December, 2016

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.
  • And the winner is...

    Back in October David Wood, Site Manager for The Oa on Islay, asked for your support to ensure an exciting project planned for the reserve received funding from Tesco’s Bags of Help Initiative by voting at the store in Campbeltown. Here he fills us in on how things went and what happens next. 

    And the winner is...

    Well, the votes are in and RSPB Scotland’s Oa reserve placed a respectable third in Tesco’s Bags of Help initiative in their Campbeltown store. Now...., this was third out of three, and that might not sound as impressive, but it was actually still a great result. With no Tesco store even on the Isle of Islay, being part of the top three voted for projects in our nearest store was already a great success. Finishing third means that the reserve will receive an amazing £8,000 towards a project that will improve the visitor experience, especially for people with limited mobility. So, a big thank you to Tesco and all their customers who voted for us in their Campbeltown store.

    The American Monument at The Oa

    The Oa forms the southern tip of Islay, a large peninsula with rugged moorland and dramatic sea cliffs. With stunning views, majestic wildlife, and the impressive American monument perched on the very end, the Oa creates a draw for thousands of visitors every year. Our aim for this project is to sensitively expand the car park, and improve the access tracks and seating area. Currently the car park only holds a few cars, forcing people to double park or attempt to park on soft verges. By adjusting the layout of the car park we will create more spaces, improving access for all. A new improved accessible seating area will also be created, allowing everyone to rest and enjoy the views. New information boards at the parking area will aim to give people an understanding of the reserve and a taste of the coastal views and the monument. These improvements will be of benefit to all, but particularly to those with limited mobility who can't manage the walk to the monument and cliffs. 

    Starting in the New Year, the main work to the car park and seating area should be finished before the busy spring period, with the information panels being completed by the summer. So, get planning your trip to Islay and visit the Oa to experience golden eagles, choughs, panoramic views across the Ireland and Kintyre and some nice parking and seating! 

  • Five facts you need to know about ptarmigans

    Ptarmigans are plump gamebirds that are renowned for their hardiness. In the UK, they are only found in the Highlands of Scotland – arguably one of our harshest habitats. 

    Ptarmigans live in the mountains, and can survive quite happily at altitudes of up to 4,000 feet! To deal with the conditions in this part of the country ptarmigans have a range of fascinating adaptations, which are perhaps most evident come winter. Here are five interesting facts we thought you would enjoy about these birds.

    Ptarmigans have feathered feet

    Ptarmigans have highly modified, thickly feathered feet which act as little snowshoes, meaning these birds can walk atop even the softest snow. Their legs are also feathered which helps to protect them from the cold. 

    They’re surprisingly good diggers

    In severe weather, ptarmigans deploy an interesting skill to avoid being hit by the worst of the winter storms. Using their feet, they will dig down into the existing snow to create themselves a snug little ‘snow hole’ to shelter in (like in the photo above). These will often take the form of a simple shallow depression in the snow for the bird to hunker down in. However they can also be a bit more elaborate, ending up like a mini-cave that the ptarmigan will sleep in over night to stay clear of the biting winds. 

    Ptarmigans are masters of camouflage

    Ptarmigans are well practiced wallflowers, blending seamlessly into their surroundings. And it’s all thanks to their highly adapted plumage. In summer, their feathers are a sort of mottled grey colour, allowing them to disappear among the rocks and boulders strewn across the landscape. However, as this doesn’t suit them so well in winter, the bird’s feathers will turn white at this time of year so they are camouflaged against the snow.  Ptarmigans are actually the only British bird to grow completely white winter plumage in this way. Arctic hares have a similar adaptation, where their fur will change from brown to white towards the end of the year. 

    They moult regularly

    To maintain their natural camouflage ptarmigans moult their feathers three times a year – a phenomenon which is only seen in a few other species. They move from the white feathers in winter to brown in summer and grey in autumn.

    Scottish ptarmigans are just that... Scottish

    The ptarmigans we have here in Scotland (Lagopus muta millaisi) are endemic, meaning they are not found anywhere else in the world. They often exhibit variable patterning in their feathers, for example retaining some grey feathers among their white winter plumage. This is thought to have developed in response to Scotland’s sometimes patchy snow cover, so they can be camouflaged against both the snow and exposed mountainsides. 

  • Scotland’s beavers are here to stay

    In our latest blog, Louise Cullen from RSPB Scotland brings you this overview of the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland. 

    We got some good news last month, some really, really good news in fact: Scotland’s beavers are here to stay. Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, announced that these mammals, which are currently living wild in areas like Tayside, would be reclassified as a native species. This means beavers are allowed to stay in Scotland and they will also be given full protected status legally, under the EU Habitats Directive.

    Beavers used to be native to Scotland until they were hunted to extinction in the 16th century, primarily for their pelts, meat and perceived medicinal properties. Although fossils have been relatively rare in this country, those that have been found suggest beavers lived here for roughly 8,000 years.

    Since the 1920s, 25 European nations have chosen to reintroduce beavers including Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain. And in 2009, a reintroduction project called ‘The Scottish Beaver Trial’ got underway in Scotland. It was managed by The Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland in Knapdale Forest, Argyll, to explore how beavers can enhance and restore natural environments.

    That programme came to its successful conclusion following five years of solid evidence-based work into the potential reintroduction of this species, with four Eurasian beaver families being brought in to Knapdale from Norway.

    The trial provided a comprehensive understanding of how these mammals can thrive in Scottish ecosystems and we saw no reason why this couldn’t be repeated in other areas. It was at this point that the RSPB announced its support for beavers to remain in Scotland. We wanted to see more beavers living in Scotland and were particularly keen to have them on some of our reserves too. That was in 2014. And what followed was two and a half years of discussions, research, campaigning and waiting – waiting to see if we would get what we were working so hard to achieve: the official reintroduction of beavers to Scotland.

    During this time, the beaver population present on the River Tay was increasing, with the last known estimate suggesting around 200 individuals living there. It’s not entirely clear where these beavers came from originally, but we do know that they weren’t part of an official reintroduction programme. 

    Finally, in November this year, at our Nature of Scotland Awards, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced beavers were back for good. In a nutshell this means that the beavers in Tayside and Argyll will remain and be allowed to expand their range naturally. They will also be given full protected status - however this is not in place legally yet. More work is required by the Scottish Government to see this brought in.

    While they remain unprotected in this way, it is not illegal to kill a beaver in Scotland – an action that some individuals have already been taking in Tayside. We want to see an end to this unregulated management; meaning the sooner their legal protection is brought in and an agreed management plan approved the better. 

    Beavers bring huge benefits to the areas they inhabit and can have a significant and positive impact on ecosystem health and function. In woodland environments, they help to stimulate new growth by coppicing trees and opening up the forest structure.  This can help boost the biodiversity of an area and benefit other species including otters, water voles and birds. They rewet woodland, control scrub and also create pools and channels which provide great breeding habitat for invertebrates like dragonflies and refuges for frogs, toads and fish. Beavers are often referred to as a ‘keystone species’ – one which plays a unique and valuable role in the natural environment – and it’s true. 

    So what happens now? Well, we hope that by spring 2017 beavers will be fully protected and officially recognised as a part of Scotland’s diverse native wildlife once again. In the meantime RSPB Scotland will continue to evaluate our sites for beaver colonisation either naturally through expansion from the Tay and Knapdale populations or perhaps through further licensed reintroductions in the future.