Introducing: Why invest in nature? a short film competition

Young filmmakers with a passion for nature are being sought for our new competition that aims to encourage businesses to see the benefits of the natural world.  We have joined forces with the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital (SFNC) to help promote why businesses should care for and invest in nature.  Rebecka Bergh, who is helping to organise the competition, explains all.

Why invest in nature? film competition © SNH/Lorne Gill

Why invest in nature? film competition © SNH/Lorne Gill

Businesses depend on nature for resources like timber or water supplies. They also benefit from a range of services provided by nature, such as pollination of crops and nutrient cycling in soils, or healthy environments for people to live in or visit. By making the connections between businesses and nature visible, we hope that decision-makers in all sectors will see the benefits of protecting Scotland’s nature and make certain that it prospers. We need to move towards a society where we live within the resource boundaries of the planet and don’t damage our natural environment or the species that live within it.  Businesses need to be part of that transition.  Caring for, and investing in, nature is vital for long-term business operations and will provide benefits for the whole of society, such as improving public health and well being.

Natural Capital Film competition - tell a story

We want to give businesses and policymakers a better understanding of how they both rely and impact on nature, to make sure that Scotland’s environment can thrive.  Therefore, we’re looking for short films to communicate this message to businesses, and we’re looking for help from young people.  This is a part of our work to continue the legacy of Scotland’s Year of Young People and to give young people an opportunity to influence businesses and the future of their natural environment.

This competition is an opportunity for those aged 16-30 to demonstrate their creative skills and present a convincing case for business investment in nature that will benefit all of us. Plus, there are some great prizes up for grabs!

There are six different categories on offer, each representing key business sectors in Scotland with an interest in nature. These include food, drink and agriculture, forestry and land management, energy, the built environment, tourism and finance. The winner of each of our six categories will receive £500 and one overall winner will be chosen to receive an additional £500.   We are backed by businesses from each sector that will sponsor the category prizes and also be a part of the judging panel.  These include Scottish Woodlands, Scottish Land & Estates, Baillie Gifford, Scottish Power, Robertson Tayside – part of Robertson group and Speyside Wildlife. For some of the categories there are also additional prizes from the sponsors, aiming to encourage the young person’s learning and development.

In addition, we’re also collaborating with Creative Scotland and YoungScot to reach a broad range of young people. We’d like to see participants who have an interest in environmental issues but also those with a passion for storytelling and film-making. With the competition running from early spring into early summer, it allows for some beautiful landscape footage, but we also encourage a range of video entries such as animations or stop motion. We are excited to bring together young people and businesses in this creative project and to raise awareness of the importance of businesses caring for and investing in Scotland’s environment.

Natural Capital film competition - tell a story

Video entries must highlight why businesses should invest in nature and how business can play a role in protecting and rebuilding our environment, and will be used in our future work with businesses. The competition will run between the 18 February and 31 May 2019, with the winner being announced in June. Find out more about the competition here together with the terms and conditions for entering.

Best of luck to those participating!

For inspiration, here is a short film, from Scottish Forum on Natural Capital showcasing the importance of Scotland’s natural capital:



Posted in Natural Capital, Year of Young People, Young people | Tagged , , , ,

Tiny shells and hidden animals

Do you like snails? The gastropod molluscs commonly found in your garden are probably the first thing that spring to mind. Or maybe you smell garlic and see a yummy plate of l’escargot.  However, this small word covers an array of species, in fact most gastropods (meaning literally ‘belly foot’) that have a shell into which they retract: whelks, winkles, cockles, razor shells, freshwater pearl mussels and many more species are basically snails! Nigel Buxton, our Natura Project Manager, tells us about the importance of Protected Areas for some of Scotland’s lesser-known land snail species.


Snail on dune grass, (C) SNH/Lorne Gill

Common land snails come in an impressive range of shapes and sizes – with around 120 species in the UK alone. In Britain the garden snail, one of the largest land snails, is well known especially to gardeners!  There are also white-lipped snails, brown-lipped snails, banded snails, glass snails, chrysalis snails, even edible snails; most of these are less than 2 cm in size.

Now imagine a land snail that can have a shell 20 cm long and 10 cm high; that’s the giant African land snail, one of the world`s largest land molluscs. This is a very successful species, originally from east Africa but now naturalised in many parts of the world where, with the ability to survive down to 2⁰C, it is a highly invasive and damaging agricultural pest.  Thankfully it does not occur in Britain where, as you well know, temperatures frequently fall well below 2⁰C!

This giant snail has often been promoted as a pet, contributing significantly to the invasive non-native species problem:  because it is hermaphrodite, a single individual has the capability to produce fertile eggs – over 1,000 in a single year. In the US the potential for agricultural damage is recognised as so severe it is now illegal to have one as a pet or to bring one into the country.

Our numerous land snail species utilise a variety of habitats and are widely distributed across the countryside, including our Protected Areas. Except where calcium is scarce (essential for building shells), all Protected Areas will support species of snails, from the banded white and brown lipped snails of grassland and hedge banks, to the abundant sandhill and pointed snails found in seaside sand dunes and machair.

In contrast to the giant African land snail, some of Scotland`s most important snails are tiny; these are the whorl snails. Three whorl species live in Scotland – Geyer`s whorl snail, the narrow-mouthed whorl snail and the round-mouthed whorl snail – all of which are less than 2 mm in size!  Desmoulin`s whorl snail, the largest species at 2.6 mm long, occurs only in England & Wales.

These tiny snails have restricted distributions within which they are scarce – although knowledge of numbers and locations is constrained because they are so hard to see!  Nevertheless, their conservation importance is such that they are identified as features on some Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) in Scotland.


Geyer’s whorl snail, (C) Dr Roger Key

At Garron Point SAC, in Aberdeenshire, the narrow-mouthed whorl snail is the site’s only protected feature. Geyer`s whorl snail occurs on three Scottish SACs in the eastern and central Highlands and may be found alongside the round-mouthed whorl snail. These species apparently flourished in postglacial conditions but climatic change has greatly reduced their range so that they are now known only at widely scattered European localities including northern Scandinavia, the Swiss Alps, to Britain and Ireland. Round-mouthed whorl snails are a protected feature on two of our SACs and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

With innocuous, hard-to-see species like whorl snails that are found at restricted locations and have limited overall range, you can see how vulnerable these animals are. With rapid ongoing climate change it is vital to avoid unwitting damage to these locations and to focus optimum management on those sites we know about. These tiny snails highlight where Scotland`s Protected Areas can be of paramount importance, especially when continued survival is both tenuous and sensitively balanced.

Our network includes more than 1500 protected areas across Scotland that are nature’s special places. Some are nature reserves managed by SNH or charities, but most are privately owned, and most have good public access thanks to Scotland’s Outdoor Access legislation.  SNH plays a key role in looking after these sites and monitoring their wildlife. Do you know where your local protected areas are and why they are important? How many have you visited? For more information on these amazing places visit Sitelink.

Six snail facts

  • Our common garden snails can reach a top speed of about 45 metres per hour (or 75cm in a minute).
  • Snails can see and smell but they can’t hear. Most land snails have two sets of tentacles, the upper ones carry the eyes and the lower ones are used for smelling.
  • Hermaphrodite snails have both male and female reproductive organs, however, they usually still mate with another snail, with both partners laying eggs.
  • Snails have a courtship process for attracting a mate, which can last between 2 and 10 hours.
  • Snails tend to live for between two and five years, however in captivity some can live for up to 25 years.
  • Snails are surprisingly strong and can lift up to ten times their body weight.

Photo Credits

Common chrysalis snail, (C) Christophe Quintin, Creative Commons

Underside of snail, (C) Vicki, Creative Commons

Giant African snail, (C) Malcolm Manners, Creative Commons

Giant African snail mating, (C) Tim Ellis, Creative Commons

Pointed snail, (C) Katja Schulz, Creative Commons

White-lipped snail, (C) Martin Cooper, Creative Commons

Narrow-mouthed whorl snails, (C) Museu Valencia Historia Natural

Narrow-mouthed whorl snail on palm, (C) Dr Matt Law

Posted in biodiversity, climate change, Insects, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Short-eared owls dazzle at Forvie

Our guest blog this week is written by our SNH former colleague, Ron Macdonald. Now retired from the day job, Ron is still staying busy, chairing the North East Biological Records Centre and serves on the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Committee – when he’s not watching short-eared owls in the beautiful North East of Scotland!

Short-eared owl quartering the Coastal grassland 2 - copyright Ron Macdonald

Short-eared owl quartering the Coastal grassland ©Ron Macdonald

I’ve come to Forvie National Nature Reserve in Aberdeenshire to watch one of my favourite birds, the short-eared owl.

Definitely five, and possibly up to seven, have been here since October quartering the coastal heath and dune grasslands. They’ll stay until March when they return to their breeding areas or until their prey is so depleted they decide to move on.

The short-eared owl is a beautiful bird, with golden yellow irises and black pupils set against black mascara-like feathers, making their eyes stand out. The effect is a piercing stare that literally stops you in your tracks.

Short-eared owl 1 - copyright Ron Macdonald

Short-eared owl. © Ron Macdonald

Like most owls, it’s primarily a nocturnal hunter, preying upon small rodents, particularly voles and field mice, but also small birds such as meadow pipits and reed buntings. One of the Gaelic names for an owl is cailleach-oidhche and this literally translates as ‘old woman of the night’. They also hunt during daylight, flying slowly in large or tight arcs as they quarter the ground, with occasional quick beats of their wings and then a slow glide until, on hearing a movement below, they hover, then pirouette- like, fold their wings and dive talons first into the vegetation to snatch prey.

Following the ‘Forvie’ owls over the last four months is addictive. I can’t get enough of seeing them hunt, a love that’s shared by many, especially wildlife photographers who are attracted by their photogenic good looks and interesting behaviour.

Understandably for a bird that hunts primarily by locating its prey by sound, I come across them much more frequently when winds are lighter and it’s dry. Presumably it’s both the sound of the wind and rain and the rustling of the vegetation that is the reason. Anything beyond 15mph or light rain and it’s likely there will be a no show.

During inclement weather owls hunker down, often several together in long heather or grass, waiting it out until the wind or rain abates. During one recent hooley, two owls flew up as I stumbled across Forvie’s moor.

On dry nights with light winds, they will be feeding for most of the time, and if they’ve fed well, will become elusive during the morning, presumably resting in the long vegetation. They reappear again in the afternoon: early afternoon if the wind and rain have been strong or heavy in the days before and later if night hunting has been good. Like all predators, they only hunt when they have to.

Their success rate is surprisingly low-less than 10% of attacks I observed were successful. Some owls will consume their prey there and then, occasionally mantling it with their wings, before swallowing it whole. Bigger prey, such as birds and larger rodents are plucked before eating. I’ve also seen owls caching small rodents, creating a food store for when the weather or lack of prey makes it difficult to hunt.

When the owls reappear together in the afternoon, I’ve seen them fly over, splitting to go to different parts of the reserve. Aerial skirmishes are frequent, chasing each other and occasionally locking talons, with grating calls that show their annoyance. These don’t last long, the need to hunt overcoming any initial aggression. Owls will actively chase away kestrels from the area they are hunting over. However, all this changes if a food item is captured with other owls, kestrels and crows quickly zeroing in to try and rob the prey. Kestrels are particularly quick and successful at snatching food.

Short-eared owl - face-off between short-eared owl and kestrel trying to steal its prey - copyright Darren Dawson

A face-off between a short-owl and kestrel trying to steal its prey. © Darren Dawson

Over the months, I’ve come to recognise individual owls by their size and plumage patterns and also by behaviour and feeding strategies. Males are smaller than females and one of these that I call ‘Blondie’ because of its very pale plumage will allow you to approach much closer than the others. In general, short-eared owls are tolerant of people and will pass within a few yards. This is only in winter as during the breeding season they are very vulnerable to disturbance and nest predation. If they perch close-by, you will know when they become alarmed by the manner in which they raise their ear tufts or adopt a hunched pose and by the way they change their face shape with the eyes staring you down. Occasionally, they will hiss, telling you to back off.

Short-eared owl - hissing - copyright Ron Macdonald

A short-eared owl displaying threat behaviour to a nearby owl. © Ron Macdonald

Another one of the owls has a very ginger tone to its plumage (yes I call it Ginger) and this bird frequently hunts over the scrub willow that surrounds Sand loch, diving into bushes in its effort to catch the small birds like reed buntings that feed and roost there. It’s even been seen to take an interest in a snipe which was flushed, although it quickly gave up the chase.

It’s likely some of the Forvie owls are from continental Europe, as shown by UK ringing recoveries. They mix with our native birds, which breed in the uplands and on islands such as the Uists and Orkney. With the coming of winter, our short-eared owls leave the uplands and move to feed and roost on the coast, favouring grasslands and heaths. However, they are occasionally also found in open scrubby woodland and on tidal salt marshes.

From 1970 to 2010, the short-eared owl has been lost from nearly half of its former UK breeding range (Breeding Bird Atlas 2007-11, British Trust for Ornithology) with a similar 50% reduction in the breeding population. The current UK population is estimated to be between 610-1240 pairs, the wide margin a reflection of how difficult it is to census the species. Scientists believe the actual term figure is closer to 610 pairs. It is now a rare UK breeding bird in urgent need of conservation management.

Short-eared owl hunting with visitors in the background - copyright Michele Emslie

Short-eared owl hunting with visitors in the background © Michele Emslie

So what has caused the halving of the population in the last 50 years? One possible reason is that while our conifer plantations are very attractive in their establishment phase, with wide expanses of rough grassland rich in rodent and small bird prey, as they mature, they close in and the habitat becomes much less attractive to owls.

However, there well may be other reasons, as yet unknown, why we have seen such a dramatic decline. Current research by the British Trust for Ornithology in Scotland, using satellite tags, is looking at the owls’ habitat requirements throughout the year and hopefully this will reveal the key factors that determine their survival.

The results of the tagging are also showing just how nomadic they are. The map below shows the remarkable movements of a female SEO tagged as a breeding adult in May 2017 up to November 2018. In the two breeding seasons this bird has been tracked, it has nested three times in two countries, at least twice successfully fledging young. In common with other females which were followed, she left her young within weeks of hatching, leaving the male to finish rearing them to independence.

Short-eared owl blog - map

The large-scale movements of a satellite tagged owl in 2018 – Copyright British Trust for Ornithology

In the month or so before the owls return to their breeding areas I’ll continue to enjoy the ‘nomads of the sky’. Do please visit to see the owls and if I’m around I’d be more than happy to share my knowledge. I’ll be the one singing the 60’s classic rock and roll song, ‘The Wanderer’ –

♪They call me the wanderer
Yeah, the wanderer
I roam around, around, around♪

SEO at sunset on the Forvie NNR for SM - Copyright Ron Macdonald

Owl at sunset on the Sands of Forvie National Nature Reserve © Ron Macdonald

I wish to thank the following people: Dr John Calladine of BTO Scotland, who is leading the short-eared owl research programme, kindly provided advice and the map showing the movements of the satellite tagged female. However he is not responsible for my anecdotal musings. I also wish to thank Darren Dawson, Charlie Davidson, Lone Kiter and Michele Emslie for allowing me to use their fantastic photos.

Posted in biodiversity, Birds, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A belated introduction to our 2018/19 graduate placements!

It’s now the fourth year that SNH has taken in graduates to work on year-long projects across the organisation. With three new graduates just starting in 2019, we take a look at what their projects entail and how they’re getting on.

2018-19 grad placements

Graduate training day, November 2018. L-R Alice Brawley, Rebecka Bergh, Marco Franzoi, Courtney Riley (no longer working), Gillian Maxwell, Rhona Smith, Caitlin Orr, Pauline Dusseau (no longer working), Heather Woodbridge, Ben Walker, Kieran Leigh-Moy, Kirstin McEwan. Absent; Emma Streatham

The SNH graduate placements tend to consist of six-month to year-long projects,  geared at those who have graduated from an academic course in the last few years and are looking to enhance their skillset with SNH. All opportunities are full-time and paid, and graduates are placed at SNH offices across Scotland.

So…let’s start by introducing the current graduates:

Rebecka Bergh (Perth) completed her BSc (Hons) in Environmental Management at Glasgow Caledonian University. She is now working with SNH on natural capital communications, which involves creating materials communicating the economic and social benefits of nature. The benefits nature provide are becoming more and more high profile, and there’s a need to show how the concepts relate to other topics such as climate change, circular economy, investment in nature, health and wellbeing. Rebecka aims to do this through infographics, briefings, social media, videos and case studies, while working closely with the communications team and the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital.

Alice Brawley (Perth) completed her MSc in Geographical Information Systems at Edinburgh University. She is now working on the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland. Her role focuses on producing guidance for the construction and planning sectors to encourage them to consider pollinator-friendly actions in future developments. The interdisciplinary project involves meeting with planners, developers, constructors and local authorities to create guidance, infographics, StoryMaps and videos. Alice also co-manages the pollinator blog and Twitter page, helped create the Living Wall at the Battleby office and is helping to make pollinator trails at five of our Natural Nature Reserves.

2019 grad placement - Alice

Alice helped to organise and plant the installation of a demonstration living wall at Battleby as part of her graduate role

Marco Franzoi (Edinburgh) works in the Finance, Strategy and Planning team to diversify the ways to invest in nature. The main task is to produce robust evidence of socioeconomic benefits from conservation work, while keeping in mind the importance of environmental benefits. He has been conducting research and gathering data over the last two months, working with various teams inside the organisation from Peatland Action to Green Infrastructure and Natural Capital.

Kieran Leigh-Moy (Inverness) recently graduated from an MSc in Forest & Nature Conservation from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, after spending some time working in the private sector, the Bavarian Forest National Park and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Edinburgh. His project aims to improve the status of freshwater pearl mussels in the upper River Spey- where there are no recruiting populations. This involves reviewing the scientific literature to develop detailed guidelines to assess habitat quality. This protocol will then allow us to understand why pearl mussels are not recruiting, develop ways to restore mussels and hopefully identify possible reintroduction sites.

Tay Davies (Inverness) graduated from Lancaster with an MSci integrated Masters in Ecology & Conservation. His placement works closely with the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms (RIC) project and focuses on filling knowledge gaps about the ecology and conservation of the dark bordered beauty moth, a species present at only three sites in Scotland, and one in England. Little is known about the specific habitat requirements, the dispersal ability, or the behaviour of this moth. So it’s Tay’s job to find out more, and develop habitat monitoring and management guidelines to maintain the best habitat. This role involves working with key players from SNH, RSPB, Butterfly Conservation, various landowners, and others to aid a concentrated conservation effort.

2018 grad placement - Tay

Tay at RSPB Insh Marshes near Kingussie, home to lots of aspen suckers for dark-bordered beauty moth caterpillars to eat

Gillian Maxwell (Inverness) is focussing on analysing SNH’s Human Resources reports to improve the way we do things. The data within these HR reports and the way the data has been gathered historically has made it difficult to analyse. This means SNH is potentially missing out on important information to improve work efficiency and spot opportunities to help plan for the future. Her job is to improve how reporting is carried out, how it is displayed and how it is communicated to the board, employees and the general public.

Kirstin McEwan (Clydebank) is a communications officer working on a diverse range of projects from creating social media and online content to social media reporting and building email newsletters. She is also currently involved in campaign work within the organisation, including the #GirlsGetOot Freshspace project and Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Kirstin has previously worked in roles covering environmental, conservation, communications and outreach, including the Edinburgh International Science Festival, Zero Waste Scotland, Home Energy Scotland and the British Science Association, alongside work as a freelance content creator. Returning to university as a mature student in 2017, Kirstin completed a Masters in Wildlife Biology and Conservation from Edinburgh Napier University with a Masters dissertation focused on the effectiveness of video content in conservation outreach.

Caitlin Orr (Inverness) is working to support and encourage community-led marine biodiversity surveys and monitoring in Scotland. Recognising the enthusiasm expressed by community groups, SNH, in partnership with Fauna & Flora International, has been looking at practical ways to support and engage coastal communities and local groups in the survey and monitoring of Scottish inshore waters. Caitlin will co-produce a handbook and supporting materials that will allow communities, local groups and individuals to undertake efficient and effective marine biodiversity monitoring and surveying in Scotland. Data collected can support better decision making for Scottish inshore waters and, through participation, connect more people in monitoring the biodiversity of our seas. Caitlin’s role is to coordinate and deliver the project, and provide policy and technical support.

Rhona Smith (Clydebank) is working within the Green Infrastructure Team, which delivers funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention (GISI). Her role is to work with our project partners, internal staff and external partners to develop monitoring and evaluation plans. The current projects are in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The main aim of her placement is to develop an evidence base for investing in green infrastructure, using the current projects as examples.

2018 grad placement - Rhona

Rhona Smith at a sod-cutting event for a GISI (Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention) project at Greater Easterhouse with Glasgow City Council

Emma Steatham (Inverness) is working with SNH licensing team to explore the topic, ‘Strategic Approaches to Bat Licensing’. This project came about from the close working relationship the licensing team have developed with Aberdeenshire Council. The environmental planners have supplied SNH with all the bat survey data they have received for planning application submissions since 2012.  The aim is to review, map and analyse the bat survey data, with the help of colleagues within SNH, to look for potential patterns linking bat roost presence and absence to nearby habitat types, building types, etc.

Ben Walker (Oban) completed his MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity at the University of Exeter. He is now working with SNH’s sea eagle project team to collate and analyse evidence on the impact that sea eagles are having on hill sheep farms, and assess the effectiveness of management measures. This involves collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders, including scheme applicants, SNH contractors, NFU Scotland representatives, Forestry Commission staff and the RSPB. Ben will also undertake a literature review on best practice in how to manage sheep to mitigate sea eagle impacts, and ultimately produce a report to recommend measures that could be used in future agri-environment support schemes.

Heather Woodbridge (Kirkwall) Heather completed her BSc in Ecology from the University of Stirling in 2017 and began working for SNH in July 2018. Her current role is with the Orkney Native Wildlife Project (ONWP), which aims to eradicate invasive non-native stoats from the Orkney Archipelago. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the EU’s LIFE program and is now drawing to the end of its development stage. Heather’s role is to assist with all aspects of the project, including incursion responses to outer islands, monitoring the presence of stoats on outer islands and Orkney mainland biosecurity trapping work. In addition to the varied fieldwork, she is responsible for the managing the data about several islands, improving detection methods on these islands and managing volunteers.

2019 grad placements - Hoy

Late January in Hoy – winter conditions in which Heather and the ONWP team have been working in.

The graduates have had great starts to their placements, which are all contributing to helping Scotland’s nature. Many talk about how welcoming SNH is and how supportive other staff are. As part of the programme, graduates are encouraged to get to know each other and work together. They have already started the process of taking on extra projects to support SNH’s greening objectives and are arranging a graduate trip to one of Scotland’s NNRs. The programme offers fantastic opportunities for graduates to develop their environmental and conservation skills in a practical setting, and for SNH to obtain a network of enthusiastic, hard-working and driven individuals to take on short-term projects.

If you’re interested too find out about future graduate opportunities, visit

Posted in Uncategorized

Inch Farm: farming and the environment in action

Kirsten Brewster, SNH Agriculture Officer, visited Inch Farm and met with farmer Andrew to discuss his Agri-Environment Climate Scheme. The farm, in Fife’s East Neuk, has views across to both the Isle of May and Bass Rock. On the day of Kirsten’s visit, both are surrounded by a mass of azure blue, glinting in the sunlight.

Corn bunting - Lorne Gill-SNH copyright

Corn bunting. Copyright SNH/Lorne Gill.

Andrew took on the running of the farm at just 22. Like many would expect, he got his head down and carried on in the way it had been worked previously. But high input and high output didn’t result in increasing returns, and in 2014 potato prices dipped to £10 per tonne. The boxes were becoming of greater value than the food they contained! It was then that Andrew felt he had to make changes; he switched to contract farming, relinquishing the need for big machinery and staff. It is a sorry state of affairs that Andrew understands all too well from his studies towards a Masters in Food Security.

Outside the farm office, birds flourish in the hedgerows and he points out to me the substantial areas which he has devoted to nature conservation. Surely a farm looking to maximise efficiency wouldn’t set aside huge swathes from production? Ever the pragmatist, Andrew explains that he can avoid some of the risk related to volatile vegetable prices and achieve a higher level of income per acre than possible for cereal crops.

Yellowhammer - copyright Lorne Gill-SNH

Yellowhammer. Copyright SNH/Lorne Gill

The idea was prompted by a visit from an RSPB conservation advisor looking primarily to bolster corn bunting numbers. Since then, the success of the Farmland Bird Lifeline project has been well documented, but for Andrew it was the assistance of RSPB officer Yvonne Stephen that really got the ball rolling. As he talks me through the various maps and plans for the five-year scheme, I can see the need to be organised over the coming years is something that Andrew welcomes.

Many have relayed that “you can’t be green if you’re in the red” but here Andrew demonstrates that being “Green” may help with staying out of the red. Economic considerations are of course vital, but Andrew also wanted to make his patch more environmentally sustainable with his young daughter in mind and through the success of his environmental work he feels that he is achieving this goal; corn bunting numbers have increased threefold on the farm in just two years. Yellowhammer, reed bunting and skylark have all benefitted from measures such as wild bird seed plots, overwinter stubbles and conservation headlands.

Looking to the future, Andrew hopes that environmental work will continue to be supported and that farmers will see that this is vital work they should be undertaking. After all farming is dependent on a healthy environment.

Skylark on the South Uist machair, Western Isles Area.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Skylark. Copyright SNH/Lorne Gill.

Andrew kindly offers me a look around the farm. Seeing 25% area of a farm in a scheme is really quite something and I can only imagine the vast abundance of wildlife that this will support. In the field closest to the main road, we briefly catch sight of a corn bunting. We finish back with his pride and joy: two London route master buses which are shortly to be advertised for use at weddings and events. As with so many young farmers, it seems there is a need to be creative and look at all kinds of options – including ones that help wee yellow birds!

Follow Andrew on Facebook @InchFarmFife

Farmers who are interested in being part of this round of the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme have until 30 April to apply. For more info, see the Rural Payments website.

Posted in Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, biodiversity, Birds, climate change, conservation, Farming, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, sustainable farming | Tagged , , , ,

The Graips of Sloth: the List of Winter Gardening Don’ts & Dos

This week, our gardener at our Battleby office, Jim Carruthers, shares some great tips on what to do – and NOT to do – to keep our gardens in good shape over winter. 


Fieldfare feeding on ornamental rowan berries. Picture copyright Lorne Gill/SNH.

Many are tempted to atone for the excesses of the festive period by having a good breenge at the garden. This is the way, they reckon, to reduce personal levels of fat, stress, cholesterol, blood pressure and guilt. Frankly, the most positive steps you can take are the ones that lead you back indoors. If you must garden, then there are a few constructive jobs worth doing.  But there are more that, at this time of year, are genuinely counter-productive or that will jeopardise the wildlife in your garden.

One of the fundamental tenets of good husbandry is working with nature not against it. Gardening is essentially an intervention against natural processes. Putting these two aspects together judiciously is the secret of good gardening.  And that stands for wildlife gardening in particular.  Even if you only slightly care for the wildlife in your garden, try to mind and practise the following mantras…

Try not to think tidy, try to think not too tidy, try to not think to tidy…

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) covered in snow.©Lorne Gill

Snowdrops covered in snow. Picture copyright Lorne Gill/SNH.

Here’s an inexhaustive list of random dos & don’ts.

Herbaceous borders- on no account tinker with your perennials. Attacking the herbaceous borders is folly; there are a myriad micro habitats underneath the rammy of collapsed leaves, stems and seedheads. These are invaluable for insects to overwinter, particularly hollow stems. Scruffiness & lack of disturbance are essential. Leaving these intact does also act as an aide-memoire in helping  you mind which plant combinations were successful &, more importantly, which ones were not.

Hedges- do not go raking, scraping or even horking in about them to improve hygiene. You won’t help your hedge or improve your own hygiene. Hedges remain open and soft throughout most of the winter. They allow shelter and security for many small creatures, birds in particular which can continue to forage there when everywhere else is frozen. Birds can lose a tenth of their bodyweight overnight so feed them during the day and let the hedge shelter them at night. The hedge is one large community centre, heated & open to all except sparrowhawks.  Hedge clippings by the way make good mulch, ideal for shrubs with roots close to the surface. For instance, neither blackcurrants and rhododendrons appreciate their roots being scorched by sun or drying winds.

Rhododendron flowers covered in snow, Battleby.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Rhododendrons in the snow at our Battleby grounds. Picture copyright Lorne Gill/SNH.

Ponds should be kept unfrozen to protect their oxygen content. If necessary, thaw by placing a pot of hot water on the surface. Don’t attack the ice with a pinch bar, pick or any other WMD.

Try not to plant much just now, the ground is cold & the long range forecast is full of frosts. Many shrubs, like humans, become brittle during cold periods and they are easily damaged. The best months for planting are October & March. The worst is December when the soil is cold and clarty, just grand for rotting roots. Pruning is not recommended either during these brittle days. But sometime in February you must use a milder day to prune your butterfly bush (Buddleia). Cut down to the existing framework of the shrub by removing all the long flowering shoots from last year. Do not cut into the older wood.

If you must dig, go the vegetable garden. Do some warm-up exercises, speak nicely to your graip and delve uphill if you’re on a slope. It is not too late to plant garlic cloves. The frosts to come affect the cloves, a process called vernalisation, and they produce bigger bulbs when you harvest them in the blithe summer days ahead. Take advantage of another milder day and divide snowdrops ”in the green”. Lift a congested clump and tear apart with some care into little clumps of five stems or so. Purportedly best carried out when the flowers are just passing over.

Frosted bramble leaves.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Frosted bramble leaves. Picture copyright Lorne Gill/SNH.

Other things you could be doing instead of wreaking havoc include some planning. The veg plot is best done with a kindler on the fireside rug. Go through seed catalogues and order up before March. If there are areas upon which you are undecided, look at the Hardy Annual section. They are cheap, cheery and quite straightforward. Avoid varieties which have double flowers to maximise value to wildlife. Simply sow in situ at the start of May.

Visit other gardens.

Go for long walks in suburbia to glean ideas.

Read “The Natural History of the Garden” by Michael Chinery

Happy March

In the meantime, be untidy.

Posted in battleby, gardens, plants, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

Peat bogs offer a solution to carbon storage

Today, along with others around the globe, we celebrate World Wetlands Day – and this year’s theme of climate change. In Scotland, peat bogs play a crucial role in tackling climate change. 

Peat bog for SM

Scottish peatlands host an amazing array of wildlife, from sphagnum moss, white cotton grass & purple heather to insects looking for a drink. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

We need to find ways to drastically reduce our global footprint, especially our carbon footprint; it is estimated that 60% of our ecological footprint is carbon. One place to look is definitely peatlands – and Scotland has plenty of those! Ecosystems like peatlands are capable of absorbing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide known as “carbon sinks,” making them ideal for helping to tackle climate change.

What usually springs to peoples’ minds when asked about carbon sinks are trees, whether it’s the local woodland where you walk your dog every day or the tropical rain forests of Borneo. But research suggests that trees actually aren’t the most efficient way to store carbon. Other often forgotten ecosystems, like peat bogs, can make a big impact.


Volunteers clearing willow scrub at Loch Leven ©Lorne Gill/SNH


About 60% of the world’s wetlands are made of peat. Peat forms in waterlogged, acidic conditions. Layers upon layers of the partially decomposed sphagnum mosses and other bog plants build up, forming peat. The further down into the peat bog you go, the more decomposed and darker the peat becomes as it gets squished by the layer on top. This peat forming process is very slow – it can take 100 years to form just one meter of peat.

Equally, peat bogs are very low in nutrients, and only very specialised plants – like sphagnum, cotton grass and sundews – can grow in them, but more importantly for climate change, the carbon in these plants are trapped in perpetuity.

As peat is formed in waterlogged conditions, it is hard to disturb, making it a very efficient carbon sink. However, if you drain or burn the peat, the balance is disturbed.

For example, draining water away from peat bogs causes the peat to dry, resulting in the vegetation decomposing much faster – and the release of carbon. Similarly burning peat – just as burning a tree – has the potential to release hundreds of years of stored carbon back into the atmosphere.

Peat core from Loch Lomond for SM

Peat core taken on a peat bog at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Scotland. The peat here is dark at it was taken at four meters deep. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Scottish peatlands store 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon; this is equivalent to 140 years’ worth of Scotland’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions. Peatland ACTION – with funding from Scottish Government – is working with land managers and partners to restore this vital carbon sink.

In essence, the project is returning peat bogs into thriving wetlands. For climate. For nature. For people. For the planet.

This great short film, which you can pan 360 degrees, explains the science behind why we are working so hard to rewet and restore the bog habitats of Scotland.

If you have a peatland restoration project, Peatland ACTION pre-application advice is available now (for the next funding round which will be announced in the spring). If you would like to speak to one of our advisors, contact us at


Posted in biodiversity, climate change, peatland restoration | Tagged , , ,

Scottish Natural Heritage and Partners Launch Support for Greener Social Housing Projects

Our Scottish Natural Heritage Placemaking Team Manager, Ivan Clark, helped launch a new opportunity for greener social housing projects at the recent #HousingInnovationScotland event. He tells us more about it in today’s blog.  

Last Week, at the Scottish Federation of Housing Association’s (SFHA) Innovation Factory #HousingInnovationScotland event, I was very pleased to be able to announce an exciting opportunity for a path-finding social housing provider to access a £60,000 package of financial and design support to help deliver an innovative social housing development that maximises the benefits of the vegetated land and water within and around housing sites.

Ivan Clark, Scottish Natural Heritage Placemaking Team Manager and Lorna Wilson (SFHA) at the Innovation Factory

Ivan Clark, Scottish Natural Heritage Placemaking Team Manager and Lorna Wilson (SFHA) at the Innovation Factory

This ‘green infrastructure’ can provide space to socialise, to play, to grow food and to connect with nature. Green infrastructure can also provide a range of other functions that support successful places such as water management and managing the impacts of pollution.

This pocket park in Malmo, Sweden includes a cycle path, a place to play and socialise, wildlife habitat and reed-beds to help manage surface water flooding

This pocket park in Malmo, Sweden includes a cycle path, a place to play and socialise, wildlife habitat and reed-beds to help manage surface water flooding

Scottish Natural Heritage, along with our project partners Architecture & Design Scotland, Scottish Government, and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations are looking to partner with a housing association or local authority housing provider that is intending to commission design contracts for social housing in the next 12 months.

Support may include:

  • Site appraisal – with a specific focus on the efficient use of open space and integration with adjacent green networks
  • Facilitated Design Brief workshops with key stakeholders, including local community, potential future residents and/or tenant focus groups
  • Preparation of Masterplans/ Designs
  • Cost consultancy to support the business case and value for money (VFM) approvals process, with a focus on ‘whole-life’ costs and benefits
  • Post occupancy evaluation including VFM, Place standard and other complementary tools relevant to evaluating the benefits of green infrastructure

Want to find out more?

You can find out more about the project and download the Call for Interest document from the SFHA Website. If you would like more detail please email Lorna Wilson, SFHA Innovation and Future Thinking Policy lead on or Ivan Clark, SNH Placemaking Team Manager on

Posted in conservation, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, Uncategorized

A ‘good story’ beats the facts


There’s been some media hype in Scotland over the last few days, claiming that beavers caused a suspected case of giardia. But giardia, the most common form of gut parasite infection in the UK and the world, has not been found in any beavers in Scotland.

We have sympathy for anyone suffering from giardia, but we want to make it clear that despite extensive testing of beavers in the UK for giardia, there has never been a positive result. We are only aware of one study that has ever found giardia in beavers anywhere in Europe – and that was in Poland.

In fact, humans, livestock such as sheep and cattle, wild animals like deer and foxes, and pets, are all potential sources of giardia. Research examining the public health risk posed by reintroduced beavers in Scotland concluded the risk of giardia was low to very low. In comparison, the risk posed by livestock was high, and that posed by humans and other wildlife was medium to high.


The media coverage also raised concerns about the damage which beavers may cause. In response, we’d first like to make it clear that beavers have many benefits for nature. By building dams, beavers improve local water quality and help nurture other wildlife, and it’s wonderful that people now have a chance to see these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.

But in some parts of Scotland, beavers can cause problems, particularly in areas with prime agricultural land. So it will sometimes be necessary to minimise or prevent beavers’ impacts on farming or other interests. Over the last year, we have worked with the Scottish Government, farmers, conservation bodies and other partners to realise the many benefits that beavers will bring to Scotland. But we also have to allow management when necessary to help farmers and others deal with beavers – for example, when they dig up riverbanks or cause fields to flood.


To wrap up, here are some FACTS about beavers – an absolutely fascinating animal!

  • Beavers are Europe’s largest native rodent.
  • Beavers can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes.
  • Beavers live for 10 to 15 years and mate for life.
  • Beavers are completely vegetarian.
Posted in biodiversity, Scottish Natural Heritage | Tagged , ,

Brìde, a’ Chailleach agus an Cuilean / Bride, the Cailleach and the Puppy

’S e toiseach a’ Ghearrain àm sònraichte, anns am biodh na Gàidheil gu traidiseanta a’ dùileachadh droch aimsir  / The beginning of February is a special time, during which the Gaels traditionally hoped for bad weather.

Brìde, a’ Chailleach agus an Cuilean

’S e toiseach a’ Ghearrain àm sònraichte ann am mìosachan nan Gàidheal. Tha e co-cheangailte ri Brìde, uaireigin na ban-dia phàganach a chumadh rian air an earrach agus air torrachas, agus Naomh Brìde aig na Crìosdaidhean. B’ e Latha Fèill Brìde, a’ chiad latha dhen Ghearran, latha ràithe letheach-slighe eadar Samhain agus Bealltainn agus, mar sin, bha e air leth cudromach.

Mist rising from Coire Ardair, Creag Meagaidh NNR on a typically wet summers day 2008. East Highland Area. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

Bhiodh daoine an dòchas gum biodh droch shìde aca aig an àm sin. Nam biodh Latha Fèill Brìde (no Imbolc mar a bh’ aig na h-Èireannaich air) soilleir, grianach, bha dùil aca gum biodh an còrr dhen gheamhradh fada, oir b’ e sin an latha air am biodh a’ Chailleach, ban-dia a’ gheamhraidh, a’ cruinneachadh fiodh airson a teine airson a’ chòrr de ràith an fhuachd. Nam biodh geamhradh goirid fa-near dhi, cha bhiodh feum aice air fiodh a chruinneachadh, agus leigeadh i leis an aimsir a bhith stoirmeil is mì-chàilear.

now covered woodlands, Battleby, Perthshire, January 2015. ©Lorne GIll/SNH

©Lorne GIll/SNH

Bhiodh na seann Ghàidheil gu sònraichte ag iarraidh cruaidh-reothadh, no eadhon cur is cathadh, air an treas latha dhen Ghearran, air an robh an t-ainm Latha a’ Chuilein (ged nach eil fios carson a tha e co-cheangailte ri cù òg). Bha iad a’ creidsinn gum biodh am fuachd air an latha sin ‘a’ glanadh’ galaran a’ gheamhraidh agus gum biodh an sluagh na b’ fhallaine às a dhèidh. Saoil an obraich e ann an 2019?!

Bride, the Cailleach and the Puppy

The beginning of February is a special time in the Gaelic calendar. It is connected to the ancient pagan figure Brìde, once the goddess of spring and fertility, and to her later Christian namesake (St Bride or St Brigid in English), who is recalled in the many Scottish settlements called Kilbride (Cille Brìde, ‘the cell or church of St Bride’). Latha Fèill Brìde (Bride’s Feast Day), the 1st of February, is a traditional quarter-day, halving the six month interval between the pivotal Celtic celebrations of Samhain (the start of winter) and Bealltainn (the start of summer).

Spring. Loch Maree through car window in rain.

© Scottish Natural Heritage

People would hope for bad weather at this time. If the 1st of February were a clear, sunny day, the remainder of the winter would likely be long, as this was the day when the Cailleach – the ancient goddess of winter – would collect her firewood for the rest of the cold season. Were she planning an early spring, she would have no need of a gathering-day, and she would permit the weather to be unpleasant and stormy.

Lochan a' Choire and Coire Ardair at Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve in winter.©Lorne Gill

©Lorne Gill

The Gaels particularly hoped for freezing weather on 3rd February, which was known traditionally as Latha a’ Chuilein (‘the puppy’s day’ although the reason for the appellation is shrouded in mystery). They believed that extreme cold at that time (perhaps including snow and blizzards) would destroy winter germs and make for a healthier population. Keep your eye on the weather and see if it works in 2019!


Posted in Gaelic, Scottish Natural Heritage