into account, as well as being bold on emissions reductions. Only by achieving both of these aims will our energy future be truly sustainable.
Five facts you need to know about whooper swans
One sure sign that the season is turning other than temperatures getting colder and days getting shorter is the arrival of the many species of migrant birds that come to Scotland every year to spend the winter.
One of these is the very beautiful whooper swan - some of you may have been lucky enough to see them (or hear them!) already as the main time they arrive in large numbers is mid to late October. To celebrate the arrival of these much loved birds here are five facts you need to know about them.
How to tell whooper swans from mute swans
How do you know for sure you’ve seen a whooper swan, especially when Scotland is home to mute swans all year round? There are several ways to tell the difference between these swans.
Whooper swans are smaller than mute swans which are one of the biggest birds found in Scotland. When whooper swans are up-ended eating away at food in the water they have square-ended tails while mute swans have a point to their tails. One of the most obvious differences is their bills: whooper swans have a long bill which is mostly yellow with a black tip and mute swans have orange bills with a black base to them, including a very distinctive round lump.
It’s also possible to hear the difference between these swans when they are flying - the wing beats of whooper swans make a slight hissing sound, unlike the very loud singing sound that comes from mute swans in flight.
Summers spent in Iceland, winters spent in Scotland
Whooper swans spend the summer breeding in Iceland, Scandinavia, northern Russia and northern Asia. The ones we get in Scotland each winter come from Iceland and there’s over 4,000 of them that make their home here in the colder months. In fact almost all of the whooper swans from Iceland migrate to the UK and Ireland. Some of the areas where they feed in Iceland are rich in iron compounds which stain the head and neck feathers of the swans a rust colour - these are lost during their winter moults.
Very few whooper swans remain in Scotland over the summer but one place that has had a regular summer resident over recent years is our Lochwinnoch reserve. Whoopie, as he has been nicknamed, injured his wing some years ago and so cannot join the yearly migration.
Families stick together
Whooper swan families make the big migration journey to Scotland together. Both parents take care of their cygnets when they hatch in the Icelandic summer and come the autumn they all depart together to fly south. The cygnets stay with their parents over winter and start the return migration joyurney with them in the spring. Whooper swans are very faithful to the sites where they spend winter and often return to the same place over subsequent years.
Noisy swans with a distinctive call
Unlike mute swans (which were named because of their lack of noise) whooper swans are very vocal! They have a very loud trumpeting call which sounds a bit like an old fashioned car horn.
Whooper swans can be seen across Scotland over winter, including at several of our reserves such as Lochwinnoch, Loch Leven, Baron's Haugh and Loch of Strathbeg. They’ll be here until around mid-April so you have plenty of time to look and listen out for them while on walks this autumn and winter.
Inspired by nature
Nature inspires many people in many different ways from enjoying walks in Scotland's outdoors to deciding to work in conservation to creating amazing works of art. In this blog we hear from Eileen Gatt, a jewellery designer, on how nature inspires her.
RSPB Scotland Fairy Glen (Andy Hay (rspb-images.com))
Nature is a central theme of much of what will be on show at this year’s Elements Festival of gold and silver jewellery in Edinburgh, and where RSPB Scotland has a private view morning which you are welcome to attend (details at the end of this blog). The first of its kind in Scotland, it’s a celebration not only of the beauty of precious metals, but of the creative minds and dextrous hands of the craftspeople who create extraordinary objects including Scottish based jewellery designer Eileen Gatt who has been designing and making jewellery for over 20 years from her home on the Black Isle. We caught up with Eileen ahead of the show to find out more about the inspiration behind her work and her love of Scottish wildlife.
1. How would you describe your work in three words?
Charming, whimsical and serene!
2. What does a typical day as a jeweller look like?
There is no typical day in a jeweller’s life! And that’s the thing I love most about my job. Every day is different; some days I am doing research, exploring new ideas and developing new design concepts, other days I am on the bench making. I also love to meet my customers at selling events. The most wonderful thing is the diversity and having the freedom to be creative.
3. What do you do or where do you go when you’re looking for inspiration?
I feel incredibly fortunate as I never go looking for inspiration, it finds me! I am surrounded by stunning winter landscapes, and spectacular wildlife. The quaint fishing villages that adorn the Black Isle’s coastline are rich in inspiration, both visually and culturally. I can be inspired by a story, a legend, a bird in flight or the ropes that moor the boats to the harbour walls. Inspiration is everywhere!
Hare ring by Eileen Gatt
4. Has wildlife always inspired your work, or did this develop into a dominant theme over time?
Wildlife has always featured heavily in my work. Having grown up in the Highlands, it provided me with a wealth of inspiration, it’s rich and diverse landscapes provide unique habitats for an abundance of amazing wildlife. At the beginning of my career I travelled to Alaska to work with Inuit stone carvers, they tell traditional folklore stories through their sculptures and bring them into today’s modern world. This trip has fuelled my ideas ever since.
I am interested in Scottish folklore and by polar landscapes. I love to visit the Cairngorms and I am especially interested in creating pieces that feature indigenous Scottish wildlife. I aim to capture the character of the creature whilst retaining a pure and simple aesthetic. This cold winter landscapes are echoed in the soft white silver finishes that adorn my work.
5. You’re from the Black Isle, where our Fairy Glen nature reserve is situated, have you spent much time there?
The Fairy Glen is a truly enchanting place! As I mentioned previously I am influenced by folklore and stories and this place brings together all my favourite things! The wildlife and the tranquil waterfalls culminate in a truly magical experience. I can feel the ‘fairies’ all around. Definitely one of my favourite haunts!
6. Do you have a favourite wild animal or plant, and if so why?
My favourite wild animal would have to be a hare (my logo after all!) I find them such amazing majestic creatures, and when I see one it makes me stop in my tracks! They feature heavily in mythology, a sign of fertility and good luck!
My favourite plant would be a rowan tree. Again they feature heavily in my work. I love the abundance of red berries that I see the birds feast on. I always remember my grandfather telling me that a rowan tree with a full crop of berries is an indicator of a harsh winter (very harsh this year) - I love a bit of weather lore! Rowan trees were also traditionally given as gifts for wedding presents or to celebrate births, as they warded off witches and fairies!
7. What role, if any, do you think silversmiths and the arts have in highlighting the issues affecting wildlife and the environment?
I think it is a great way to highlight these issues; anything that creates dialogue and gets people talking has to be good. I do plan to create a range of pieces that highlight such issues, I’ll keep you posted.
We’d be delighted if you could join us on Saturday 5th November for a private view of the Elements Festival in Edinburgh – details above. This exclusive event will give you a chance to browse and purchase unique jewellery and beautifully crafted objects before the doors open to the public that day. It’s a great opportunity to do a spot of early Christmas shopping, whilst enjoying a selection of tea, coffee and Walker’s shortbread. If you’d like to attend please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.