February, 2017

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.
  • Making Mersehead whole

    Back in October 2016 we launched an urgent appeal to make our Mersehead reserve an even bigger and better home for wildlife - in the blog Jenny Tweedie gives us an update on the appeal and what comes next for the reserve.

    Making Mersehead whole

    We’re absolutely thrilled that a successful public appeal means we’ll now be able to extend our reserve at Mersehead on the Solway, linking up two existing areas of our land, and creating more valuable habitat for wildlife.

    That’s really good news for the reserve’s barnacle geese, part of a population that was on the brink of extinction in the 1940s. It’s now recovered to a population high this winter of around 40,000. It’s also great news for natterjack toads, the UK’s rarest amphibian. Their largest colony in Scotland can be found at Mersehead, where they choose to live in a precarious location right next to the reserve’s sand dunes.   

    Both species will benefit hugely from the extra 112 acres the appeal will purchase, but it will also help a whole range of other wildlife, such as otters, barn owls, and farmland birds like skylarks.

    So we’d like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to everyone who contributed!

    What happens now?


    It may be called a nature reserve, but it’s going to take a lot of human intervention to get the new land working at its best for nature. The first step will be surveying the area for wildlife, and for non-native invasive species, like Japanese knotweed.

    An important step will also be examining the complex network of ditches and natural watercourses. Ideally we’d like to link the whole system up with the wetland we’ve already created at Mersehead, and we’re very lucky to have Eric Neilson to help with that. Eric’s been at Mersehead since 1968 (long before it was a nature reserve) and knows every ditch and sluice like the back of his hand.

    Next will be the removal of areas of scrub, particularly from the dunes, and the creation of more pools. This should appeal to the natterjack toads, extending their range along the coast, and helping to increase their population. We’ll also be removing areas of non-native tree plantations, opening up the land to make it more suitable for wading birds like lapwings and curlews, both of which are red-listed species with struggling populations.  

    The future

    For us, the success of any appeal is really only the start of the story. This year we're looking forwards to the many months of work ahead to transform Mersehead into a truly spectacular home for nature.  We hope to share that story with you as the site evolves.

    Visit the reserve – RSPB Scotland Mersehead is around 30 minutes’ drive from Dumfries, and the visitor centre is open all year, with numerous paths and hides to explore. The reserve runs regular events, and you can even stay on site in two holiday cottages. Find out more here.

    Volunteer – Mersehead has a number of volunteering roles available, including residential opportunities. For more, check out our website.

  • Show the Love for nature and special places

    RSPB Scotland is supporting the 'Show the Love' campaign organised by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, which kicked off on 7 February and runs until Valentine's Day encouraging people to speak up for the special places and wildlife they don't want to lose to climate change. Jim Densham, from RSPB Scotland brings us this latest blog on the initiative. 

    Climate change is real and happening now. It is affecting and threatening the wildlife and special places we love in Scotland and around the globe. That’s why we are involved in the Show the Love campaign in the week running up to Valentine’s Day. Show the Love is all about saying that there are things we all love and don’t want to lose because of climate change, now or in the future.

    This year the campaign is focussing on special places because the places we love are threatened by climate change. If you are like me, your favourite places are in the countryside and about being in nature. We would like you to go out this coming weekend or on Valentine’s Day to your favourite place (as if you need the encouragement), take a photo or a selfie and post it on social media with the #ShowTheLove hashtag. If that’s not for you, you can wear and share a green heart, or one of the other ideas to show the love.

    In Scotland, we are doing something special this year by showing our MSPs that we care for wildlife and vulnerable people, and the effect climate change is having on them. With our partners in the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition we are asking members and supporters to write to, or meet with, their local MSPs to ask them to support a stronger Climate Change Plan and show the love for Scotland’s future. It’s not as hard as it sounds and everything you need to know is here.

    The Climate Change Plan is Government’s masterplan of policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions and outlines how we will meet a 66% reduction in these by 2032 (based on 1990 levels). It sets out an attractive vision of the kind of low-carbon society we could be living in by then, however we are concerned about the plan’s lack of concrete new actions to deliver it.

    At RSPB Scotland we have been busy analysing the Government’s proposals, especially the Land Use and Agriculture chapters. Partly, this is because this is where most of our biodiversity is found and secondly these sectors have often been slow to change. Nearly a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland come from businesses and activities using rural land, e.g. farming and forestry - this is only exceeded by the electricity generation and transport sectors. There are things to welcome in this Climate Change Plan, especially a commitment to restore peatland habitats to a healthy state. This will halt loss of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from the damaged peat but also provide vital habitat for birds like the curlew and hen harrier.

    Unfortunately the agriculture section of the Plan isn’t so ambitious. Farmers aren’t being asked to act quickly and the Government’s plans don’t show enough leadership. We want all farmers to produce good quality healthy food in a way which is climate-smart and wildlife friendly. The Climate Change Plan must require all farmers to do the bare minimum – to test their soils and to plan their fertiliser use. Budgeted and precise use of fertiliser is a key way for farmers to help the climate, it’s also good for their profits, so makes sense.    

    If Government gets this Climate Change Plan right, by helping nature and managing the countryside in the right way, it will reduce our national ghg footprint as well as providing homes for nature. Let’s show Government how important this is to us by getting involved and showing the love this February, for nature and special places. 

  • Showing the love for snowy mountains

    Jim Densham, from RSPB Scotland, brings us this latest blog on climate change and Show the Love ahead of Valentine's Day. 


    Did you ‘Show the Love’ for nature this weekend? Many people did and were getting out into nature, the countryside, and onto RSPB Scotland reserves to say they don’t want to lose special places and nature because of climate change. A new report shows the wide variety of places that we love that are being damaged by extreme weather now - from Skara Brae to village pubs, coastal paths and woodlands. There is strong scientific evidence showing that climate change is a key reason for this.

    On Saturday I went with my family to climb Beinn Dubh to the west of Luss on Loch Lomond. At 657m it’s someway off a Munro but still a good walk on a cold and windy winter’s day for two boys (and me!). It was wonderful to be in the hills and have a good view of Loch Lomond’s islands, Ben Lomond across the loch, mountain’s sweeping round to the north, and away to the Clyde and Dumbarton in the south. It wasn’t long before we were walking through patches of snow and then up onto the real stuff, a couple of feet deep where it had drifted and filled hollows.

    Since 1962 weather records show a trend towards fewer days of snow cover each year in Scotland. For example, the number of days of snow cover in the west of Scotland has reduced from an average of 20 days per year to just 13 days in 2005. Climate change is making snow less common in the Scottish mountains, especially at the ends of the season - in autumn and in spring. Not much fun if you are a winter sports fan but potentially life and death for wildlife which relies on snow cover for survival. Mountain hares, for example, have adapted to change colour in autumn to a white pelt in order to blend in with the snowy mountains so that they can to avoid eagles and other predators. A recent newspaper article highlighted that this winter has been the worst for snowfall in 10 years and is making life tough for our mountain hares.

    Snow cover is also really important for some alpine plants, like snow pearlwort and highland saxifrage. They are adapted to the insulating benefits of a blanket of snow through the winter and into the spring to protect them from harsh wind and frost. With less snow cover late into the spring these delicate plants could be ravaged by another of climate change’s impacts, more frequent storms.

    On the way up I asked my kids what they love in nature. For my youngest it’s all about forests (preferably rainforests), chameleons, parrots and treehouses. For my older son, he said that being in nature makes him feel happy. Leaving aside the usual bit of moaning on the way up, we did all enjoy the snowy slopes this weekend, especially after reaching the top when the kids rolled and slid down the slopes, even where there wasn’t snow!

    Scotland’s mountains themselves won’t disappear because of climate change but their delicate plants and vegetation, birds, mammals and the bogs, are all vulnerable. Travel to the mountains, working and living in them, and how we use them in our leisure time could all become more challenging. How they look in winter is already changing so let’s show the love for our snowy mountains in winter, and all the other nature we love so much.

    Get involved with us and our coalition partner Stop Climate Chaos Scotland. There’s still time to get involved: there’s still time to halt climate change.