Isle of May welcomes Syrian day trip

The Isle of May visitor season wrapped up at the end of September. Here, SNH’s Jenny Johnson looks back at one of the highlights of the summer – a wonderful visit by a group of Syrian refugees.

Isle of May - Sherwan

The grey skies of a typical Scottish summer ran flush with the water and almost enveloped that familiar Isle as soon as we left Anstruther harbour pier. Setting out on the May Princess into the millpond-calm waters of the Forth and, to the south, the coastline of East Lothian, we were embarking on a ‘first’ for some excited Syrian visitors and myself: a boat trip to the Isle of May.

My companions, who had arrived in Fife in March 2017 as refugees from the War in Syria, had enthusiastically taken up Scottish Natural Heritage’s generous offer to host them on a day’s trip to the island. SNH manages the island and there is a continual flow of staff and volunteers providing support and research and undertaking bird surveys over the course of the year.

Isle of May landscape 3

Occupying a commanding position on the edge of the Forth, this windblown igneous rock – a National Nature Reserve and of national and international importance – is home to some 285 species on its 57 hectares. I am not sure that I had prepared my visitors any more than I had prepared myself for the full range of island experience as we approached the white, guano-covered cliffs.  We weren’t arriving at the height of the breeding season, when the May can host up to 200,000 seabirds, but it did still feel a little crowded on our arrival, with seabirds on the ledges and puffins in the grassland on the tops inspecting this new boat-full of visitors.

After the smooth 50-minute journey, we pulled into a narrow harbour and disembarked onto the pathway leading up to the main thoroughfares of the island’s path network. We were welcomed by Bex Outram, SNH’s Assistant Reserve Manager. She introduced the nearly 100 strong crowd to the island, giving a brief outline of SNH’s role and what we might want to explore during our two-hour turnaround. We were warned not to walk too close to the edge of the cliff tops in case we accidentally found ourselves diving off them, just like the birds.

With that sobering thought firmly anchored in my mind and feeling the responsibility of hosting parents with young children from a foreign country, who had known little but uncertainty and change during the course of their short lives, we headed off on our explorations.

The old Monastery, Isle of May NNR. Forth and Borders Area.

As well as its birds, the Isle of May has a rich cultural heritage, including St Adrian’s Chapel. There are also the keepers’ houses, stable blocks, North and South Horns, coal block etc.  Indeed, as a result of its position the island forms a distinct danger to navigation in these waters and, for this reason, was one of the first in Scotland to possess a permanent lighthouse, the original one taking the form of a large coal brazier established in 1635 and the first permanently manned one in Scotland.

A light rain was threatening and we were steered towards the staff house for a welcome cup of tea. Basking in the privilege of tables, chairs and mugs of tea, my Syrian friends began to pull out wraps, rolls and a wide range of food that they had brought with them. I was, as always with these people, humbled by their generosity and reciprocal hospitality.

A proper lighthouse was built on the island in 1816 by Robert Stevenson – an ornate gothic tower on a castellated stone building designed to resemble a castle, with accommodation for three light keepers and their families, along with additional space for visiting officials. The new lighthouse, now a listed building, started operating on 1816. After lunch, we made our way up its wonderful spiral staircase, transforming into a slightly precarious staircase ladder right at the top, and emerged as kings and queens of the island realm – staring across the colourful palette of the May to the grey channels of the Forth beyond.

Isle of May lighthouse interior - 5

The two or so hours on the island were up all too soon and we headed back to the boat, leaving the birds and grey seals to their relative peace and quiet and away from the chattering of human voices. The Isle of May crew provided an excellent and entertaining trip alongside the island as we pulled away, even picking up a young puffin which, seeking refuge in the hands of one of the crew, travelled with us for at least half the ride. Eventually the bird was released, much to the consternation of some of the tourists, into the now rather more billowing waves of the estuary where it rocked back and forth for several minutes before, like the island from which it had fledged a few weeks earlier, slipping from view.

Isle of May - boat

See the long lines flowing
Hear the puffins calling
Deep in Forth they’re going
Off the Isle of May

(‘Off the Isle of May’, as sung by Cilla Fisher)

Grateful thanks to SNH for hosting the trip, to Bex Outram for hospitality and to Sherwan for the photos.

Posted in Uncategorized

A club where birdies are par for the course

In our guest blog today Billy McLachlin, course manager at Royal Troon Golf Club, tells us how they are working for wildlife on one of the world’s finest links courses.

Royal Troon Golf Club is a site of international renown as habitat for that not-altogether-rare species, the golfer.  Less well known, perhaps, is its importance to coastal plants and animals.  As a classic links course, its greens, tees and fairways lie among areas of dune grassland, which here supports wildflowers like wild carrot, burnet rose and kidney vetch.  The dunes are of such botanical interest that much of the golf course is designated as the Troon Golf Links & Foreshore Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The dune vegetation, in turn, supports a great variety of wildlife, including birds, butterflies and bees.  At Royal Troon, we have long appreciated the value of the golf course to wildlife, and have carried out several surveys of birds and butterflies across the course in recent years (reports can be found on our website).  Butterflies seen around the course include the common blue, small heath, ringlet and orange-tip.  These thrive despite the risk of being eaten by some of the many birds that breed here, with skylarks and meadow pipits frequenting the grassland areas, and other small birds like whitethroats, sedge warblers, linnets and stonechat hanging out in areas of scrub.

Stonechat - (C)Laurie Campbell/SNH

Stonechat – (C)Laurie Campbell/SNH

Although the areas of rough around the course may look relatively wild and untouched, we put in a considerable effort to make the most of their natural qualities and keep them in a good state for the special wildlife that depends on them.  Before the land became a golf course in 1878 it would have been grazed by livestock, helping to maintain open dune grassland and prevent scrub from encroaching.  In the absence of grazing, there is a tendency for the grassland to become tall and dense, and eventually to be overtaken scrub and trees.  While some scrub and tree cover provides valuable cover and nest sites for birds, too much would be damaging.  The many insects that favour dunes and dune grasslands will thrive best where the vegetation is relatively short and open, with small patches of bare sand between the plants that act as ‘sun traps’ and allow the insects to get warm enough to forage effectively.  Many of the insects also need access to bare sand where they can dig burrows for nesting.  These insects are, in turn, food for many of the birds that live here, so making the habitats good for insects helps our feathered friends too.

Pool & bee logs

pool and bee logs

Over the last few years we have removed large areas of invasive scrub, mainly gorse but also the non-native Japanese rose and sea buckthorn.  Cleared areas have largely been left to recover naturally, and we quickly see these areas being colonised by a variety of flowering plants.  Elsewhere, with advice from SNH, we are trialling various techniques to open up areas of grassland that have become overgrown and lacking in botanical diversity.  In some areas strimming is used to reduce vegetation height and density.  Elsewhere, we have taken a more heavy-duty approach, using a small digger and bucket to remove patches of turf and create small sand ‘scrapes’.  Last but not least, one of our more creative greenkeepers has created a multi-storey ‘bee hotel’ (pictured), with a waterproof roof and a range of materials suitable for various types and sizes of solitary bees to use for nesting.

Together these various measures should make the golf course an even better place for wildlife.  On top of that, by removing scrub, opening up views and encouraging wildlife to thrive, we hope that Royal Troon will become an even nicer place to play golf.

Posted in bees, biodiversity, Birds, citizen science, coastal, Community engagement, conservation, Flowers, plants, SSSI, Uncategorized, wildlife management | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Isle of May welcomes record visitor numbers – again!

It’s been a fabulous year on the SNH-owned Isle of May National Nature Reserve in the Firth of Forth. Famed for its large puffin colonies, the island welcomed a record number of visitors again this year – the fourth consecutive season the record has been broken.


That winning combination of good weather, flat seas and incredible wildlife has attracted visitors from far and wide.

Our reserve manager on the island, David Steel, said: “It’s been another wonderful season for both the wildlife and human visitors to the island, with over 13,500 people coming out to enjoy this seabird spectacular. A visit to the May is not just about the wildlife; the rugged island, its location and the historic buildings, such as the Stevenson lighthouse which is open to the public, also attract many visitors. It is a real ‘must do’ for many people”.

The popularity of the island has increased in recent years as it supports the largest puffin colony on the east coast of the UK, as well as thousands of nesting shags, kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and eiders, amongst other seabirds.

Grey seals are currently gathering on the island and over the next two months more than 2,500 pups will be born on the  Isle of May. The island is now closed for the winter but will reopen from 1st April 2019.

All photos (C) SNH

Posted in Birds, coastal, Marine, National Nature Reserves, sea life, seals, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

#CycleForNature – The Final Fling

Well, She did it! More than 1300 miles cycled, 39 offices visited and more than £1100 raised for the Scottish Association for Mental Health. We last heard from Francesca in Orkney. Today in her final blog post of the challenge we hear about the last three days of #CycleForNature.

Day three of this final leg of #CycleForNature dawned bright and blowy in Scrabster. Our route to Golspie took us past the amazing Forsinard Flows. Despite the at times fierce headwind, operations officers Debbie Skinner, Karen Reid and I made good time which allowed us to have a great visit to the RSPB field study centre, visitor centre and eye-catching watch tower. Here we learned about the impressive Flows to the Future project which aims to restore blanket blog across the Flow Country. We also discussed the ambitions for the Flow Country to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An involved, but potentially highly rewarding, process.

It was then time to hit the road again, but not before a trial of an e-bike. The popularity of e-bikes is growing and having given it a go, I can see why! They don’t do all the work for you, but can give you a boost when you need it: ideal for those who want to cycle but feel that they don’t quite have the fitness. Anything which gets people out of cars and helps with active travel is a winner with me. Tempted? See the Scottish Government interest-free loan scheme for e-bikes.

The wind dropped which made for a fast run in to Golspie, now accompanied by Sally Ward. After a tour of the building (SNH is handily co-located with the Scottish Government, the Forestry Commission and Highland and Islands Enterprise), I had a good staff discussion with the Golspie team about SNH’S fantastic work in the area, and how we deal with controversial cases.


With Graham Neville and Ian Sargent

The penultimate day! Ian Sargent, Graham Neville and I set off to the Dingwall office in slightly gloomy conditions but somehow with a tailwind.  We had a quick break looking over the Loch Fleet NNR estuary. The reserve is notable for its three distinct habitats which the common seals were clearly enjoying.  The reserve is also home to a range of bird life including waders and osprey.

I was met at the Dingwall office by colleague Iain Sime and Simon and Lynn McKelvey of the Cromarty Firth Fishery Trust. We visited the nearby Dunglass Island to see the vital work that the Trust has done to restore the river channel to improve biodiversity. The Trust is an important delivery partner in the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative and along the way they have trained and supported an army of volunteers, as well as working with numerous local schools. Brilliant to hear.


Leaving Dingwall

Then back to the Dingwall office for a chat with all the team there. As in all the office discussions, the passion, expertise and commitment of all staff was clear to see.

My weather luck didn’t quite last to the final day but five days with rain out of 32 isn’t bad! For the final stint to SNH’s HQ in Inverness I was joined by a number of colleagues from SNH and partners, as well as bike packer enthusiast Markus Stitz as we battled the impact of Storm Callum to make the final 17 mile journey. It was great to be welcomed at Great Glen House, including by Obama the pony from Pony Axe S (there’s an idea for next year…). It’s been an amazing journey.  It’s not been about the bike, but about all the colleagues that I’ve met along the way who make SNH the great organisation that it is.  Thanks to everyone that has made it happen.

After a staff vote, #CycleForNature has been raising money for the Scottish Association for Mental Health. We’ve raised more than £1,000 for this brilliant charity and I hope raised awareness of mental health issues throughout the journey.

I was touched at many of the comments on the JustGiving page and some of the personal stories that people have shared. It’s clearly an issue that means a lot to people and a sincere thank you to everyone for their generous donations.

Best wishes – Francesca

Posted in Uncategorized

#CycleForNature – The Northern Isles

Half way through the final leg of her epic active travel challenge, the end is almost in sight now for Francesca. Today in her penultimate #CycleForNature blog post she tells us about her visit to the Northern Isles.

I have been to Shetland before, but never by ferry. It was a remarkably good experience and I congratulated myself on finding my sea legs on the long crossing from Aberdeen to Lerwick (pride comes before a fall). Off the ferry and straight to the Lerwick office where some of the earlier starters were already busy at work.


Leaving the Shetland office on the final leg of . An amazing week ahead.

After a coffee and a chat, I hit the road with Colin Smith (Shetland Islands Council) and Gary Robinson (Chair, NHS Scotland). Our destination was the Hoswick Visitor Centre for a meeting with active travel partners organised by local operations officer, Juan Brown. It was a beautiful sunny, if blowy, ride and the Hoswick Visitor Centre is worth the trip: part gallery; craft shop; cafe; and community space. As well as the active travel discussion, we had a good explore of local paths and learned about improvement plans. In addition, we also heard about the ambitious plans for the Visitor Centre itself, recent recipient of a grant from the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund.


At Hoswick Visitor Centre

A lovely tailwind helped us back to Lerwick and I had a good discussion with Colin and Gary as we went about partnership working, particularly in relation to active travel. I was also able to chat to Gary about the benefits of “nature prescriptions” where the approach taken on Shetland was in the news recently.


There was time back at the office for a lively chat with colleagues about SNH’s work in Shetland and how we could engage more with local communities. It was then back on the ferry for the shorter journey to Kirkwall. Shorter, but very bouncy and I definitely wasn’t feeling smug about my sea legs anymore.


Tuesday morning dawned a little bit damp. First order of the day was a short walk to the BBC Radio Orkney studio for an interview about #CycleForNature and the physical and mental health benefits of enjoying nature (you can hear it here, from 24.50).

Then to the Kirkwall office, in sombre mood given the very sad new of Operations Manager Gail Churchill’s death after a long fight with cancer. Gail was a very dedicated colleague who continued to work until only a few days ago. She had worked as part of our Orkney team for many years, and her expertise and enthusiasm will be greatly missed. All our thoughts are with Gail’s family and friends.

After some time in the office, operations officers Donna Yule and Kim McEwan gave me a whistle stop tour of the area around the Scarpa Flow where we discussed assessing the cumulative impact of potential windfarm and fish farm developments. By the time we got back to the office, the skies had lifted and it was therefore a good time to get on the road.


With the Orkney team

Accompanied by demon cyclocrosser and operations manager Dan Brazier, we raced across Orkney to Stenness. We stopped on the way at one of the trial trapping sites for the Orkney Native Wildlife Project, which aims to eradicate non-native invasive stoats from the Orkney Islands. I had a go at re-setting a trap: more difficult than it looks but at least I still have all my fingers.

From Stenness we carried on to Stromness via the Lochs of Stenness and Harray. Once just a single loch, both are now important for the biodiversity that they support. The Loch of Stenness is unusual in that its varying salt content means it supports both fresh water and salt water species. We also had a quick visit to the important Neolithic site of the Ring of Brodgar, the most northern circle “henge” in the UK.


At the Ring of Brodgar

At Stromness I met our RSPB partners in the Orkney Native Wildlife Project and discussed the importance of engaging the local community in the project, as well as the sheer logistics and physicality of setting around 10,000 traps. Plenty of work to do but an exciting and energising project. I also met Macca the terrier!

With Macca the Terrier

With Macca the Terrier

Then another ferry for the relatively short journey to Scrabster. An all too brief visit to Shetland and Orkney, but plenty of reasons to come back.

Through #CycleForNature I am raising funds for the Scottish Association for Mental Health, via Just Giving.

Best wishes – Francesca

Posted in Access, active travel, coastal, Community engagement, Cycle for Nature, cycling, Dogs, paths, Projects, Shetland, SNH, Staff profile, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Go watch a salmon leap

Atlantic salmon, more than any other fish, occupy a prominent position in the cultural mythology of Scotland. The Picts knew this when they carved its image on stones; the Celts when they told tales of the Salmon of Wisdom. For this is a creature that links rivers and sea in its journeys, whose presence indicates the health of a river and can inspire awe in many who see it.

Detail of a Pictish stone carving showing a salmon, in the National Museum of Scotland. © Jessica Spengler, Creative Commons

Detail of a Pictish stone carving showing a salmon, from the National Museum of Scotland. © Jessica Spengler, Creative Commons

At a cascade where salmon gather, their jumping against the flow can seem little short of miraculous. Happily, Scotland is blessed with both many waterfalls and many salmon rivers. It is also unusual in having salmon that enter its inland waters most months of the year. This includes a sizeable ‘autumn run’ of fish, which often peaks in October.

Atlantic Salmon leaping up a waterfall on the River Almond. ©Lorne Gill/SNH/2020VISION

Atlantic Salmon leaping up a waterfall on the River Almond. ©Lorne Gill/SNH/2020VISION

To appreciate salmon in full autumn leap (and see video links from underwater cameras) try a visit to the Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre by the River Ettrick, near Selkirk. Or in the north, ogle the falls along the River Shin, between Bonar Bridge and Lairg.

You are most likely to spot leaping salmon in October and November in early morning and evening, especially following a spell of rain after a dry period.

By dint of the fact that these are falls and there is lots of spray around, they can be slippery at the best of times. Add to the fact that they are best seen in late autumn/early winter these areas may be more slippery than usual so take care at all times if you go to visit.

7 great places to watch salmon jumping

1. The Falls of Braan in Perthshire

Waterfalls at Rumbling Brig on the River Braan, Dunkeld ©Lorne Gill/SNH.

Waterfalls at Rumbling Brig on the River Braan, Dunkeld ©Lorne Gill/SNH.

2. Linn of Tummel where the rivers Garry and Tummel meet

3. The Falls of Shin

Falls of Shin. © Lorne Gill/SNH

Falls of Shin. © Lorne Gill/SNH

4. Buchanty Spout, Easter Glenalmond near Crieff (To get to Buchanty Spout, take the road to Dunkeld from Crieff, then turn down the Glen Almond turnoff just before the Sma Glen. Buchanty is just a mile or two down this small road. There is an area to park the car on the junction, then a signposted path from the bridge takes you the 100m down to the spout.)

5. Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre – you can see salmon on the Ettrick Water (a tributary of the Tweed where Philiphaugh is located). The safest place to look at fish gathering is below the falls – there is an underwater camera in the Centre which shows these fish gathering below the obstruction before they attempt to go through the fish pass.

6. Pitlochry Dam and salmon ladder. There is a viewing room here that allows visitors to see salmon migrating through the fish pass on their way upstream.

Fish ladder and hydro electric dam on the river Tummel, Faskally, Pitlochry. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Fish ladder and hydro electric dam on the river Tummel, Faskally, Pitlochry. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

7. The River Dee. If you go at an appropriate time, and the river levels are suitable, visitors can also see salmon leaping on the  in various spots in at Glen Tanar Estate. Go to the Braeloine Visitor Centre

Find out more about the life cycle and habits of the Atlantic salmon on our website.

Posted in biodiversity | Tagged , , , ,

A summer of learning and sharing as Scotland leads the way in offshore floating wind farms

This summer has been particularly busy for our marine energy team.  We’ve been out on site to view the construction of the Beatrice offshore wind farm as well as hosting a visit from Japanese officials and their advisers interested in learning from our experience of assessing and advising on offshore floating wind farms.

Construction of the Beatrice wind farm, approximately 13km off the Caithness coast, is the culmination of 10 years work, from site selection through pre-application discussions, the environmental impact assessment as well as post consent consideration and agreement of construction plans.

The Pacific Orca (the biggest vessel of this type in the world) can load the component parts of 5 wind turbines, sail to site and erect the turbines.

The Pacific Orca (the biggest vessel of this type in the world) can load the component parts of five wind turbines, sail to site and erect the turbines.

The scale of offshore windfarms is significantly larger than those onshore and so can produce greater amounts of energy for use in our homes and by industry.  The Beatrice wind farm will produce enough energy to power around 450,000 homes from approximately 588MW.  The completion date for full operation is spring 2019 however it’s already producing energy despite still being under construction.

Erecting the turbine towers and blades to their jackets. The beginning process of stabilising and lifting into position through the use of jack up legs.

Erecting the turbine towers and blades to their jackets. The beginning process of stabilising and lifting into position through the use of jack up legs.

Scotland is leading the way globally in developing floating offshore wind farms.  The Japanese Government are interested in floating wind technology because fixed wind development is not feasible due to their deeper waters.  In early September our Japanese visitors came to our offices at Battleby to learn about the approaches taken in Scotland for assessing impacts to birds from floating offshore wind farms.  Scotland now has two operational sites, one which is fully operational developed by HyWind off Peterhead, and the other slightly closer to shore off Stonehaven called Kincardine.  The delegation from Japan included officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, academics from Nagasaki University and the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry, as well as environmental consultants.

SNH hosted a visit from Japense delegates after being contacted by the Japanese Government.

SNH hosted a visit from Japanese delegates after being contacted by the Japanese Government.

Over the two days we had presentations from SNH, Marine Scotland, RSPB, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the Kincardine developers.  We discussed the importance of Scotland in an international context for breeding seabirds, the methods used to collect data on seabird behaviour and requirements, impact assessment methods including the complex models to predict collision and displacement impacts, as well as the increasing importance of tagging technology to improve our understanding of seabird life cycle requirements including seasonal movements.

Viewing the final stages of the landfall connection at the Kincardine site and discussing financing, construction and operation of floating wind turbines.

Sharing knowledge whilst viewing the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre turbines from land.

Our guests explained that in Japan collection of marine environmental data is only beginning to happen, so they were very grateful to have heard not just about our Scottish perspective, but to compare with what they had heard from visits to the Netherlands and Denmark.  What they hadn’t been able to see off the Danish and Dutch coasts were any floating wind turbines so on our second day we’d planned a road trip up the east coast of Scotland to view the HyWind and Kincardine floating turbines as well as the newly operational European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen Bay.

Discussions going on whilst viewing the floating wind turbines from land.

Viewing the final stages of the landfall connection at the Kincardine site and discussing financing, construction and operation of floating wind turbines.

The visit was extremely beneficial and we’ll continue to share knowledge and learning with our Japanese delegates.

We support a planned approach in which offshore wind development is guided towards the locations and technologies that have the least adverse impact on Scotland’s seascapes, species and habitats.  For further information on our approach go to:

Posted in Marine, Renewable Energy | Tagged , ,

Tree Coring: What it is and why we do it

We’ve published a new report about tree coring, called A review of the theory and practice of tree coring on live ancient and veteran trees. Here, our Woodlands Policy & Advice Officer Kate Holl tells us more about tree coring and the importance of ancient trees, and explains why we’ve done this research.

An ancient oak at Cadzow Park, Hamilton. (c) Kate Holl

An ancient oak at Cadzow Park, Hamilton. (c) Kate Holl

Ancient and veteran trees (AVTs) aren’t just beautiful and inspirational – they provide an essential link to historic land-use. They are especially important for the wide range of other associated plants and animals, which require the very special environment created in an old tree. Britain has one of the highest populations of veteran trees in Europe, and so we have an international responsibility to protect and manage these very special trees.

The pattern of distinct tree-rings that is visible in sawed wood has been observed at least since the 16th Century when Leonardo da Vinci remarked on the effects of weather and drought on the size of rings in sawed pine.

Annual rings of old trees are historical records in their own right, illustrating past climate changes or cutting treatments. The study of these rings is known as dendrochronology. Today, dendrochronological principles inform the study of a wide range of subjects from climate change to landscape history, archaeology, and even the frequency and impacts of avalanches!

Example of rings on a tree stump, providing information on the tree’s age and weather conditions throughout its lifetime (c) Kate Holl

Example of rings on a tree stump, providing information on the tree’s age and weather conditions throughout its lifetime. (c) Kate Holl

While many people think seeing a tree’s rings requires cutting the tree down, the tree ring pattern can be examined by coring the main trunk using a special tool to extract a pencil-thin core of wood from a tree for subsequent examination. The data collected from coring trees in the UK feeds in to a worldwide network that provides important data for a variety of scientific and practical applications.

However, tree coring unavoidably creates an injury to that tree. So the question arises, how serious and what are the implications of the injury, and how to balance this with any benefits from tree coring?  To investigate this question further, we partnered with Historic England and Natural England to commission research on the damage coring may have on ancient and veteran trees (AVTs).

Extracting a core of wood from an ancient tree for analysis

Extracting a core of wood from an ancient tree for analysis. (c)Rob Jarman

This report, published today, concludes that coring AVTs may be harmful to some of these trees. Given the considerable value of the AVT resource and its potential vulnerability, a general precautionary approach to coring is recommended. The report further recommends that there is a need to bring together professionals and practitioners with conservation, dendrochronology and arboricultural interests in tree coring to improve information sharing and to explore and develop common standards for coring practice and data recording.

Following the findings, SNH plans to embark on a project to develop Best Practice Guidance for coring AVTs in consultation with the professional community to obtain a workable and widely acceptable Best Practice document for coring AVTs. If you are interested in being involved in this work then do please get in touch by emailing

You can read the report in full on our website, here.

Posted in History, Research, trees, woodlands | Tagged , , , ,

Scottish Natural Heritage at EUROPARC 2018

Last week Scottish Natural Heritage was a key sponsor of EUROPARC 2018; the largest gathering of protected area professionals in Europe. This annual event brings together hundreds of  park authorities, nature reserve staff and conservation professionals from up 36 European countries to work together and share knowledge on many on the accomplishments and challenges facing our natural areas.  This year, Scotland was lucky enough to be the host nation and the beautiful Cairngorms National Park provided an ideal setting for the conference proceedings.

Tying in nicely with Scotland’s Year of Young People, this year’s EUROPARC theme, Inspired by the Next Generation, informed many of the talks, panels and workshops of the conference event but more importantly brought an open invitation to young people to come along and join the conversation with discounted rates to try and reduce the barriers to attend.

The Key Highlights of EUROPARC 2018

With whole host of speakers, activities and networking events EUROPARC 2018 took place over four days in the Highland town of Aviemore but here are just a few of the conference highlights for us at Scottish Natural Heritage.

Opening day activities

A noted first day speaker was Cassie Scott, a young individual who bravely spoke about challenges she faced in her personal life but how important time in nature had been at changing her life around. After being recommended by a mentor, Cassie joined an eight-day wilderness programme with Venture Trust where she not only learned nature based skills, she found her perspective and approach to many aspects of her life had changed and she had been inspired to help young people in similar circumstances.

Cassie Scott speaking onstage at EUROPARC 2018 ©Kirstin McEwan/Scottish Natural Heritage

Cassie Scott speaking onstage at EUROPARC 2018
©Kirstin McEwan/Scottish Natural Heritage

Hearing personal stories from young people who have made strong connections to nature who otherwise wouldn’t have found their inspiration is a great privilege and was certainly a perfect way to open the conference, highlighting how important outdoor experiences can be and how much they can mean to individuals.

Further speeches from Richard Louv, author of books such as Last Child in the Woods, Hendrikus van Hensbergen; Founder and Director of  Action for Conservation, and Karen Keenleyside a Science Advisor for Parks Canada but also Vice Chair for People and Parks with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) World Commission on Protected Areas, all added a fantastic perspective on our changing attitudes to nature and children’s relationship with natural spaces. Key messages from all these individuals focused on the importance of uniting children and young people with the natural world but not only teaching them about nature but allowing them to explore, connect and engage with their environment in their own way.

Richard Louv speaking at the EUROPARC 2018 Conference | ©Kirstin McEwan/Scottish Natural Heritage

Richard Louv spoke about the importance of connecting children to nature
©Kirstin McEwan/Scottish Natural Heritage

Perhaps one of the most interesting quotes of the opening day came from Richard Louv while speaking on the importance of how we engage young people and how we frame environmental discussions.

“What happens when a child cannot enjoy nature simply for nature’s sake? If all they are taught about is the end of the world, environmentally speaking? Ecophobia.”

Richard Louv, Author and Public Speaker

Richard gave a welcome reminder that, while talking about the environment and conservation topics, it is important not to overwhelm young people with negative predictions and allow connections with nature to take place.

The opening day’s afternoon session allowed delegate to split up in to various workshops to discuss a myriad of topics related to work in and with protected areas. Discussion and working groups covered everything from maintenance and restoration of peatlands to natural heritage and cultural identity. We also played a key role in a number of workshops with Scottish Natural Heritage staff discussing topics such as landscape reform and management, nature and health, access to protected areas and the development of youth nature skills.

Exploring the diversity of the Cairngorms National Park

While talks, discussions and workshops about nature and protected areas are vital to the work of our National Parks, Nature Reserves and greenspaces nothing beats experiencing these spaces first hand. As well as the conference proceedings, the EUROPARC delegates also embarked on a day trip to explore the Cairngorms National Park.

After the previous day’s Storm Ali, our delegates certainly lucked out with some beautiful sunshine for most of the trips around the park including those that visited our site at Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.

EUROPARC 2018 delegates standing in front of a Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve sign | ©Scottish Natural Heritage

EUROPARC 2018 delegates got to explore Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve with some of our Scottish Natural Heritage team
©Scottish Natural Heritage

With over 600 delegates at the conference we certainly couldn’t take them all at our lovely site but there was plenty of variety. From community woodlands to local industry, wildlife watching to adventure sports, the trips truly showcased how diverse protected lands can be.

Want to find out more about  Muir of Dinnet? – Read about visiting our site

Bringing the EUROPARC Message together on the closing day

Mike Cantlay speaking at EUROPARC2018 | ©Kirstin McEwan / Scottish Natural Heritage

Mike Cantlay spoke about the importance of young people in decision-making
©Kirstin McEwan / Scottish Natural Heritage

We were, of course, delighted to have our own Scottish Natural Heritage Chair Mike Cantlay speaking on the closing day of the conference discussing the importance of the next generation in shaping Scotland’s nature and in allowing young people to be decision makers.

“I fear that the only thing standing in the way of our young people might be us. Our young people get it. They see the pace of change our nature is enduring. And they are learning the tools, the technology, the science, to best protect and conserve the nature we hold dear.”

Dr Mike Cantlay OBE, Chair of Scottish Natural Heritage

One of the key elements of EUROPARC 2018, which succinctly answered many of the discussions related to youth engagement and empowering the next generation, was the launch of the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto.  This project brought together more than 50 youth people from across Europe who have been involved in community, protected area, youth or nature programmes to discuss the challenegs they face in rural areas and the changes needed to help them tackle them.

We are also proud to have supported the development of the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto Project which parallels much of our own work with young people living, learning, and working in rural communities and protected areas. Watching the official launch of this important document was a proud moment for everyone involved. 

Want to read the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto? – Find an online version here

Friday also gave us an opportunity to highlight some of the fantastic projects we are involved in including Scotland’s Youth Biodiversity Panel ReRoute in partnership with Young Scot. Other top stalls from the day included our Scotland’s Natural Larder project with some great advice on Scottish produce and ever popular tasters and some great discussion on our National Nature Reserve and protected area site with our Designated Sites Manager as well as many of our conservation projects across Scotland. We were also lucky enough to have had a number of our Student Placements in attendance at the Marketplace section of the day to discuss how they are involved in Scottish Natural Heritage Projects and how their placements will help them develop careers in the environmental sector.

The Importance of EUROPARC 2018

We are very proud to have been a sponsor of EUROPARC 2018 and to have been involved in so many aspects of the event and contributing to such a highly importance knowledge share event. Sharing best practices across the sector, not just here in Scotland but globally, helps all of those working in protected areas, improves techniques and processes and creates a network of professionals who can all work together and collaborate on projects.

Organisations like the EUROPARC Federation who help providing a forum to share ideas and create a space to discuss projects and past experience, are vital to tackling the diverse challenges our natural spaces face and promoting greater connection with our protected areas.

Loch Kinord at Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve ©Lorne Gill/Scottish Natural Heritage

Loch Kinord at Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve
©Lorne Gill/Scottish Natural Heritage

This year’s youth focus and launch of the Youth Manifesto and it’s focus has also been an essential element and is particularly relevant to Scotland with so many rural communities and young people facing issues.

We are excited to continue honouring the new commitments we have made as an organisation on working with young people and involving young people in the governance of our organisation.

Where to next for the EUROPARC Federation?

After a highly successful EUROPARC Conference in the Cairngorms National Park next year the baton has been passed to Lativa and will be hosted in the Kemeri National Park from 24th-27th September 2019.

We look forward to working with our European partners and conservation professionals and to sharing our updates, successes and challenges through this and many more events like it to help achieve all our conservation targets and connect more people with nature right across the globe.

Posted in biodiversity, Cairngorms National Park, conference, conservation, SNH, Year of Young People | Tagged , , , ,

Dualchas coitcheann / Common heritage

Am mìos seo bidh sinn a’ toirt sùil air an fhacal ‘breac’ ann an litreachas na Gàidhlig. Tha ceangal aige ri iasg, lochan agus tòrr a bharrachd. / This month we look at the many uses of breac ‘speckled’ in Gaelic literature. It’s a word that is associated with trout, lochs and much more besides.

Dùthaich bhreac

Tha dà ainm-àite faisg air Port-adhair Ìle a’ sealltainn farsaingeachd an fhacail breac air aghaidh na talmhainn. Tha e a’ nochdadh mar bhuadhair ann am Beinn Bhreac. Dà chilemeatair don ear-thuath air a’ bheinn, tha Loch nam Breac, far a bheil am facal na ainmear, a’ ciallachadh an èisg Salmo trutta. ’S fhiach cuimhneachadh, ge-tà, gu bheil breac a’ ciallachadh ‘bradan’ ann an dualchainnt no dhà.


’S iomadh loch is allt thar na Gàidhealtachd air a bheil ainm le ‘breac’ ann. Tha eisimpleirean ann an Lochan Dubh nam Breac air mòinteach ann an ceann a deas an Eilein Sgitheanaich, Loch nam Breac Ruadh ann an Uibhist a Deas agus Lochan nam Breac Reamhra faisg air an Òban (Latharna). Chan eilear a’ dol a dh’innse far a bheil na sia lochan air a bheil Loch nam Breac Mòra, eagal ’s gum biodh cus dhaoine a’ falbh a dh’iasgach annta!

Mar bhuadhair, tha ‘breac’ a’ dèanamh tuairisgeul de choltas àite, gu tric air fhaicinn aig astar, co-cheangailte ri lusan, creagan no sgrìodan. Tha eisimpleirean anns an Àirigh Bhric ann am Muile (nach eil breac tuilleadh oir chaidh coille a chur oirre), An t-Sròn Bhreac, ceann beinne taobh Loch Lòchaidh agus A’ Chreag Bhreac is A’ Chruach Bhreac a tha air leth bitheanta. Tha an t-uabhas de bheanntan air a bheil Am Meall Breac agus A’ Bheinn Bhreac. Uaireannan tha na ‘beanntan breaca’ ceangailte ri Cailleach na Beinne Brice a bha uaireigin, ’s dòcha, na ban-dia phàganach a bhuineadh ris a’ gheamhradh.


Ann an litreachas na Gàidhlig, tha breac mar thuairisgeul air coltas achaidhean is leathaidean far a bheil lusan sònraichte pailt – leithid sòbhragan, neòineanan is oighreagan (feireagan). Tha ‘breac le feireagan as cruinn dearg ceann’ a’ nochdadh anns an dàn ainmeil ‘Coire a’ Cheathaich’ le Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir. Chithear a’ chiall sin anns an ainm-àite Achadh Breac (Achbreck ann am Beurla), a nochdas ann an grunn àiteachan eadar Siorrachd Bhanbh agus Earra-Ghàidheal.

A speckled land

Two place names close to Islay Airport demonstrate the diversity of the word breac (‘BREH-uchk’) in the Gaelic landscape. Meaning ‘speckled’, it is the descriptor in the mountain name Beinn Bhreac (bayn VREH-uchk) ‘speckled mountain’ – the ‘h’ softening the ‘b’ in agreement with the feminine gender of the noun beinn. Two kilometres northeast of the mountain is Loch nam Breac ‘the loch of the trout’, where the word is a noun, referring to our native brown trout which, of course, is a beautifully speckled fish.


Many water bodies across the Highlands and Islands carry the name of this species. Examples are Lochan Dubh nam Breac ‘the black [peatland] lochan of the trout’ on Skye, Loch nam Breac Ruadh ‘the loch of the russet trout’ in South Uist and Lochan nam Breac Reamhra ‘the lochan of the fat trout’ near Oban, Argyll. The localities of the six lochs which are called Loch nam Breac Mòra ‘the loch of the big trout’ will remain undeclared, because of fears of overfishing!

As a descriptor, breac is applied in place names to several types of feature, and refers to an appearance, usually observed at distance, caused by the distribution of vegetation or rocks, including scree. Examples are the Àirigh Bhreac ‘speckled shieling’ on Mull (no longer speckled because it is covered with plantation forest), Sròn Bhreac ‘speckled nose’ on Loch Lochy, and the extremely numerous and widespread Creag Bhreac ‘speckled crag’ and Cruach Bhreac ‘speckled stack’. There are many mountains called Meall Breac and Beinn Bhreac, the latter often connected with Cailleach na Beinne Brice ‘the hag of Beinn Bhreac’, who may originally have been a pre-Christian deity associated with winter.


In Gaelic literature breac is employed to describe the appearance of fields, hillsides and plateaux where particular plants are growing in abundance, examples being primroses, daisies and cloudberries. ‘Studded with cloudberries of the roundest, reddest head’ is a line from ‘The Misty Corrie’ by Duncan Bàn MacIntyre, one of Gaeldom’s most celebrated poems. A toponymic example is Achbreck, Achadh Breac ‘speckled field’, a name that occurs in locations as far apart as Banffshire and Argyll.

Posted in Gaelic, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,