Scottish Nature Notes

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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.
  • Five facts you need to know about house martins

    Many of you will have seen house martins dashing about in the skies above you the last couple of months. Here RSPB Scotland’s Jess Barrett brings you five facts you need to know about these summer migrants.

    Five facts you need to know about house martins

    1. House martins have a white rump

    With swifts, swallows, sand martins and house martins all back in Scotland over the summer months it can be difficult to tell them apart. One of the easiest ways to identify a house martin is by their white rump which others do not have. They also have a pure white belly, unlike sand martins which have a band of colour across their breast area. House martin tail feathers are much shorter than the streamers swallows have, and they are smaller than swifts.

    2. They can have up to three broods a year

    House martins can have up to three broods a year. Both parent birds will build the nest of mud. They create a cup shaped nest by gathering mud in their beaks from the edges of pools or puddles. The nests tend to be built in the eaves of buildings so you can often see them dashing back and forth to them to feed their young.

    Nesting house martins even get a mention in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, said to be seen at Cawdor Castle. However, traditionally the nests would have been built on cliff faces both inland and by the sea and some can still be found here.

    3. They are sociable birds

    House martins are sociable birds – they tend to nest in small colonies so if you spot one nest the chances are there will be others close by. They also feed and migrate together. Keep an eye out for large groups of them from August. They are known to gather in big numbers just before they leave Scotland heading south for the winter months. Come the end of October they will all have left for another year.

    4. They are rarely on the ground

    House martins spend much of their time on the wing. One of the few times you may spot one on the ground is when it is gathering mud for its nest. As their main source of food is flying insects it makes perfect sense for these birds to be airborne for much of the time. However, they do also enjoy a perch and can be seen on wires and rooftops, particularly once their young have fledged. Have you seen any taking a seat?

    5. Where they winter is a mystery

    While we know that house martins head to Africa during our winter months it’s still not clear where they spend this time as their main wintering grounds on this continent are uncertain. What we do know is that they return to Scotland in April and May and many of us love seeing them darting about in the skies above us!

  • Parliamentary Support for a Coul Links ‘Call In’ grows

    Two and a half weeks ago, RSPB Scotland, supported by a coalition of environmental experts including Buglife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Marine Conservation Society, launched an e-action asking people to write to their MSPs, or if not in Scotland, to the First Minister, calling on the Scottish Government to step in and #SaveCoulLinks. Lyndsey Croal, our Parliamentary Officer, provides an update on the response so far to the e-action.

    Parliamentary Support for a Coul Links ‘Call In’ grows

    After the disappointment following the Highland Council’s Local Planning Committee decision to support the golf development, we’ve been overwhelmed by the response to this e-action so far, with over 5,000 actions taken to MSPs and over 1,500 to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. This is sending a clear message to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government that people really care about this precious area of nature and don’t want to see it lost forever. The good news is, it seems to be making a difference!

    As responses to the letters are being received from the various political parties, there is a real pattern of support for the call-in. The Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Green Party, and the Scottish Liberal Democrats are all supporting the call-in, with some already writing to the Planning Minister, Kevin Stewart to ask him to move this process forward.

    Some of the statements from the different parties have been equally positive:

    Labour’s Environment spokesperson, Claudia Beamish MSP highlighted the SNH advice on the adverse effects on the Ramsar site meaning, “it cannot be granted planning consent. It would also breach Scottish Planning Policy on SSSIs as any economic benefits would not be of national importance.” Her colleague, Alex Rowley MSP, and member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, also said, “these wild spaces belong to all the people of Scotland, and that is why following your email I have written to the Minister for Local Government and Housing Kevin Stewart, urging him to call this plan in.”

    From the Greens, John Finnie MSP, a regional member for the Highlands and Islands and a long term objector to the development, said on their website This is a disappointing but unsurprising decision by councillors who are too easily swayed by flimsy promises of jobs, regardless of the cost to an irreplaceable wild landscape and the nature and tourism that it supports…I urge Scottish Ministers to step in to ensure we do not allow another golf course in the wrong place.”

    From the Lib Dems, Mike Rumbles, Scottish spokesperson for rural affairs, said “given the importance and scale of this proposed development, I have written to the Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, to request that the Scottish Government ‘call the application in’, in order to make a formal assessment of the situation.”

    Additionally, the Scottish Conservatives have recognised that “as this development will potentially affect an area that is designated, it is right that the Scottish Government reviews the decision to examine the potential environmental impacts.”

    These are all positive statements highlighting the level of national interest in this development proposal indicating that opposition parties are united on believing that the call-in should happen.

    Although there has been some encouragement that SNP MSPs feel the development is likely to be called in, none have taken a concrete position. This is likely because they are awaiting for Scottish Government colleagues to consider the development so as to go forward with a collective party decision.

    Therefore, it is now up to the Scottish Government to decide whether to step in to save this unique and triple-designated site, for the sake of Scotland’s reputation, and to send a message that Scotland truly cares about its international commitments, biodiversity and the value of our natural environment. We have been encouraged by the opposition parties’ responses so far, and hope Ministers will also get the message that this development is #NotCoul!

    Thank you to everyone who has taken the e-action so far, but if you haven’t done so yet, there’s still time to do so here.

  • Fate of Coul Links now in the hands of Scottish Government

    Fate of Coul Links now in the hands of Scottish Government

    URGENT call to action

    Those of you following the campaign to Save Coul Links will know that we’re part of a group of conservation organisations fighting to stop proposals for a golf course on this triple protected wildlife site. Coul Links is one of the Scotland’s national treasures and is designated as a SPA, Ramsar site and SSSI. Kate Bellew, our Senior Conservation Planner, explains why the fate of Coul Links is now in the hands of the Scottish Government and why we urgently need your to help.

    This week, Highland Council voted to approve proposals for a golf course at Coul Links, against the advice of Council officials, SNH and numerous environmental groups.

    If this shocking decision is allowed to go-ahead it would have terrible consequences for the natural environment. Once these unique habitats are lost, they cannot be replaced. This development would set a terrible precedent. If triple-protected Coul Links is allowed to be destroyed for a golf course – is anywhere safe from development?

    Responsibility of Scottish Government

    All is not lost. Because of the significance of the environmental impacts, it’s the Scottish Government’s responsibility to make the final decision. They have the power to step in and save Coul Links.

    The decision goes completely against Scottish Government’s international environmental commitments, which make it clear that areas like these should be protected.

    We are leading an e-action calling on the Scottish Government to step in and ensure that Scotland upholds its international environmental commitments. Scotland’s reputation depends on it.

    We have only a few weeks to urge the Scottish Government to call-in the decision. Please take action today. Click here for our e-action.

    This decision could have far reaching implications. You don’t have to live in Scotland to take part in this campaign.

    Help us share our campaign

    Look out for content from @RSPBScotland on Twitter, and RSPB Scotland and RSPB Highlands & Islands on Facebook as well as messages from our conservation partners Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust.