November, 2017

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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.
  • What’s been top in 2017 – nature highlights from the year

    What’s been top in 2017 – nature highlights from the year

    With the end of 2017 rapidly approaching we thought we’d take a look back at some of our nature highlights over the past year. There’s been so much happening this year you can’t help but be inspired to get out exploring Scotland and seeing some incredible wildlife!

    Winter thrills


    The start of the year kicked off with some great news about the Galloway Kite Trail; a new report found that people visiting Dumfries and Galloway to see the region's red kites had contributed over £8.2m to the local economy. The trail, a partnership project between RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and Bellymack Hill Farm, has been running since 2003 and is a great place to look for these spectacular birds which were reintroduced to this area in 2001. Why not pay it a visit? Details can be found here.

    Big Garden Birdwatch returned for its 38th year at the end of January. Over 35,000 people took part in Scotland and counted 626,184 birds – amazing! While house sparrows remained at the top of the results it was some colourful visitors that caught many people’s attention. This year saw an ‘irruption’ of waxwings with these birds seen in around nine times more gardens in 2017 compared to previous years in Scotland due to the berry crop failing in their native Scandinavia. Registration for next year’s Big Garden Birdwatch opens on 13th December so get yourself signed up and ready to count!

    Spring is sprung


    Springing into the warmer season brought some toad-ly brilliant news about one of Scotland’s rarest species. Natterjack toads are only found in Scotland on the Solway Firth, including at our Mersehead reserve. For three years a project here focused on trying to increase their numbers with new shallow ponds created for them to breed in. And it worked! The numbers of breeding natterjack toads recorded had increased by 400 per cent to 150 toads by the end of the project in 2016.

    The Isle of Tiree had some record breaking visitors this April when 2,270 black-tailed godwits arrived, the highest number thought to have ever been counted in Scotland at one time and double the previous record of 1,320 birds in 2013. Typically, a few hundred godwits are seen here each year. They often stop off in the Hebrides in April and May to refuel during their long migration to Iceland, where they breed, and are very distinctive in their brick-red finery.

    There were celebrations at RSPB Scotland Abernethy as it was named Nature Reserve of the Year in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards Competition 2017. The reserve, which stretches from the woods north of Nethybridge to the summit of Ben Macdui, is home to around 5,000 species of wildlife including capercaillies, eagles and wildcats. Call in for a visit and experience this incredible place for yourself.

    Summer spots


    It was a summer of discovery for rare insects in the Cairngorms. Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms, a three year partnership project between RSPB Scotland, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, launched earlier in the year to save six of Scotland's rarest invertebrates. All of the species were successfully surveyed and located this summer, including for a first for Scotland; footage of a small scabious mining bee entering its burrow was recorded. Discover more about this project and how you can be involved on its Facebook page.

    Project Puffin captured the imagination of many of you this spring and summer. This project, supported by a £50,000 award from the Heritage Lottery Fund, sought to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing puffin conservation.  A number of these colourful seabirds were tracked to find out where they were going to feed, and a census on Shetland also took place. The Puffarazzi part of the project received an overwhelming response – our call for snaps of puffins with fish in their bills resulted in more than 600 people sending in over 1400 photos from around the UK! These will help scientists discover more about what food sources are available for puffins. Find out more on the project here.

    News of an old friend brought a smile to many of us – Shelly, a white-tailed eagle, was tagged as a chick in 2010 on Mull. Her movements were followed online by people around the world but in 2013 her tag came off bringing our ability to track her travels to an end. No more was heard of her until this summer when Iain Paterson photographed an eagle fishing in a remote sea loch in Sutherland. The leg rings in the photo identified her as Shelly and it was wonderful to learn that she and her mate, who had hatched on Lewis in 2010, were raising two chicks! Find out more about Shelly’s story.

    Autumn days


    A study by researchers from RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Raptor Study Group revealed that city sparrowhawks in Scotland are more successful than their country cousins. Populations of the hawks in Edinburgh and in the Ayrshire countryside were studied over four years from 2009 to 2012, and found that the urban territories were occupied far more frequently than those in the rural area and that the city hawks also had significantly higher breeding success.

    The cooler weather saw the welcome return of some very special visitors in record numbers. In October 11,070 barnacle geese were recorded at our Mersehead reserve, higher than last year’s peak count of 10,035. It’s great news for a species that had only 400 birds 70 years ago. The Solway Firth is one of the most important wintering sites for these geese from Svalbard, and earlier this year, thanks to public generosity, more of this area was secured for nature; back in October 2016 we launched an urgent appeal to raise £285,000 in just one month to expand Mersehead by 112 hectares. This autumn it was great to see so many geese making a winter home for themselves back at the now bigger reserve. Come and see them for yourself!

    Back into winter


    Although the cold may now be creeping in and the days getting even shorter there’s still plenty of wildlife to be seen. In the last few weeks hawfinches have been spotted in a variety of places in Scotland. There are less than 1000 pairs of these birds in the UK and the upsurge in sightings across the country is down to birds that have travelled here from the continent in search of food.  A rich chestnut head, rose-pink breast and huge parrot like bill make hawfinches very distinctive – have you seen any?

    With 2017’s nature highlights fresh in your mind be sure to keep your eyes and ears alert – who knows what wildlife you might spot before we welcome in 2018!

  • Coul Links: A blow to the development and a surprise invite

    Coul Links, a rare coastal habitat, in under threat from proposals to build a golf course. We're one of a partnership of conservation organisations along with Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Marine Conservation Society and Scottish Wildlife Trust campaigning to save it from destruction. Here's an update on some of the recent coverage about the site and development plans.

    Coul Links: A blow to the development and a surprise invite


    Recent news that the National Trust for Scotland and statutory nature conservation body Scottish Natural Heritage have stepped in to help save Coul Links from a proposed golf course have been welcomed by conservation organisations.  This is a major blow for the developer, Todd Warnock, who has responded by suggesting that the conservation organisations have so far failed to engage in the project:  

    “It is because we appreciate the concerns of some NGOs that we call on them to lessen their rhetoric and engage directly with us. Our long-standing invitations to these organisations to actually visit the site and engage with us remain fully open.” (BBC News Online - 28th November)

    This is quite a welcome surprise because a number of conservation organisations wrote jointly to the developers in 2016.  Here is our letter (downloadable pdf below) to which we received no reply.  In fact, it is normal good practice for a developer to engage with environmental groups at an early stage of their project development to make sure the development site is appropriate and to reduce any residual adverse environmental impacts. It is disappointing that this didn’t happen on this occasion.

    Coul Links has long been identified as one of Scotland’s most important wildlife sites, and as a result it is strictly protected by Highland Council and Scottish Government planning policy and Scots and European nature conservation laws.  Our locally based staff and supporters know the area very well.  Why would it be that a developer who wants to build on such a heavily protected nature site would choose not to meet with nature conservation organisations at the earliest stage?

    We look forward to being able to work with this developer, or any other, in due course so that a development in a more suitable location can be progressed, with lower impact on Scotland’s wildlife.

    You too can speak out against the planning application to help save Coul Links. Please email the Highland Council at eplanning@highland.gov.uk with the application reference 17/04601/FUL in the subject line, or follow the instructions on Council’s website to submit a comment objecting to the development via its e-planning portal. The deadline for comments has been extended to 22nd December. Find out more about the campaign including some of the issues you may wish to raise in your response to the Highland Council here

  • Save Coul Links: conservation partnership appeals to Ramsar

    Coul Links, a rare coastal habitat in East Sutherland, is under threat from proposals to build a golf course. We’ve been campaigning in partnership with Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Marine Conservation Society and Scottish Wildlife Trust to save it from destruction. Here Isobel Mercer, policy officer at RSPB Scotland, provides an update on the latest stage in the efforts to save Coul Links and how you can help.

    Save Coul Links: conservation partnership appeals to Ramsar


    Coul Links in East Sutherland – what you will find on this unique stretch of coastline is a rare sight in the UK these days: an unmodified dune system that until now has been sheltered from development. Just how valuable this mosaic of rare habitats is for wildlife is reflected in the triple-level of protection it is granted nationally, at a European level, and also internationally as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.

    As you may have heard this incredible place for nature is under threat from proposals to build a golf course here. The Coul Links partnership has written to the Ramsar Convention’s Secretariat in Switzerland to appeal for its support in ensuring that one of the last remaining intact dune systems in Scotland is not destroyed by development, as others have been. You can read a copy of the letter here.

    We have asked the Ramsar Secretariat, as a matter of urgency, to place Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet on a list of threatened Ramsar Sites and to press the relevant governments in the UK to take swift action to prevent ecological damage from occurring to Coul Links. You can also lend us your help and support by raising these concerns with your MSP (you can find out who your MSPs are here).

    Protected areas such as Ramsar sites are created to shelter our most valuable and loved wildlife from badly situated developments like this one. If they are allowed to exist in name only and become devoid of the very species and habitats that they protect, then they will be of no use to our cherished, and increasingly threatened, wildlife.

    Wetland habitats support an incredibly diverse array of wildlife and also provide vital services, such as supplying us with all our fresh water and flood protection. The Ramsar Convention, which 169 countries have signed up to since the 1970s, is an agreement to protect internationally important wetlands and the species that live and depend on them. In the 1960s the international community began to truly grasp the global significance of wetland habitats and the urgent need to protect these valuable places from rising levels of loss and degradation. The Convention was a huge, ahead of the times win for the environmental movement.

    As a member of the Ramsar Convention the UK is required to identify and protect wetlands of international importance in its territories – these are known as ‘Ramsar Sites’.

    Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet, the Ramsar site within which Coul Links sits, contains unique wetland habitats such as saltmarsh, sand dunes and sandflats. It provides a home to over 20,000 wintering waterbirds including curlew, wigeon and teal, unusual plantlife and invertebrates such as Foneseca’s seed fly, which is unique to this part of Scotland.  A historical marvel, the dune system at Coul first began to develop thousands of years ago following the melting of the icecaps at the end of the last ice age. In winter, the amazing dune slacks flood and become awash with life, as over-wintering birds use these habitats to sheltering from bad weather and predators such as foxes.

    And yet astoundingly, despite these protections, Coul Links is under threat from a planning application for an 18-hole championship golf course that has been submitted to the Highland Council. The construction of this golf course, which has been spearheaded by multi-millionaire American investors Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock, would destroy the unspoiled dune complex, through the creation of a network of tees, fairways, manicured greens and footpaths. This would damage and fragment the special wetland habitats which are internationally protected under the Ramsar Convention, and could in turn have harmful impacts on many of the other wetland species which make the site so special and of global importance.

    Along with our partners in this campaign we’re working together to object to the proposed destruction of Coul Links, and other organisations including Ramblers Scotland, The National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas have also objected to Highland Council.

    You too can speak out against the planning application to help save Coul Links. Please email the Highland Council at eplanning@highland.gov.uk with the application reference 17/04601/FUL in the subject line, or follow the instructions on Council’s website to submit a comment objecting to the development via its e-planning portal. The deadline for comments has been extended to 22nd December. Find out more about the campaign including some of the issues you may wish to raise in your response to the Highland Council here