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.
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.
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.
As the sun rises on a dark stormy morning, the sea raging below, a puffin sits on the edge of the world. Taking to the skies she sets out on a familiar journey. The little clown braves the wind and rain and thunderous sea; there is only one mission - to find food for her young. Within a burrow is a two week old chick, a puffling. It’s hungry. Helpless and starved, it calls desperately to its parents, who it is entirely dependent upon. But this morning there is no food, no respite from the hunger.
The puffin was added to the UK's red list of birds of conservation concern in 2015. It is one of a large number of our seabirds that are in trouble. A similar story is playing out with frightening regularity all around the UK's coastline each year. There have been significant declines in the breeding populations of at least twelve seabird species since the mid-80’s.
Seabirds are remarkably tough birds, they face enormous hardships in their day to day lives that under normal conditions they are well adapted to handle. But who can claim we are now living under normal conditions?
There are many issues that effect seabirds, some of which can be complex and have multiple impacts, such as climate change, human disturbance and structural developments. The impacts of others might be easier to predict, such as invasive species predating on eggs, chicks or adults and lack of prey leading to starvation, but they still need a concerted effort to address. Collectively the overall impact is leading to declines.
We cannot become despondent though, because despondency leads to inaction and worse, indifference. Scotland is still home to millions of seabirds and is one of the best places in the world to see them. An opportunity to experience a seabird colony should not be missed; the sights, sounds and even smells are mesmeric.
There have been some really positive milestones reached in the last couple of years including a better understanding of where our seabirds go to feed and the identification of fifteen Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for seabirds, seaducks, grebes and divers. These are so important because they include protection for some of the best marine feeding areas in Scotland for birds. Protecting seabirds at their colonies alone, as the story above illustrates, isn’t enough.
We believe seabirds have a bright future in Scotland and from the responses we received during our recent campaign to show support for newly proposed SPAs, it is clear that many of you do too. So thank you to everyone who joined our campaign or supported the proposed SPAs on the Scottish Natural Heritage website, the consultation is now closed.
We hope we can continue to rely on your support. Why not send a letter or email to your local MSP expressing your support for seabird conservation and protected areas for seabirds? Although you might not believe this can make a difference, it most definitely can.
If you would like to know more, there are loads of great resources on the internet about the threats to seabirds. Finally, if you are not one already, please consider becoming a member of the RSPB so we can work together to provide the puffin and other seabirds a healthy future and to provide plenty of opportunities for us to continue to enjoy these incredible birds. If you are already a member, thank you. We would not be able to do the work we are doing without you. Together we can change the narrative for our seabirds.