July, 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.
  • Act for Our Future, and nature’s – sign the petition

    Jim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer with RSPB Scotland, brings us this latest blog on climate change and is challenging everyone who cares about wildlife, nature and the environment to sign this petition from our partners at Stop Climate Chaos Scotland. We are calling for strong climate targets in Scotland from the government and your support will make that message heard. 

    Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to our special Scottish wildlife and many species are suffering now from the new climatic trends and weather chaos that it is bringing.  Every week seems to bring a new story of terrible climate impacts on something we love, like the Great Barrier Reef, puffins, or coffee. That’s why we need to act now for our future, and nature’s.

    Our understanding of the impacts of climate change, and the severity of the challenges ahead, has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years. The Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership has recently published a report card that takes a look at how the science has developed in this field in the last 10 years. The findings make it clear that the impacts of climate change on marine life are complex and intricately linked to other factors, such as those driving the current dramatic declines in our seabird populations.

    We now know that warming seas lead to changes in the distribution and abundance of cold-water fish which in turn causes food shortages for seabirds and impacts commercial fisheries, but warmer waters may also offer a more amenable environment for invasive non-native species to become established in. The report card highlights the need to better understand the impacts climate change will have on human health, society and the economy but offers a glimmer of hope by stating that appropriate and ongoing adaptation measures can make a difference.

    A new Climate Change Bill will go through the Holyrood Parliament in the autumn with an aim to change climate targets. We believe that what Government is currently proposing is disappointing and not ambitious enough. To seek greater effort and long lasting action we are joining with our partners in Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, in the Act for Our Future campaign. We are calling for Scotland to have a new target to produce zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 by the latest. This is an ambitious target but is what is needed if Scotland is to do its share in limiting climate change to safe levels.

    The new Act of Parliament also needs to set in stone commitments to insulate homes, decarbonise transport and make sure farming is climate-friendly. As well as cutting emissions these new efforts could mean warm homes for all, better health, cleaner city air, and great food grown in a wildlife-rich countryside. We know that climate action can be good for nature, people and the economy. For example, we are part of a huge effort to restore Scotland’s vast blanket bog habitats so that the carbon stored in the soils is not lost to the atmosphere and allowed to harm the climate. This restoration activity restores the bog habitat and allows species such as curlew and hen harrier to thrive. It also brings jobs to remote areas and improves the quality of rivers and drinking water.

    We are asking you to be part of the campaign to call for the climate targets and action that people and nature need. It’s easy to do now by clicking the link below and signing the letter to the First Minister here. Let’s Act for Our Future, and nature’s. 

  • Shiants episode eight: Buzzing about biosecurity

    Shiants episode eight: Buzzing about biosecurity

    Welcome to the latest instalment of our work on the Shiant Isles Recovery Project from Laura Bambini, RSPB Scotland's seabird recovery officer. The project is an initiative to remove non-native black rats from the isles in order to provide safe breeding sites for Scotland’s globally important seabird colonies. It is part funded by the EU LIFE+ programme and is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Nicolson family, who have been the custodians of the Shiant Isles for three generations.

    In the last installement Iain Maclean, a research assistant in the project, reflected on his time spent on the island. Here Laura gives us an update on the biosecurity work that’s been taking place and will be crucial to the long term success of the project.

    One year on from the end of the operation to eradicate the black rat on the Shiant Isles, our team continues to monitor for signs of any surviving rats on the islands. Following international best practice, we’ll have to wait a full two years from the last sign of rat before we can declare the islands rat-free. In the meantime, we’re focussing our efforts on preventing a new population of rats arriving and establishing on the Shiant Isles – it’s all about biosecurity these days!

    Our project manager, Charlie, and RSPB Scotland’s conservation officer in Western Isles, Robin, visited the islands a couple of times over the winter months to check the permanent rat monitoring stations for signs of them. We’ve placed a few dozen Protecta bait stations around the islands, and each station contains cocoa- or peanut butter flavoured wax blocks which rats love to chew. If a lone rat arrived on the islands in the dead of winter, it would be keen to find a dry and warm place to shelter in so we  placed a few ‘rodent motels’ in strategic locations around the islands. These motels are plywood boxes that contain bedding material, and more wax for the rats to chew on. The winter checks found no sign of rats, which was great news.

    One of the rodent motels

    In order to keep the Shiants rat-free for the years to come, we want to raise awareness about the need for rodent biosecurity in the Western Isles, and amongst managers of other seabird islands around the UK. Effective rodent biosecurity is like a three-legged stool, where each of the legs has an important function without which the stool wouldn’t stay upright. The legs of the biosecurity stool are: prevention, early detection and rapid response. Our team on the Shiants is working on ensuring the second and very important aspect of biosecurity is in place (early detection). Last December, we trained up a group of keen volunteers to act as the Shiant Isles Rapid Response Team (SHIRT) who are ready to spring into action if our team on the islands detected signs of rats.

    This summer, we are working on the final important leg of the biosecurity stool: prevention. To do this, we recently held the first of four biosecurity training courses aimed at island managers and other people who have a key role to play in ensuring the ‘incursion pathways’ to the Shiants and other offshore islands are kept secure and rodent-free. The training course in Leverburgh on the island of Harris was attended by a hardy bunch of islanders who were keen to learn about rat eradications and preventing new incursions on islands. 

    Taking the course out of the classroom and into the outdoors

    The course participants learned about the different tools available to detect rats on islands, and about the ways and means rats have for reaching offshore islands. We were reminded of the long history of shipwrecks along the coasts and islands of the British Isles – and there have been a staggering number of wrecks over the centuries – and that these are by no means a thing of the past. Just a few years ago, the trawler Spinningdale ploughed into Hirta, the main island in the St Kilda group. Thanks to effective biosecurity measures and protocols in place, the National Trust for Scotland was able to respond and make sure no rats abandoned the wreck for safety on the island. The St. Kilda islands are home to a vast number of breeding puffins and other seabirds, including the largest colony of Leach’s storm petrels on this side of the Atlantic which would have been at risk from the rats. The Spinningdale story served as a reminder that vigilance is needed to keep our seabird islands safe and free from rats, and that similar events could happen anywhere in the Western Isles or on any of the dozens of important offshore seabird islands in the UK waters.

    Field training on Boreray

    Following on from a day in the classroom, the next day we took a boat to the island of Boreray in North Uist, to look for rat sign and to gain practical experience in deploying rat detection tools. Walking round the island on the sunny and calm day, it was easy to see how rats could reach offshore islands – Berneray island appeared just a stone’s throw away. Several ruined buildings and ancient stone walls on the island could feasibly host large numbers of breeding European storm petrels. Alas, none are present on Boreray now. Instead, we found several rat burrows and runs. The storm petrel, the UK’s smallest seabird, is defenceless against rats that are as big as the adult birds, and so storm petrels are only found breeding on rat-free islands. 

    The course on the beach at Boreray

    Talking to course participants from different islands in the Western Isles, we all agreed on the importance of biosecurity and the fact that prevention is better than the cure. I hope that the course, and the others that will follow, helped to inspire island managers and boat operators to work together to keep seabird islands rat-free. I certainly came away thinking the Shiants really are a special place and how important it is to keep them rat-free for the years to come. By doing that, the storm petrels will hopefully find them a safe place to breed, and establish on the islands.  

    The Shiant Isles Recovery Project is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Nicolson Family, it is funded by EU LIFE+ Nature [LIFE13 NAT/UK/000209 – LIFE Shiants] and private donations. The eradication is led by Wildlife Management International with the support of Engebrets and Sea Harris Ltd.

  • Head over heels for Speyside’s diptera: the northern silver stiletto fly

    This is the third post in a six part blog series about rare insects in the Cairngorms. A new project launched this year to save six endangered invertebrates in the north of Scotland and project officer Gabrielle Flinn will take a closer look at one of these species each month. This time, it's the turn of the northern silver stiletto fly. The Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms project is a partnership involving RSPB Scotland, the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), Buglife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

    Soaring into the air about two to three metres from the ground and flashing its reflective body, the northern silver stiletto fly (Spiriverpa lunulata) suddenly drops to the floor again. Males will do this, flying up and dropping again, several times before ascending into a full dance to try and attract the attention of a female.

    If a female appears, the males will form 'leks' (much like some bird species, for example black grouse) to compete for her attention. Despite the allusion to high heeled shoes in its name it is not called the northern silver stiletto because of this performance. The abdomen of the fly is shaped like a stiletto knife and covered in silvery hairs to give it a shimmering appearance. 

    The fly survives on shingle - the sandy, rocky banks that can be found alongside and on rivers. It prefers slightly vegetated river shingle where it can shelter and feed as an adult. River shingle habitat can be impacted by annual flooding and so long-life banks that manage to withstand this flooding are of great importance as reliable sites to the fly.

    River Shingle. Photo credit: Stephen Hewitt. 

    Amongst the sandy deposits, the eel-like larvae travel just below the surface searching for invertebrate prey to bite and destabilise with their venom before consumption. The venom is not dangerous to large animals such as humans, however, so there is nothing to fear whilst having your picnic by the Spey!

    After enough feeding the larvae will pupate into an adult with June and July being the best time to see them. Females can be distinguished from males by their smaller eyes (as with all flies) but also by the black stripes on the abdomen between the silvery hairs.

    During the training day that we ran this month, volunteers were lucky enough to find several larvae and observe the males starting to dance. Over the course of the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms project we hope to better understand the distribution of this species so we can help to conserve it and the integral habitat on which it and many other invertebrates rely.

    The first two blogs in this series focused on the shining guest ant and the Kentish glory moth. Give them a read by clicking the links.