The Scottish Government's consultation on its energy strategy closes on Tuesday 30th May. Here Rebecca Bell, RSPB Scotland's senior policy officer, set out our position on it and how you can also let the Government know your thoughts.
Getting our energy system right for wildlife
Sometimes our work to save nature means dealing with immediate threats to wildlife – such as the Shiant Isles Seabird Recovery Project, aimed at providing safe breeding sites for some of our globally important seabirds – and sometime it involves trying to find solutions to long term, complex problems, such as the decline in farmland birds, including lapwings and skylarks.
Sometimes it’s a combination of the two – where the solution to the long-term problem (climate change – which is causing problems for a huge number of species, including causing seabirds to starve) has the potential to do great harm to wildlife in the short term (such as the windfarms in Tarifa, southern Spain, which kill over a hundred birds of prey each year).
Fortunately, the key word there is potential: we know that harm to wildlife is not an inevitable result of developing renewable energy – if it is well planned, well sited and well monitored, we can have a green energy system, meet our climate change targets, reduce the long-term threat to wildlife globally and avoid harming sensitive species.
That’s why our work on energy is so vital, and why we are responding in detail to the Scottish Government’s consultation on its energy strategy – because the decisions made about what kind of energy system we want, how it’s funded and how its planned will all affect what happens on the ground (and in the air).
We want to see high levels of renewable energy, developed in harmony with nature. This means that we need the government to identify the best sites for energy (preferably using the approach we developed in our 2050 Energy Vision), and then direct developers towards them. We also need investment in understanding our environment, so that we can use the best possible knowledge to build wind farms, and other renewable developments, in places that won’t harm the species we love.
We’re pleased that the Scottish Government has produced an energy strategy, that it sets a target for 50% of our energy use to come from renewable sources (ambitious but achievable, according to our research) and that it says that the energy strategy will work “in harmony with the natural environment” – although we need a lot more detail on how all this will actually happen.
And energy is not just about renewable electricity – it’s about how we heat our homes, how we travel and how we power our lives.
Currently heat and transport are very dependent on fossil fuels, so we need to find ways to use less in the first place, and alternative fuels to replace oil and gas, petrol and diesel. Crucial to this is land use planning – making sure developers build homes that are energy efficient, that have heating systems that are efficient and make best use of resources – such as heat pumps and district heating. And making sure that homes are built where it’s easy to take public transport, or walk, or cycle to where we need to go.
These decisions need to be made at the top – by government – and so they need to know that organisations such as RSPB Scotland, and their members, want these things to happen. So if you get chance this weekend, which not send in your own response to the consultation? You can respond online here. The Scottish Government is also looking for view on onshore wind and unconventional oil and gas extraction, also known as fracking.
Dippers are fantastic little birds to spot and you don’t have to head out into the countryside to manage it either. These plump, plucky birds are a great example of ‘urban wildlife’ as they can often be seen along waterways in towns and cities. I’ve spotted a couple of them now on the Water of Leith in Edinburgh, bobbing up and down on rocks poking out of the river. Dippers have a distinctive white throat and breast which contrasts with the dark plumage of their bodies, and Scotland provides a home for around 15,000 pairs. Here are five facts we thought you’d enjoy about them.
Dippers can walk underwater
The dipper family is exceptional for its ability to hunt underwater. They feed on small aquatic invertebrates and fish, which they catch by walking along the bottom of fast flowing rivers and streams. By stretching out their wings against the current, dippers manage to push themselves downwards and stay submerged; they also hold on to stones with their feet to prevent them being swept off.
Their name makes perfect sense
Dippers were given their name because of their bobbing movements, up and down, while perched – and especially so when they’re excited. Dippers have been known to make up to around 60 of these ‘dips’ per minute. A local name for the species used to be ‘water ousel’ - ‘ousel’ being an old word for blackbird.
Specialisation is key
Dippers have a range of physical adaptations that make them well suited to life on the water. These include well-developed wing muscles that help push against the currents, eyes that function underwater, blood that stores large amounts of oxygen to draw from when they are submerged and specialised flaps over their nostrils to prevent water rushing in.
They’re birds of many talents
Despite lacking webbed feet, dippers can actually swim very well. To get from the bank of a stream or river into the water they will dive from a rock and bob to the surface, or simply walk straight in.
Dippers are big in Norway
Dippers are the national birds of Norway, so crowned in the year 2000. They are more commonly known as white-throated dippers there – the name helps distinguish this particular species of dipper from any other.
If you enjoyed this fact filled blog, have a look at some of our other ones:
Five facts you need to know about puffins
Five facts you need to know about ptarmigans
Five facts you need to know about bumblebees
This new blog on the importance of seabird cities and why you should add a visit to one to your bucket list comes from Peadar O'Connell - RSPB Scotland's marine policy officer.
Right now if you head to the cliffs you could be rewarded with what, in my view, is the best wildlife experience you can get on these isles. The seabirds are back and WOW!
I’m completely in awe of our cliff nesting seabirds; they eke out a living during the brutal winter months in the tempestuous Atlantic, only to return to breed on our wave battered cliffs in spring. If you haven’t been to a “seabird city” before, I implore you to go. The energy that flows from the roiling waves and reeling birds as they swirl around, darting in and out of their ledges is incredible. The cliffs are alive, as liquid as the sea below; it is the very definition of life on the edge.
Look closer and you’ll notice what real characters these birds are too, they are far from being a single mass of feathers. Fulmars, a close relative of the albatross, will come to have a closer look at you as they ride the air currents, guillemots and razorbills are busy bickering away on their precarious ledges, the clean, sleek kittiwakes call, an excited “kitti-wake”, reverberates off the natural echo chambers in the cliffs and of course there is also the comically colourful and clumsy puffin and these are just four of the 25 breeding seabirds in the UK.
While you’re there don’t forget to look down (carefully). The apparent clumsiness of many seabirds on land is more than made up for in their graceful fluidity under the waves. Watching them on a calm day you get a glimpse into a life that is so completely different, bridging that gap between the known and the unknown, land and sea.
There are plenty of sites around the country where you can experience this spectacle for yourself. Call around to an RSPB Scotland seabird reserve like the Mull of Galloway, Fowlsheugh or Sumburgh Head and ask our knowledgeable staff to tell you about what you can see. Think about what these birds go through and how, in many ways their lives are intricately connected to our own. Healthy seabird populations mean a healthy marine environment and that’s important for all of us.
Unfortunately in recent years our seabird cities have become less populated and it’s important to note that many seabirds aren’t faring well at all in Scotland or throughout the UK. There are a number of reasons for this such as difficulties in finding food, predation by invasive species and the impacts of climate change. The RSPB are working to try and ensure our seabirds are properly protected within and outwith specially designated areas, and we rely heavily on your support to do this work.
I hope to convey some of the wonder of just a few of our seabirds in a number of blogs over the coming months. Please feel free to share with us your thoughts and experiences on seabirds during this time.