Creating a buzz in Inverclyde

Laura Reilly is a major driving force behind Inverclydebuzz, and when the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland was launched last July she and her team were already able to demonstrate a pro-active approach to improving the lot of our pollinators.

Laura Reilly blog - 11A

Rebecca Strofton, The Conservation Volunteers’ Senior Project Officer for community rewinding with volunteers cutting up donated timber for the giant bug hotels.

Their latest success was persuading Inverclyde Council to hand over the site of the old Hector McNeil Memorial Baths to Inverclydebuzz. The site has lain empty for around two decades now, and it will be transformed into an urban meadow which will ultimately offer much-needed food and shelter to bees, butterflies and other invertebrates. 

It won’t be the first time the group has transformed an urban area and brought it back into use. The former baths site will join three others sites in the Renfrewshire area – the former King’s Glen School in Kilmacolm Road, Blairmore Crescent, and Belville Street – which collectively form part of the ambitious Inverclyde Pollinator Corridor.

The Belville Biodiversity Garden opened in the summer of 2017 and offers wild flowers and a fantastic urban green environment. It sits not far from a well-known Greenock urban landmark – Morton’s Cappielow Park.

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Angela Smith, Royal Horticultural Society Development Officer for Scotland, explains to scouts from 85th Greenock and District scout group about the medical uses of sphagnum moss in WW1.

The site of the former King’s Glen School lies in Kilmacolm and is a ‘temporary’ mini meadow where yellow rattle, red clover and knapweed combine to offer pollinators a super resource. The site has a life beyond its immediate environment too – for the aim is to use it to provide the seeds to reseed other sites. This is being done by using green hay, a process where a meadow is cut in late summer and the cuttings are themselves spread on another site to distribute seeds.

Not far from Kilmacolm Road in Greenock lies Blairmore Crescent with commanding views out over the River Clyde. Here Inverclyde Council maintain a wooded site that had seen wild flowers sown amidst trees to create helpful butterfly and bee glades.


Belville Biodiversity Garden site in spring 2017 before work commenced. 

Clearly the success of Inverclydebuzz is built on solid teamwork. The Inverclyde group draws together enthusiasts from all walks of life. In the group you will find beekeepers, local gardeners, local environmentalists and people who simply care about invertebrates and the vital pollination service they provide, not to mention the colour and spectacle they bring.

Two partner organisations lend their weight to Inverclydebuzz – The Conservation Volunteers and The Urban Butterfly Project (which is part of the Butterfly Conservation Trust). So it really is a case of many hands making light work.

It’s the ability to connect people and nature that has made Inverclydebuzz such a hit. They are great advocates of the benefits of getting out and about and close up to nature. Their popular leaflet ‘A wee walk on the wild side’ highlights a range of easy family walks and the stunning nature you can expect to see en route. As well as being a great way to encourage tomorrow’s environmentalists, their work offers much-needed health and well-being opportunities today. The idea, like so many good ideas, was relatively simple; to connect people back to nature by letting them know what is on their doorstep, and to encourage them to take full advantage of the fantastic greenspaces in the area around them.

A commitment to improvement has made Inverclydebuzz such a great example for improving urban areas. On this evidence people and pollinators have a lot to thank the group for.

Follow Laura’s work in Inverclyde on facebook

Visit the Inverclyde Pollinator Corridor project website

Read the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland

Images courtesy of Laura Reilly, Inverclydebuzz



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A new outlook on Scotland’s natural heritage

Thanks to a childhood spent moving from one country to the next, from the UK to Australia and on to Germany, it seemed his mind was always somewhere else, often far away. Steven Neish, one of our volunteers at Tentsmuir NNR, describes how his eyes were opened to the wonders of nature in Scotland.

Red squirrels have to share the feeders with a number of birds, including great spotted woodpeckers

Red squirrels have to share the feeders with a number of birds, including great spotted woodpeckers.

Upon my return to Scotland, I endeavoured to continue travelling – the seemingly prosaic plants and animals of Great Britain paling in comparison with the sensory overload of minty eucalyptus, screeching kookaburra and colourful parakeets that had come before.

For most of my adolescence I did just that, seeking knowledge and experience elsewhere, using my time at home to research the next adventure and to remember the last. I dreamed of seeing monkeys misbehave and penguins play, then awoke to a more mundane reality of rabbits and blackbirds going about their business as usual.

A blackbird provides some diversion on a quiet afternoon.

A blackbird provides some diversion on a quiet afternoon.

It wasn’t until I started taking regular excursions to Tentsmuir NNR that my perspective on Scottish natural heritage changed. I had decided to walk the West Highland Way with friends and was scouting the route through the forest for a planned training expedition from Dundee to St Andrews along the Fife Coastal Path.

I had only ever seen the treeline from Broughty Ferry – a dark and indistinctive woodland that had previously done little to beckon me over the river. Inside, however, it was an entirely different story: a diverse landscape of sandbanks and grasslands, lochs and marshes, forestry and farmland awaited. To my astonishment, it also contained old military defences, a small hamlet and, most surprising of all, an abundance of wildlife – from seals to long-tailed tits.

Long after the West Highland Way had been walked I was still venturing to Tentsmuir to explore further, and started dedicating whole days to the bird hides surrounding Morton Lochs. Each visit seemed to reveal a new resident of the forest, from red squirrels and great spotted woodpeckers to roe deer and kingfishers. Over time I got talking to wildlife photographers and naturalists, and established a rapport with the rangers and volunteers who often stopped by to top up the feeders.

After weeks spent watching and waiting at the railway hide a kingfisher finally stops to pose for a photograph.

After weeks spent watching and waiting at the railway hide a kingfisher finally stops to pose for a photograph.

I was spending so long in the vicinity that I started to grow conscious of how little I was contributing to the reserve. I was invited to volunteer myself, and within weeks had added a whole new dimension to my character and outlook. I found myself monitoring water levels and taking measurements; stripping back fallen trees and clearing debris; collecting litter and protecting heritage items. I wore my new uniform with pride and held my new responsibilities in the highest regard.

It’s already been a transformative experience and it’s still early days. I continue to travel when I can, but I no longer consider exploration or adventure to be the sole preserve of some far off land – it’s often all in a day’s volunteering. I can sit for hours watching an empty feeder and waiting for something to appear – and I’m no longer disappointed if it’s just a rabbit or a blackbird. In fact, I’m thrilled.

Why not go and discover Tentsmuir NNR and the amazing wildlife there yourself?

Year of Young People 2018 stamp

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Capturing nature through the lens

Working in our Lochgilphead office, Caroline Anderson has been co-ordinating the Snapberry project since 2009 engaging young people with nature through photography. Here she describes how this exciting project has flourished.

Lochgilphead High School pupils participating in Snapberry at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Snapberry was born as a result of a staff team-building session in 2009 at Taynish National Nature Reserve (NNR). Lorne Gill, the SNH Videographer, encouraged us to look at nature a bit differently – to look for patterns, colours, textures and shapes – and I wondered if the same model would appeal to young people, a group who are traditionally hard to encourage outdoors.

I approached the local high school with a proposition to get involved in the project. Seeing the obvious connection with all aspects of the curriculum, the high school greeted the idea with enthusiasm. The school selected pupils with a range of interests and abilities. For SNH, and the project team, it was really important that there should be no academic barriers. Indeed, the pupils didn’t even need to have their own cameras!

A date was agreed and around a dozen teenagers appeared at the SNH Lochgilphead office for a briefing delivered by Lorne before we headed off to Taynish NNR.   As the doors of the mini bus opened and the pupils spilled out amidst the excitement of being free for the day, it very soon became apparent that they had embraced the challenge. During the day, Lorne moved between them, checking their progress and providing encouragement and knowledge where needed.

Lochgilphead High School pupils participating in Snapberry at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

At the end of the school day, the pupils were delivered back to the school and Lorne was faced with the momentous, but interesting task of checking all the captured images before the pupils’ return to the office the following day for a feedback session.  We were very pleasantly surprised by the results, and so were the pupils.  The students decided that their images were worthy of an exhibition and the name Snapberry was invented!  That first year the pupils raised over £1000 for charity from the sale of their images to friends, family and members of the public.

Over the years the original model has been built on, including the name. We have had Snapberry Cubed, Snapberry Goes Fourth, even Snapberry Eight My Camera. We have projected the images outdoors, 30-foot high during the busiest night in the Lochgilphead calendar; held several exhibitions under the Artmap Open Studio banner; been featured on BBC Alba; worked with Rob Mulholland the sculptor; been joined for the day by Mike Russell MSP; and received a Highly Commended at the Nature of Scotland Awards. Since that first day out with the pupils in 2009 over 150 pupils have participated in the Snapberry project.

Lochgilphead High School pupils participating in Snapberry at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNHSubsequently, some of the pupils gained specialist work experience with SNH; several of the pupils who participated went on to work in the environmental sector; and a few went on to volunteer with us. There is one boy who stands out amongst all the rest, a boy who, we were told, may not participate due to his autism.  We were warned that he would be uncommunicative and may prefer to draw his subjects in isolation to everyone else rather than photograph them.  On the day, to the amazement of the teaching staff, the boy interacted with his peers in a way never seen before and produced some beautiful images. This same boy went on to become a reserve volunteer albeit with support from the school.

Like everything, it hasn’t all been successful, but we have adapted and learned as we’ve gone along. We tried using sites other than Taynish NNR: one year we went to Dunadd Hill, Moine Mhor NNR and Crinan Ferry but the logistics and risks at all of these sites prompted our return to Taynish where the Mill track provides all the different habitats in a safe environment and gives plenty of photo opportunities.

We tried rolling it out to other schools to participate in the same model. These days went well: the pupils were enthusiastic and the sites chosen full of photographic opportunities. However, we found that this didn’t work as well as it had with Lochgilphead and concluded that this was due to lack of buy-in and encouragement from teachers.

Like all projects, there are pros and cons in abundance, requiring careful management. The project can be run with no financial cost, using only staff time and buy-in from the schools. It requires no academic ability on the part of the pupils; they don’t even need their own cameras.  It does take quite a lot of organisation, assessing the risks, tailoring to the particular needs of the pupils, and colleague support from the reserve staff, particularly Gordon Campbell and Lorne Gill.  And of course support and enthusiasm from the teaching staff.

Lochgilphead High School pupils participating in Snapberry at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Over the years this project has brought a whole new audience to the reserve. It has, for some, introduced them to a new talent they previously didn’t know they had. It has kindled an interest in nature for others; and it has allowed teaching staff to see their pupils in a new light.

There is no reason this project could not be tailored for schools in other areas, different groups of people, the elderly, those with mental or physical health disabilities – the camera is a wonderful tool to allow people to view things differently, focus in on the detail, capture a unique moment and most of all appreciate the wonder of nature all around us.

Why don’t you come and visit us at Taynish NNR and bring along your camera!

All images ©Lorne Gill/SNHYear of Young People 2018 stamp


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Licence to research European Protected Species

Jenna Lane is currently working as a Licensing Officer at Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in Inverness. Prior to this role, she managed to secure a Graduate Placement with SNH just before finishing her Master’s dissertation – perfect timing! Jenna tells us about her placement experience and where it has taken her.

A visit to Shetland to meet with SNH’s cetacean specialist in June 2017. © Jenna Lane/SNH

A visit to Shetland to meet with SNH’s cetacean specialist in June 2017.

As part of this placement, I undertook a project which involved researching all of the European Protected Species (EPS) found in Scotland and creating a dossier for each species. Each dossier included information about the species’ basic ecology, relevant legislation, population and distribution, conservation status, licences issued from SNH, pressures, and opportunities for further studies. All of this information provides the SNH Licensing Team with one up-to-date source of information on each EPS and helps the team issue licences more proportionately across the EPS which places more focus on rarer, less distributed species.

This project presented me with a range of opportunities, including meeting with species specialists and going to training events and conferences. For example, I met up with SNH’s natterjack toad specialist in Dumfries and SNH’s cetacean specialist in Shetland, where I went on site visits to learn more about the species for my project. I went to events such as the Scottish Bat Workers conference with the Bat Conservation Trust and a Deer Management Best Practice Day with SNH; informal training days to learn more about bats, red squirrels, beavers and pine martens, and formal training courses such as the Natura and EPS and the PRINCE Lite Project Management training courses with SNH.

SNH deer management best practice day at Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve in March 2017. © Jenna Lane/SNH

SNH deer management best practice day at Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve in March 2017.

I gained many valuable skills during my Graduate Placement, including working independently and as part of the Licensing team; sourcing and reviewing literature; analysing licensing data; communicating with SNH colleagues as well as external professionals; report writing; project management; broadened and more in-depth knowledge of Scottish species and nature conservation legislation; and an understanding of how a large nature organisation works.

SNH graduates volunteering to remove gorse at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve in May 2017. © Jenna Lane/SNH

SNH graduates volunteering to remove gorse at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve in May 2017.

Near the end of my Graduate Placement, an opportunity came up to apply for a Licensing Officer role within the team I was already working in. Thanks to my wildlife biology background and all of the experience I had gained over the past few months working at SNH, I was offered the job. My current role essentially involves licensing individuals to carry out activities in relation to protected species which would otherwise be illegal under legislation. The job is very varied and I definitely feel I’m gaining a lot of valuable skills that will be transferable into my future career.

My time at SNH has opened up my eyes to the wide variety of options that are available in the field of nature and conservation and has helped me to narrow down what I’m interested in. However, I’m still uncertain of exactly what I want my future career to entail! My dream is to work in the field of wildlife conservation research, but I’ve also toyed with the idea of doing a PhD or doing teacher training. Who knows what the future holds!

All images © Jenna Lane/SNH

Year of Young People 2018 stamp

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Two bogs, a swamp and some islands

Amee Hood is an SNH Reserve Officer for the Flanders Moss, Blawhorn Moss and Loch Lomond National Nature Reserves near Stirling. She tells us about her experience on a student placement, and as a young person within SNH.

Amee at Kilimanjaro Hike National Park.

Amee at Kilimanjaro Hike National Park.

Before I started working for SNH I had the opportunity to do a lot of travelling, which included working abroad in Australia and Canada for many years. It wasn’t until I lived in Canada and worked within the Banff National Park that I decided I would return home when my visa ran out, with a new-found aim of going to college to become a park ranger. I had a clearer vision of where I wanted my career to go.

Snowshoeing in Banff National Park.

Snowshoeing in Banff National Park.

In 2015 I enrolled in a HNC Countryside Management course at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) Oatridge. I found the year very hard: there was a lot of theory. At the age of 26, I discovered I was dyslexic: I struggled with reading and writing and often spent many hours a night fighting just to complete one paragraph. With a large number of essays to write, this eventually took its toll. I had given up a lot to return to full time education including sacrificing a full-time wage so I didn’t want to waste my year. I put my heart and soul into doing well in my HNC and in the end I passed with distinction.

I was told about a student placement scheme run by SNH in partnership with SRUC for students to take a year out from their studies to gain practical skills within the National Nature Reserve team. I had a decision to make: I felt this was a great opportunity to gain more skills and learn in a different way. Moving away from theory, I find it easier to learn by carrying out a practical task as that way I can visualise it a lot clearer.

Within my year’s placement I had great mentors, all unique with different expertise which helped broaden my knowledge. I was allowed to think for myself and carry out my own placement project to get the most out of my year, which saw me carry out: hen harrier winter roosting counts over the three reserves and freshwater sponge surveys at Loch Lomond NNR. I was given the opportunity to gain tickets (certified training courses) which continue being put to good use: I completed my chainsaw certificate, herbicide spraying ticket, brushcutter and strimmer ticket and outdoor first aid training. I was also able to lead volunteer events which helped build my confidence. All of these are great additions to my knowledge and skills base.

Whilst with SNH I also secured a Seasonal Ranger position with Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park to help me through the summer financially, which saw me working a full seven days a week.

It just so happens that when my student placement was about to end the NNR team looked completely different to when I started a year before, moving from a team of three individuals to a single member of staff. I was extremely lucky to be offered a short term contract for three months initially, which was then extended for a further four months. Having had my contract extended another two months; this will see me through to the end of March.

Whilst short-term contracts are not ideal, many organisations are facing these dilemmas due to funding cuts. As a young person, within the conservation and environmental sector, it can often be very difficult to secure a long-term position. I have been lucky to secure work, and have focussed my dedication, and hard work to gaining and strengthening my skills.

I hope to further my career within SNH: I plan to return to the National Park for a second season as a seasonal ranger – as every little bit experience will help further my career.

A student placement is a great opportunity for any young person to get involved, and I would thoroughly recommend it to those who are studying or wish to get real on-the-job experience.

All images © Amee Hood/SNH

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A fervour for nature

Calan Daniels (aged 11) and his mother, Shaila Rao, are guest-bloggers for the Year of Young People themed month here at SNH. Shaila introduces the blog with a short word on her perspective of Calan’s growing interest and passion for the natural world. We learn more about Calan’s current activities within the realm of conservation.

Calan at Beinn a Bhuird, Mar Lodge. © Shaila Roa

Calan at Beinn a Bhuird, Mar Lodge. © Shaila Roa

A word from Shaila:

It was probably inevitable that Calan, my son, would end up with an interest in the natural world. Both of his parents are upland ecologists and he lives on Mar Lodge Estate – the spectacular and wild estate owned by the National Trust for Scotland at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. From an early age Calan was in on the daily dog walking chat about “What bird was that?”, “Have you seen this plant before?” and “Whose tracks are those?”. He quite quickly developed a keen interest and curiosity about the natural world and I’ll let Calan tell you all about this.

Calan's first encounter with an eagle chick in 2011. © Shaila Roa

Calan’s first encounter with an eagle chick in 2011. © Shaila Roa

A word from Calan:

Hello, I am Calan Daniels and I live on Mar Lodge Estate with my mum, dad, sister and pets. I am 11 years old and I am into nature and wildlife. Probably because both my parents are ecologists and I am always out and about, I just love the outdoors. I love what it contains and I always think it’s great that no human beings will ever know everything about it. I think it’s because we didn’t design it. We design cities so we know how tall buildings are or how much insulation that a skyscraper has. We design cars and know that when there is no petrol left they will stop, but we never will design nature because nature does what it wants.

From a very young age I was interested in nature. Whenever I came back from a walk I would be holding a pine cone or a feather or even sometimes a skull. Now I have a skull and feather collection which both contain lots of different shapes, sizes and species.**

Calan and his mermaid purse collection, 2016. © Shaila Roa

Calan and his mermaid purse collection, 2016. © Shaila Roa

As a family we would do bee transects and bird watches. I also helped mum with her work: sometimes it was tree monitoring; collecting in seed bags or (more excitingly) visiting a bird of prey nest and even ringing a chick.

Moving on, I recently entered the Cairngorms Nature Young Presenter Competition which is a competition where you enter a short video including: why you are interested in nature, how you can inspire other people to care for Cairngorms Nature and why you should be the next Cairngorms Nature Young presenter. I came second and have been offered the wonderful chance to be a young ambassador for Cairngorms Nature for Deeside.

Calan at Loch Etchachan, Mar Lodge, 2017. © Shaila Roa

Calan at Loch Etchachan, Mar Lodge, 2017. © Shaila Roa

In the future I would actually love to be a professional footballer but the chances of that are quite low. My second favourite job would be to work in conservation and to help make the world a better place.

**Please note, the possession of any part of a cetacean or any other protected species requires a licence. You can find out more about SNH Licensing here.

Year of Young People 2018 stamp

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Following little terns

Little terns are the second rarest seabird in the UK and Ireland and possibly the best indicator of Climate Change that there is. David Woodfall is a photographer who has been following the fortunes of this very special bird since 1978. His new exhibition documents the challenges they face and what is being done to help them.

Two little tern, one with sand eel at the nest amongst black oats growing on shell rich sands Machir, Islay.

Two little tern, one with sand eel at the nest amongst black oats growing on shell rich sands.

Little terns feed in shallow seawater on sand eels, and are unable to dive much more than a foot underwater. As the sea warms up, sand eels swim deeper seeking cooler water, and little terns can no longer reach their major food source. The changing climate will therefore determine the future distribution of these elegant birds. Known as sea swallows, they generally nest on beaches, sand spits and pebble beaches, but in the Outer Hebrides they nest on machair, often laying two to three camouflaged eggs amongst the strips of cultivated oats or potatoes in this flower-rich habitat.

Sequence of strips of cultivated machair with early shoots of black oats pushing through the sand, an important habitat for breeding little terns and Arctic terns.

Sequence of strips of cultivated machair with early shoots of black oats pushing through the sand, an important habitat for breeding little terns and Arctic terns.

My association with this bird began in 1978 in Northumberland when I was coastal warden for the National Trust, living overlooking the colony. By 1979 only one breeding pair remained and the project was discontinued. Fortunately two Phd students from Durham University came to the rescue the following summer to continue the study. To encourage community involvement I made a film about the colony with Eric Bird and as a result we had over 100 community volunteers assisting paid staff each year.

The colony began to grow and the National Trust started funding the project once more. We started to get a few Arctic terns nesting with the little terns and then one night over a thousand pairs of Arctic terns decamped from the nearby Farne Islands to nest on the sand spit on the Nanny. Now over 2,000 pairs of Arctic terns regularly nest there with up to 50 pairs of little terns. This is an example of what informed positive conservation work can achieve. This site is now the largest mainland breeding colony of nesting terns in Britain and Ireland.

Elsewhere their fortunes have varied, and the combination of rising sea levels, blown sand, and greater concentration of numbers attracting predators such as hedgehogs, kestrels, weasels and foxes, plus human disturbance, have all affected the national populations with the overall pattern being steady decline. Even the increase in manned protection schemes, with the RSPB funding a national protection scheme through a Life project, while some populations are stable, and others increasing, the overall pattern is of a national decline.

My exhibition looks at four colonies, the Long Nanny in Northumberland, Gronant in Denbighshire, Berneray in Noth Uist, and Kilcoole, just south of Dublin. In each of the sites their adaptation is slightly different: in Northumberland they nest in a sand spit; in Gronant on a sandy beach; in Berneray on machair; and in Kilcoole on a storm pebble beach. In order to get close to the terns during the breeding season I obtained a license from each of the four UK and Irish Government conservation organisations and over a period of time worked a bird hide to within 18 feet of their nests.

Little terns feeding a sand eel to their newly hatched chick.

Little terns feeding a sand eel to their newly hatched chick.

I was able to document the little terns’ lives at close quarters from before laying their eggs to three weeks later with tiny chicks being fed sand eels every 30 minutes or so. I followed the colour ringing (being carried out by scientists associated with the Merseyside Ringing group) and other conservation work at the four sites.

In Berneray I documented crofters managing the machair, both collecting crops and with cattle, with crofters playing an integral part in the management of this coastal habitat. I also covered the trapping and relocation of hedgehogs to the mainland, by SNH staff on the Uists. Hedgehogs are a huge threat to little terns as they eat their eggs. The Scottish Government works closely with the crofters through an agri-environmental scheme where the crofters are compensated for their co-operation in ensuring the breeding success of little terns and waders on the machair. In this way crofters are able to sustainably manage the machair, allowing the birds to nest and raise their young amongst the crops and cattle.

Once little terns finish their breeding cycles they return to West Africa where they spend the winter returning in late April every year to begin their breeding cycle over again. Whilst their future as a breeding species in Britain and Ireland is uncertain, we have learnt a great deal about the breeding biology, ways to help protect their breeding success, and ways in which the community can be involved to help protect these resilient little birds. In the Outer Hebrides SNH, the RSPB, crofting associations and crofters work together to ensure that these rare birds remain part of North West Scotland’s fabric of coastal ecosystems.

If you would like to become involved as a volunteer in the Uists with these birds, please contact Jamie Boyle. There are many opportunities for both individuals and the community to help with this work and you will have the pleasure of getting to know the precious lives of little terns and other wildlife of the machair.

David’s exhibition Little terns in Britain and Ireland runs from 3 March – 28 April at in Taigh Chearsburgh Loch Maddy, North Uist.

Posted in biodiversity, Birds | Tagged , , , , , ,

A career in Geographic Information Systems

Tina Ross works as a Geographic Systems and Data Co-ordinator within our Geographic Information Group. She is based at the Inverness office, and has been working for SNH for nearly three years. Tina tells us about her experience as a young person working in the GIS field since leaving university.

Tina, a Geographic Systems and Data Co-ordinator with SNH, working with mapping software at her desk at the Inverness office. © Tina Ross/SNH

Tina, our Geographic Systems and Data Co-ordinator, working with mapping software at her desk in Inverness. © Tina Ross/SNH

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are digital tools which allow us to collect, visualise and analyse data spatially. I specialise in map-making and data collection using a variety of GIS tools. My work often changes depending on the time of year but my most common tasks involve creating maps showing species, habitats, or designations. At SNH we are also branching out into different types of mapping such as interactive web mapping and illustrative mapping, which allows us to provide a better range of services to meet changing needs.

GIS technology

Tina using some of SNH’s newest GIS technology, a navigational tablet which is used to collect species data out in the field. © Tina Ross/SNH

I stumbled upon GIS in university and I was lucky to have a tutor who was very enthusiastic about the subject. There are a lot of young people who are unaware of GIS let alone that it is a growing industry and a career possibility. In a bid to change that last year I registered both as a STEM Ambassador and an Esri GeoMentor; both these programs allow me the opportunity to connect with teachers in schools who need GIS support.

Tina’s STEM Ambassador pin: STEM Ambassadors are people working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries who volunteer to raise awareness and promote STEM subjects. © Tina Ross/SNH

Tina’s STEM Ambassador pin: STEM Ambassadors are people working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries who volunteer to raise awareness and promote STEM subjects. © Tina Ross/SNH

GIS is currently being used across a wide range of industries and is growing every day: getting young people involved in GIS gives them an understanding of how it can be used and provides practical skills which can help them throughout their careers. Over the past few years I have been back to my university to speak about careers in GIS. I really enjoy explaining the many ways in which GIS is already part of most of our lives: from your GPS in your car to the locational tags on social media posts, to using search engines to find the nearest supermarket.


One of SNH’s latest interactive web maps. The full map can be found here

This is a very exciting time for people working in GIS as technology is changing so rapidly. There is a big push in the industry for data to become more open and it’s really exciting to see this being adopted by big organisations. This is becoming a lot easier as data is getting cheaper to collect with the use of drones and in-field data gathering tools. There is also a lot of movement of data to Cloud storage, and interactive mapping is becoming more common across a wide variety of sectors. This kind of development is excellent progress for the environmental sector as it is making GIS more accessible, cheaper and easier to use. At SNH, we are aiming to stay at the forefront of this kind of development to help us in our desire connect people with Scotland’s nature.

Have a look at our Habitat Map of Scotland here.

You can learn more about mapping, Geographic Information Systems and spatial data by following the dedicated Geographic Information Group Twitter .

Year of Young People 2018 stamp


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Driving towards a sustainable future

Kerrie Craig is a Graduate Environmental Consultant with Royal HaskoningDHV. Previously, she completed a six month Graduate Placement with SNH researching the repowering of onshore windfarms. She tells us about her experience of SNH and how that has helped to shape her career.

Site visit to Cruachan hydroelectric power station. © Kerrie Craig/SNH

Site visit to Cruachan hydroelectric power station. © Kerrie Craig/SNH

I undertook a graduate placement with SNH in 2016/2017, based in Battleby as part of the Planning and Renewables team. I was very fortunate in the fact I had the chance to work on a variety of different projects during my placement. I led research on the repowering of onshore windfarms, gathering evidence on approaches to repowering in other countries. In particular, focusing on infrastructure re-use and removal, natural heritage issues, survey and assessment methods and spatial and consenting approaches. I also had the opportunity to supplement work for an external project with Scottish Government, Historic Environment Scotland, and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) reviewing the effectiveness of monitoring efforts identified through the Strategic Environmental Assessment process of Local Development Plans.

My placement certainly set me up for a career in the environmental sector and I really relished the opportunities SNH provided to develop my skills; particularly training courses which were invaluable to building up my knowledge base. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to work in a professional environment for a government agency gaining essential experience such as the planning and management of projects which certainly sets SNH graduates apart from others when looking for work in the future.

I now put the skills and experience I built up during my time at SNH into practice as I am an environmental consultant with Royal HaskoningDHV, an engineering and project management company based in their Edinburgh office. I provide consenting advice and support for large scale infrastructure projects predominantly within the renewable energy sector. I work within an integrated specialist team supporting the management and drafting of Scoping Reports, Preliminary Environmental Information Reports, Environmental Statements and Development Consent Order applications for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, primarily offshore windfarms in the UK.

Engaging with local communities providing technical advice regarding offshore windfarms. © Kerrie Craig/SNH

Engaging with local communities providing technical advice regarding offshore windfarms. © Kerrie Craig/SNH

Whilst working at SNH I relished the opportunity to network with my fellow graduates through joint projects or site visits. Royal HaskoningDHV also has a very similar approach to developing the skillsets of young employees and our Graduate LAUNCH programme provides training on core technical and professional skills needed to support you through the first years of your career. The LAUNCH programme also proves to be a great support network for colleagues across the business with different backgrounds and professional experience so we can learn from each other. In addition, I am a member of the UK YOUNG RHDHV Committee, which serves as a voice for all new and young staff in the company. We facilitate opportunities to network, visit sites, learn from senior colleagues, and be involved in developing innovative solutions to problems our clients face, helping enhance society together.

With 2018 being Year of the Young People I can reflect on the opportunities provided to me through SNH’s graduate placement, and I am very grateful that I now work for a company which also provides support for young people and drives towards a sustainable future.  I am passionate about working in the environmental sector and hope that this support for young people to progress their careers in this sector continues. Barack Obama famously said of young people that “they are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it”. Therefore, I think it is very fitting that SNH provides fantastic opportunities for young people to work in organisation at the heart of this commitment, and support “all of nature for all of Scotland” with young people at the forefront.

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Half a century down the road

Fifty years ago Scottish Natural Heritage hadn’t come into being and Scotland’s leading environmental agency was The Nature Conservancy.  Bodies like Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) and Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) were in their infancy. SNH’s Jim Jeffrey explores the Spring 1967 issue of the SOC magazine.

The Nature Conservancy Council carved crest.

If you wanted the low down on what was happening with Scotland’s birds then the lovingly crafted little SOC quarterly magazine (Scottish Birds) was the thing to get your hands on. It was stumbling across a copy of this busy magazine dated Spring 1967 that nudged me into thinking about how things have changed in the last half century.

I’d barely dipped into the simple black and white magazine when with some interest I spotted that the famous historian T. C. Smout, then a strapping youngster, held a leading editorial role. Professor Chris Smout, our Historiographer Royal in Scotland as he is today, was actually SNH Deputy Chairman between 1991 and 1997. Although best known for his seminal Economic and Social History work – A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830 –  the environment was always an abiding passion for him, and this was clearly demonstrated by his role with the SOC.

The magazine’s introduction advocated that if you wanted to help birds, and get to know more about them, then you should also consider joining bodies such as the RSPB and BTO – and it was interesting to note that the RSPB’s Scottish office was at this time run by George Waterston. George would play a major role in ensuring the survival of Scotland’s returning ospreys in the 1950s, and would no doubt have approved of the SOC magazine – particularly given that he came from an Edinburgh family associated with the printing industry. Fittingly today his name lives on at the SOC headquarters – Waterston House – in Aberlady; named so as to acknowledge his huge environmental passion and commitment in Scotland.

Cover of the Scottish Ornithologists Club magazine 1967.

Looking at the layout of old magazines from the lofty heights of today’s colour and pdf-laden era provides a stark contrast with a bygone time. Nevertheless the simple, yet striking, line drawing that adorned the cover back in 1967 has lost none of its charm 50 years later.

Behind the charming cover followed the meat and drink of this publication – the text, which was earnest and sought to enlighten and entertain in equal measure. Numbers of Capercaillie in the Black Wood of Rannoch along with Redwings breeding in Sutherland were vying for prime column inches in what was a crammed edition.  A few grainy black and white images jostled with the dense text to capture the reader’s attention.

Of course, from an SNH perspective it was lovely to stumble across a detailed reference to not just one, but two of our National Nature Reserves (NNRs). Shetland’s Hermaness NNR was the setting for the first article in the magazine, which looked primarily at numbers of great skuas on Scotland’s most northerly NNR.  There were some astute descriptions of the occasionally aggressive nature of these birds, and the many challenges of achieving an accurate count. A host of other seabirds received an honorary mention too, with the ever-popular puffins proving just as challenging to count given their near constant toing and froing.

A report from the previous nesting year on the beautiful Isle of May (another SNH NNR) included an excited reference to a dipper being spotted … “only the second since the Boer War”!

A brief summary of other wildlife to be found on ‘The May’ included the following good news about the insect life on the island. “In two visits he (Malcolm Smith of the Nature Conservancy)”, it was noted “has added 71 species to the island’s list of Coleoptera (which now stands at 169 species) and verified a 60-year-old record of one species by a chance discovery at the bottom of a corn-bin in the tomato shed!”

There are plenty more historic gems to enjoy, so without spoiling your enjoyment of the issue (for it is there on the excellent and recently revamped, SOC website for all to enjoy) I’ll move on to the adverts – which do date things very quickly.

Various binoculars were advertised, and none are housed in the sleek multi-coloured bodies we now view as the norm. There were echoes of Henry Ford’s comment in the solid and chunky black options available. Likewise the holiday offerings of trips to Hungary for £8 or the Dolomites for £11 (whilst expensive in their day) sound strangely affordable when expressed in 1967 pounds, shillings and pence. A trip to Iceland carried the added enticement that the flight would be on a ‘New Boeing Jet which has just come into service’, but the real highlight was I suspect the chance to see a sea eagle. The RSPB had placed an advert that equally speaks of yesteryear as it noted that it needed new members if it was to expand on its suite of just eight reserves.

Scottish Birds – 1967 vintage – is a great read, but don’t take my word for it. Visit and indulge in a little nostalgia.







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