February, 2018

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.
  • Let’s make our nature laws worth the paper they’re written on

    Let’s make our nature laws worth the paper they’re written on

    Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, we all want nature to be better protected.

    Given that the wild species and habitats that we love, and the pressures they face, do not respect borders, we need a collaborative approach between the four governments of the UK to ensure the best possible outcomes for nature.

    You have the power to hold them to account and make sure they’re working together to achieve more for our shared environment.

    We need the environment to be placed at the heart of discussions with the other three governments on the new frameworks and institutions that will be needed if we leave the EU. A letter from you now could influence Ministers Roseanna Cunningham and Michael Russell, to ensure that our future system of environmental protections works across borders for all wildlife.

    If there are gaps in the law, the environment will suffer

    There are glaring gaps in UK Government's EU (Withdrawal) Bill that seeks to convert EU environmental law into domestic law. This means we risk losing the important legal principles stating, for example, that polluters should pay for the damage they cause and that the risks of serious environmental damage should be taken into account and acted on by decision-makers even in the absence of full scientific certainty.

    Let’s make our nature laws worth the paper they’re written on We urgently need to secure new arrangements for governing our environmental laws

    It is not enough to have strong laws to protect the environment on paper. We also need the tools to ensure they are being applied correctly on the ground. Currently, several EU institutions, including the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, largely fill that role for us, as they do for every EU country. Outside of the EU, we will need our own institutions to ensure that our environmental laws are implemented in full and that governments and public sector bodies can be held to account.

    Strong independent institutions are arguably the most powerful asset we can secure to safeguard our environment for the future. These institutions should monitor and report on the state of the environment, regulate the implementation of environmental law and address breaches of law when they arise. Without a means of holding our governments and private organisations to account, we cannot ensure nature is protected.

    It is essential that members of the public, like you, can trust that independent institutions are there to look out for their rights and give them a voice if they have a valid complaint that is not being listened to.

    We urgently need our governments to collaborate

    This is the first big opportunity for the governments of our four nations to begin to establish themselves collectively as global leaders on tackling nature’s recovery.  

    We recognise and welcome the leadership that the Scottish Government has already shown on the ‘governance gap’ issue.

    However, we also recognise the need for greater cooperation and collaboration between the four UK governments to effectively manage shared environmental challenges. From the conservation of migratory and wide-ranging species to the management of shared river basins and other natural habitats, few environmental issues can be effectively addressed without working together.

    We currently rely on EU law to ensure a common set of minimum environmental standards across the four nations, which are otherwise responsible for their own environmental policies. The Scottish Government has promised to maintain EU level environmental standards regardless of the outcome of Brexit. However, in order to ensure that environmental outcomes are not undermined, it is vital that all four countries of the UK have similarly high standards and a means of holding one another to account in enforcing those standards.

    Challenge Roseanna Cunningham and Michael Russell to lead the way

    Any solution to the environmental governance gap needs to enable individual citizens to hold our governments to account. As campaigners, letter-writers and people who already speak up for nature, that means you!

    You can influence the future of our nature laws and how we enforce them, by writing to the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, and Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, Michael Russell.

    You can use the same letter or email for each of them by simply personalising the name:

    For the attention of Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
    The Scottish Government
    St. Andrew's House
    Regent Road
    EH1 3DG

    For the attention of Michael Russell MSP, Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe
    The Scottish Government
    St. Andrew's House
    Regent Road
    EH1 3DG


    Encourage them to continue working with the UK and devolved governments to address the governance gap and set out proposals for a set of joint or coordinated institutions capable of holding all four government to account on their environmental obligations and commitments.

    Here are some of the key points you might want to include in your message:

    • We need new joint or coordinated institutions, established under primary legislation, with the power to hold all four governments to account for their environmental performance. A legislative underpinning is vital to ensure that the institutions have the independence they need and cannot be disbanded at the whim of any future government.
    • The new body (or bodies) established to address the governance gap should have a presence in each of the four nations and report to all four legislatures.
    • One of the functions of this body should be to ensure that the EU environmental principles continue to be used to: interpret the law, guide future decision-making, and if necessary give a basis for legal challenges when the law is broken.
    • Citizens and civil society organisations must have an easily accessible mechanism to raise potential breaches of environmental law in all four UK nations.

    If you need some inspiration about how to write a strong letter, see page 7 of our Guide to Campaigning.

    You can help us track the impact of the campaign – please let us know at campaigns.scotland@rspb.org.uk if you've sent an objection, and any replies you receive.

    Thank you for your help in ensuring that Scotland’s amazing natural heritage will continue to be protected and enhanced.


  • Scotland's mountain hares

    Mountain hares are Scotland's only native member of the Lagomorpha family and are known for their coats turning white during winter. Here James Silvey, RSPB Scotland's Species and Habitats Officer, takes a look at what needs to be done to ensure the long term future of these mammals here. 

    Scotland's mountain hares

    A mountain hare in its winter coat

    On the 26th January the long awaited SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) commissioned piece of research detailing effective methods for monitoring mountain hares was published. This work, carried out by the James Hutton Institute in collaboration with both SNH and GWCT (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust) provided a clear steer on how to monitor hares in open habitats either directly (counting the hares themselves at night by spotlight or thermal imager) or indirectly (counting hare dung pellets as a proxy for the hares themselves).

    This may at first appear to be an incidental piece of research but until now an agreed approach of how to monitor hares had not been established and therefore the crucial question of, “how are mountain hares faring in Scotland?” could not be answered.

    Mountain hares are a quarry species meaning it is legal to kill them during the open season (1st August – 28/29th February). The reasons for killing mountain hares are varied but mainly include sport shooting, protecting young trees from browsing hares and preventing the spread of disease-carrying ticks. RSPB Scotland takes a neutral view on the first, accepts that the second may sometimes be necessary but, in the case of the last one, conclude that there is no evidence that it serves any useful purpose.

    Despite this, every year on grouse moors across Scotland thousands of hares are killed in the misguided attempt to reduce tick numbers (ticks feed on mountain hares) and thus reduce the transmission of a disease known as louping ill, carried by ticks, to red grouse. The theory is that by reducing the number of mountain hares, red grouse numbers will increase resulting in more grouse to shoot at the end of the summer, nevertheless there is NO scientific evidence to justify this form of management.

    A mountain hare in its summer coat

    At present, and in the absence of a standardised monitoring method for mountain hares, grouse moor managers use intuition to estimate the numbers of hares on the moor in any given year and the same process for how many can be shot to reduce the population to a level that they believe will benefit the grouse by the removal of a tick host. The numbers that are actually killed across Scotland are unknown as there is no legal obligation for anyone to report these figures to statutory organisations such as SNH and as such we have no indication of how mountain hares are faring in Scotland, if the management is sustainable, or if the overall population is stable, increasing or declining.

    This is worrying in itself but it is even more concerning considering that mountain hares are actually afforded some form of legal protection in the form of the Habitats Directive where they are listed as an Annex V species. As such the Scottish Government must report to Europe on the status of mountain hares and maintain them in favourable condition.  In the last report to Europe the Scottish Government did just that, reporting that mountain hares were in favourable condition despite the fact nobody knew how many hares there were, the status of the population, or how many hares were killed annually.

    To address the important question of mountain hare status in Scotland and to safeguard the long term future of mountain hares RSPB Scotland would like to see;

    • A moratorium on the mass culling of mountain hares until such time as there is a credible picture of their population trends and status; at the moment there is simply no way of knowing the impact of such culls and it is reckless to allow them to continue
    • An independent enquiry is currently investigating how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. We advocate the introduction of a licensing system for "driven" grouse shooting, which would include appropriate safeguards for mountain hares
    • A national, annual monitoring programme for mountain hares to be rolled out across the species’ range in Scotland and the results of these surveys submitted annually to SNH.
    • Land managers who are undertaking mountain hare management to undertake surveys of the species before any management takes place. The results of these surveys as well as proposed numbers to be killed, and actual numbers killed should be submitted to SNH.
    • SNH should report on the national and local trends of mountain hares as soon as enough data has been gathered and then annually thereafter to make sure that mountain hares are in favourable condition across their range.
    • SNH should use the data collected from land managers that are controlling mountain hares to report on the effects that population scale control has on local and national populations.
    • SNH should be consulted on any form of hare management that occurs within a protected area for species that relies on mountain hare as a food source, i.e. golden eagles.

     Mountain hares are an important part of our upland natural heritage – let’s keep them that way.

  • Year of Young People: Wild Sparks

    2018 is the Year of Young People in Scotland. Here Jasper Hamlet, our Youth and Families Officer, takes a look at some of the ways RSPB Scotland is joining in with this including an exciting Wild Sparks get together taking place in June.

    Year of Young People: Wild Sparks

    Image: Paul Gault, Young Scot

    “The world now has the largest generation of young people in history. I place great hope in their power to shape our future…” These words were spoken by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon whilst speaking at an event 2015. Young people are important and at RSPB Scotland we know that too. 

    If you didn’t already know, 2018 is the Year of Young People in Scotland. Part of the Scottish government’s initiative of themed years, this year is aimed at inspiring Scotland through its young people, recognising the contribution young people make to our communities and celebrating their achievements in all areas of society.

    An exciting year for someone who is involved in our youth work at RSPB Scotland! This year is a perfect opportunity to shout about the fantastic work RSPB Scotland does with young people across the country but also challenge the way we work with them and capitalise on the galvanisation of Scottish youth and other organisations to change the way we work with young people, inspire them to create a world richer in nature and act creatively to develop new ways of thinking around involving young people within our work. So what are we doing?

    Across the country we are already undertaking fantastic projects with young people and we want to make sure that the efforts of young people in conservation is recognised. From developing pollinator highways with a school group, the Queen Bees, in Glasgow to working alongside pupils in Skye to develop family, self-led activities on the island, showing the positive contribution that young people, volunteers and communities can play in saving nature will be essential. We’re also looking forward to celebrating the contribution of young people in saving nature at the Nature of Scotland Awards 2018.

    We're continuing our involvement in YOYP18 with a partnership between RSPB Scotland and Young Scot, to create a youth jam event taking place in Edinburgh on 2 June called Wild Sparks.  We are inviting 30-40 young people from across Scotland to share their ideas, thoughts and solutions on how we can create support for nature – Using the powerful tool of co-design, this full day of discussion and brainstorming will provide us with a snapshot of how Scottish youth engage with nature, and will feed into the refreshed RSPB Youth Strategy to help to keep our thinking on track and in tune with young people. We are prepared for some frank conversations about what they really think about nature, and in return we will challenge them to come up with new ideas and innovative solutions with the overall aim of improving how we communicate and work more effectively with young people. We know we won’t get all the answers but we hope this event will act as a springboard, launching us into increased and better informed involvement with 16 – 25 year olds in Scotland.

    Our event is open to young people aged 16-25, details about it can be found here. If this sounds like something you or someone you know would be interested in being part of do apply!

    Please spread the word, share your stories, engage with our social media and join our events across the year. For those of you who wish to know more or have ideas and contributions you would like highlighted please contact me on jasper.hamlet@rspb.org.uk

    More information can also be found here http://yoyp2018.scot/ and we are using the year’s hashtag, #YOYP2018, on social media.