Celebrate nature this spring!
Spring is a magical time here in Scotland. As the evenings get longer our gardens, greenspaces and countryside are transformed in an explosion of colour as trees come into bud, flowers begin to bloom and (fingers crossed of course) the sun shines.
From the sounds of the dawn chorus once again filling the early morning to the screams of swifts at dusk spring feels like a real celebration of nature exploding back into life. Seabirds return to the cliffs around our coast creating a cacophonous racket as they greet their returning mates and squabble over ledges for nests. Swallows zip through the skies once again and dart about catching insects. Bumblebees buzz away in tree blossom and flowers collecting nectar. It’s a great time to be outdoors exploring!
If it’s a walk through your local park or a day in the mountains there’s so much to see and listen out for, and over the next month there’s festivals and events taking place across the country celebrating Scotland’s outstanding wildlife.
There’s family fun to be had at our Loch Lomond and Loch Leven reserves. At this time of year keep your ears alert for the calls of wood warblers and redstarts at Loch Lomond and enjoy the glorious smell of the wildflowers in bloom. At Loch Leven lapwings will be tumbling through the air doing their display flights, and you may be lucky enough to see the elaborate courtship display of great crested grebes.
Come mid May you’re spoilt for choice for ways to discover more about the wildlife found in Scotland with three big nature events taking place.
We’re taking part in Coll Bird Festival with guided walks and seabird safaris. This island is one of the places that corncrakes migrate to in Scotland, and spring is when you’re most likely to see these elusive birds. Related to moorhens and coots they spend the winter months in Africa and the males make a distinctive rasping call.
Our Loch Garten and Insh Marshes reserves are both holding events as part of the Cairngorms Nature BIG Weekend. Ospreys are one of the star species to see up here - you can watch EJ and Odin on their nest from the osprey centre at Loch Garten and also look out for more of these magnificent birds overhead at Insh Marshes as they fly en route to their fishing patches. Insh Marshes is one of the most important wetlands in Europe so look out for lapwings, redshanks and curlews if you take a spring time stroll along the nature trails.
There’s also a weeklong celebration further north with Orkney Nature Festival. These islands are amazing places for wildlife. You can hear skylarks singing, spot guillemots on a cliff top walk and might even spot the orcas that start appearing in the Orkney waters from May.
If you’ve been inspired by these festivities but aren’t able to make it along to them why not pay a visit to your local RSPB Scotland reserve? There are almost 80 of them dotted across the country so you can take your pick and get out exploring springtime Scotland!
Senior Conservation Officer Hywel Maggs talks about the work we are doing with farmers in Scotland to help save the curlew.
Saving the curlew in Scotland
Scotland holds approximately half of UK breeding curlews. Most are found on moorland and hill farms, but like the rest of the UK population, they are declining. In areas such as Cairngorms National Park, Caithness and the Clyde Valley, farmers are working with conservationists to help curlews survive.
Here, farmers are grazing and mowing their land sympathetically to provide nest sites and creating wet areas to attract creepy crawlies for curlews to eat. Much of this is being made possible by farmers entering into Government-funded wildlife-friendly farming schemes to help a broad range of wildlife, including curlews as well as other wading birds such as lapwings, oystercatchers, snipe and redshanks.
In the eastern Cairngorms, around 20 farmers are working with us to help curlews as part of a project that brings together volunteers, conservationists, farmers, agricultural agents and estates. Working together, it has been possible to create muddy feeding pools and tussocky fields to help curlew breed successfully. Volunteers have surveyed 20 project farms where these habitats are being provided and found there are approximately 115 pairs of curlew. These pairs and their broods are regularly found nesting and feeding in the specially managed fields.
A site in the eastern Cairngorms at Tomintoul which provides breeding grounds for waders - there are several pairs of curlew and farmers are managing fields to help them
Since 2011, the number of curlews at many of these sites has remained stable or even increased, bucking the national trend. As part of the same project, curlew chicks have been ringed with coloured plastic rings to monitor survival and movements. Young birds have been seen as far afield as Ireland and Devon in the winter, with many returning to the same project farms they were raised to breed as adults.
Still in its early days, the RSPB-led Caithness Curlew Trial Management Project site is part of a five-year research project involving six sites spread across important areas for curlew in the UK. Like the other sites it consists of an area of around two thousand hectares (nearly 3,000 football pitches) including land on and around RSPB Scotland Broubster Leans nature reserve. The Caithness management site involves working closely with nine farms where we carry out intensive curlew surveys, habitat and predator monitoring to measure changes resulting from a combination of habitat management and predator control to see if these can benefit breeding curlews.
Grassy areas that have become unsuitable for curlews rearing chicks, normally by becoming too tall and dense, are then mown by the farmers once the breeding season has finished. Subsequent grazing ahead of the following spring will get these areas into better condition for the next breeding season. The work both improves the quality of grazing on the farm and benefits the curlews and other breeding waders such as lapwings, snipe, redshanks and oystercatchers.
John Sutherland mowing rushes and rough grasses on his land in the Caithness Curlew Trial Management Site
Adam and Louise Scott farm part of the Caithness Trial Management Project site; their family have lived there since the 1700’s. Adam says: “The calls of the curlew on a midsummer evening in the far North are really special and well worth preserving. We are pleased to be part of the RSPB Curlew Trail Management Project to develop ways of safeguarding this beautiful and endangered species.”
Doug Telfer’s 320 hectare sheep farm is near Crawfordjohn in South Lanarkshire. It’s one of 60 farms involved in the Clyde Valley Wader Initiative – a partnership project between the RSPB Scotland, farmers, SAC Consulting and the Scottish Government’s local agricultural office.
RSPB Scotland volunteers surveying his farm have picked up an impressive 62 pairs of breeding curlews, lapwings, snipe, redshanks and oystercatchers across the farm. Doug attributes these high numbers to various factors. These include providing wet areas scattered across the farm (when draining he takes care to always leave some wetter areas), taking care to avoid nests during farming operations, as well as the fox and crow control by the local gamekeeper.
He says: “I remember years ago when my son was leaving for London, we were packing his bags into the car as a whaup (local name for curlew) flew over singing and I said “enjoy that – cause you won’t be hearing it for a while!”. It’s a real joy having so many whaups, pewits (local name for lapwing) and other birds at Glendouran. Glendouran is 40 miles from Edinburgh and 40 miles from Glasgow – but three miles from the moon! We’re that high up and so winters can be harsh - so when the whaups return ever year, as they have done in recent weeks, it’s great because you know spring is just round the corner.”
The future of this bird has been intertwined with the lives of our hill farmers for thousands of years and their support is key to turning round the fortunes of this species, sadly being lost from many areas of the UK.
Find out more about the crisis our curlews are facing here, and discover more about these distinctive birds here. Our Food and Farming webpage has more on the our partnership work with farmers across the UK.
In this blog RSPB Scotland's Stuart Benn looks at what impact the project to turn the A9 into dual carriageway will have on our Insh Marshes reserve in the Highlands.
What the A9 dualling means for RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes
RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes
Living in Inverness, I often drive along the A9. This is the road that takes me down to Edinburgh and Glasgow, and it’s currently undergoing a huge project to turn it into a dual carriageway. This road also brings visitors north to the Scottish Highlands and will be familiar to the many thousands of tourists who experience the wonderful landscapes and wildlife of this celebrated part of Scotland.
Spectacular views en route include those of the Perthshire hills and the drama of the Drumochter Pass but, impressive though that scenery may be, for me and many others nothing quite matches the sensation of crossing the River Spey and gazing across RSPB Scotland’s Insh Marshes nature reserve towards the Cairngorm Mountains beyond. This is the most important natural floodplain in Britain and it’s a fantastic place for nature.
But, unfortunately, this very location – where the A9 crosses the Spey - could prove to be the most environmentally challenging section of the whole dualling project. And this is because, what is effectively a new four-lane road will be built across Insh Marshes taking out a sizeable chunk of the exceptional wildlife habitats of this wonderful reserve. Insh Marshes is vitally important for breeding waders like lapwings, redshanks, curlew and snipe. And the new road will inevitably destroy some of the best breeding habitat of all.
Snipe are one of the birds found at Insh Marshes
RSPB Scotland accept that the road is going ahead, and that there are big risks if things are not done properly, but we believe that with significant effort and commitment, the harm to nature can be minimised and the value of the site for nature might even be able to be increased. This is one of Scotland’s most well known and loved wildlife sites and the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland will need to work extremely hard to ensure that nature does not lose out. In particular, they will need to ensure that the impacts on the site are minimised through careful design of the new route and that any loss of space for wildlife is replaced by creating alternative places for nature nearby. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland on this.
We understand that the planning process is complex and that transport links need to be improved. We are also aware that there are legitimate concerns about flood risk, which also need to be addressed. However, there is a real opportunity here to ensure that upgrading this iconic route through the Highlands not only improves transport links and reduces flood risk to local communities, but also delivers improvements for nature.
Over the next few months, Transport Scotland will be weighing up all the options before deciding upon the final design of the crossing – let’s hope they choose wisely and find the solution that works best for people and wildlife both now and in the long term.
This is very much a current case and we plan to keep you up to date with progress with updates through our Scottish Nature Notes blog.
In the meantime, for more information, and to make your voice heard before Transport Scotland’s consultation closes on 4th May, please click here.