Valuing nature in a complex world

Projects and Partnerships Officer Neville Makan reflects on a recent conference that posed the question – how do we value nature?

Oakwoods in springtime ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Oakwoods in springtime ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Valuing nature poses many challenges.  Yet recognising what we value in nature is an essential first step in establishing a more sustainable way of life.  Recently I was fortunate to be able to attend the third annual conference in Cardiff of the Valuing Nature Programme – a five year, £6.5m initiative that considers the economic, societal and cultural value of nature.

Our keynote speaker Professor Ian Hodge did not avoid the complexities by asking us first off, what is it that we are trying to value?   Do we want to maintain an ecological system in a particular state to make it resilient to change or to maximise economic gain?  It is safe to say that we cannot value everything in economic terms, even though hard numbers persuade politicians.  We cannot put a price on a sacred cultural site or a wildflower meadow. The moral argument clearly favours more considered approaches to valuing nature over cost-benefit analysis.  Ian suggests a pluralistic approach is required, with both quantitative and deliberative methods employed, requiring more research to inform policy and practice.

National Museum Cardiff ©Neville Makan

National Museum Cardiff ©Neville Makan

Rob Cooke, director of EU Transition at Natural England, presented the emerging context for domestic agricultural policy post-Brexit.  He sees a move in all four of the UK countries’ developing policies towards more sustainable agricultural systems that look after natural capital over the long-term.  Also developing are schemes that would provide income and investment support to more economically marginal farms to ensure their resilience and to reward them for providing public goods. More advice to farmers in developing land management plans is a strong theme, as is more landscape-scale collaborative working.  The overall annual cost of meeting environmental land management priorities across the UK is expected to be £2,118m (£448m for Scotland).  It will be society that decides how much we spend, so there is real pressure to embed valuation into this decision-making.

Natural England gave a presentation on the natural capital accounting that has been trialled on National Nature Reserves to inform land management decisions, while other talks covered a variety of ways of how valuing nature can inform decisions.  For example, biodiversity net gain was shown to be possible in a Clackmannanshire housing development case study using habitat maps, while in Southampton a majority of businesses were found willing to invest in urban green infrastructure.

Conference plenary session ©Neville Makan

Conference plenary session ©Neville Makan

There is around $69 trillion in global circulation, with 100s of billions of dollars being invested by the likes of insurance companies and pension funds.  So there is much needed money out there, and according to a session on investing in natural capital, things are moving quickly in terms of connecting the private sector with natural capital investment opportunities.  However, there is still much to do, with a need for more brokers or skilled communicators to make the links, more evidence, information, monitoring and tools.

We live in a changing and complex world, however overall the conference reflected a positive feeling that our values of nature are being brought more into decision-making.  But attitudinal and cultural changes are still required and there is still a sense of urgency in the need to tackle the huge challenges we face.  There was a call for more local work – connecting people with their places and tapping into the emotional feeling that most people have with nature.  The more that people can get on and do what’s right in their area, the more this is likely to influence the decisions that politicians and business leaders make.

Find out more about the Valuing Nature Programme here.


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The bird with the golden eye

Goldeneye may bring to mind one of the better James Bond movies of the 1990s but it is of course also a medium sized duck which is found all around the world’s more northerly regions, from North America, across Europe to Asia. But is there more to this bird than meets the eye? Nigel Buxton, our Natura Project Manager, tells us more…

The goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), for most of the year, is a widespread and common bird in Scotland. It is also one of our rarest breeding ducks.


Female and male goldeneye, (C) David A Mitchell, Creative Commons

It’s a diving duck with marked differences in appearance between the green-headed, black and white males and the significantly smaller brown-headed, mottle-grey females. Although the two sexes couldn’t be more different in their plumage, what they do have in common is a bright yellow, or golden eye.


Resting female, (C) Kurt Bauschardt, Creative Commons

The UK wintering (non-breeding) population of goldeneye is estimated to be about 27,000 birds. The most recent British Trust for Ornithology Atlas shows the species to be widely distributed during winter, being absent from only the highest areas, including the Grampian mountains and the Pennines, and the more remote parts of northern Scotland. Overall the birds are most densely concentrated in the north of England and Scotland, especially towards the coast.

Currently 12 of the top 20 locations for overwintering goldeneye are in Scotland, several of which are Special Protection Areas (SPAs). These include four coastal locations, although only recently have ornithologists realised the true importance of coastal areas for these over-wintering birds. The Scottish goldeneye SPAs are: the Firth of Forth, the Firth of Tay and Eden Estuary, Loch Leven, Loch of Skene and the Upper Solway Flats and Marshes. These sites are part of a network of over 1500 protected areas across Scotland that are nature’s special places. SNH plays a key role in looking after these sites and monitoring their wildlife. Some are nature reserves managed by SNH or charities, but most are privately owned. Thanks to Scotland’s Outdoor Access legislation most sites have good public access.

Heavily watched areas like the Firth of Forth have been known about for decades, largely popular with the birds because of the edible refuse which was emptied from sewer outfalls and the ensuing enrichment of the surrounding locations. At one time back in the 1970s more than 4,000 goldeneye were regularly concentrated into this firth, alongside thousands of scaup, common scoter and eider. As the Firth has been cleaned up, especially from the 1980s and 90s, these numbers have plummeted and larger numbers become less regular, as birds presumably disperse to look for winter food elsewhere.

Today we know that significant numbers of birds are concentrated in 10 main sites. At Scottish locations goldeneye numbers increase rapidly in November, reach a peak in January and decrease rapidly from March. Very small numbers remain through May, June and July.


Goldeneyes taking off, (C) Michael Brager, Creative Commons

Alongside the pintail, garganey and common scoter, goldeneye is one of Britain’s rarest breeding ducks. Although the birds can turn up in many areas of Scotland, all wild breeding records are concentrated in a very small area of Scotland.  In the recent past there were around 200 breeding pairs here, however, today it’s thought there are probably less than 100 pairs.  A significant difference from these other three species is that the breeding population is over 90% maintained through the provision of nest boxes – only a very small number of birds nest each year in natural holes. Without the nest boxes the goldeneye would almost certainly be Britain’s rarest breeding wild duck. Throughout the remainder of its northern natural range it nests in tree holes provided by species such as black woodpeckers.

It has a curious breeding history in Great Britain. It has been well known here for centuries as a wintering species but there are no references to its breeding. The first breeding record was only in 1970, at Loch an Eilean in Badenoch.  The subsequent provision of nest boxes has allowed the population to build up, generally along the River Spey, although nest boxes were provided far more widely. Since about 2000 another population has built up in a small locality in Deeside. Elsewhere there are just a few scattered breeding records in northern Scotland.

The courtship display of goldeneye has been described as being more spectacular than that of any other duck.  The complexity of this showing-off has attracted the attention of several naturalists who have written about it in great detail, giving names to many of its moves, including the masthead, the bowsprit and the head-throw-kick.  The latter involves bending the head back as far as it will go until it to touches the rump, while moving rapidly forward and kicking up water with its feet. Females respond with their own displays, most often with the ‘head-forward’ move. Monogamous pairs form and they stay together until early in the incubation period when the male abandons the female, who then raises the ducklings by herself.

For more information on Scotland’s network of protected areas, including finding your nearest, visit our Sitelink website.


Posted in Birds, coastal, Marine, sea life, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , ,

A small bird with a big impact

Weighing in at less than 12 g and 10 cm long, the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) is one of Britain`s smallest birds; only the goldcrest and firecrest are smaller. Nigel Buxton, our Natura Project Manager, tells more about this surprisingly successful bird.

It would not at first appearances seem to have much going for it; in shape it is undoubtedly dumpy. It is brown, with short rounded wings, a body which appears plump, a short narrow tail and long spindly legs! Even its Latin name does not seem to do it any favours – Troglodytes means a cave dweller or, alternatively, old fashioned and ignorant. It certainly is neither of the latter, being a very successful species over a very wide area covering not only the UK but also Europe and a wide band of Asia, from Iran and Afghanistan to Japan. However, because of its small size and agile behaviour, it is certainly adeptly able to live in and search, not exactly caves but small spaces, including holes in rocks for its food and can secrete its nest in small cracks and crevices.


(C) Nigel Wedge, Creative Commons

The wren is able to thrive in a wide variety of habitats; in Scotland it is well known from gardens in villages and towns, in hedges, woodlands, reed beds, sea cliffs, heathery uplands and moorlands, including scree slopes and boulder fields. Although in Britain it can be susceptible to periods of cold weather, in Asia it is a resident species in higher parts of the Himalayas!

Another indication of its success is the number of wren species. There are 88 species in the Troglodytidae Family, which is divided into 19 genera; Troglodytes, with 10-15 species worldwide (depending on the authority) is just one of these. The Eurasian wren`s ability to prosper in a wide variety of habitats means in Britain alone four sub-species are currently recognised; on the mainland, St Kilda, Fair Isle and Shetland.


Shetland wren, (C) Mike Pennington, Creative Commons

One aspect of the wren which is not small is its voice; what it lacks in size it makes up for in sound. Its song is particularly loud and vibrant, including a strident and characteristic trill. Even its angry “churr” cannot be ignored!

The wren is not just one of our smallest birds but also one of the most abundant; the latest population estimate is approximately 8,600,000 pairs in the UK. However, there is a downside to being small; it brings vulnerability to cold and, although wrens can live at high altitudes, the continued availability of food is paramount. Consequently cold weather in Britain can have a drastic effect on population numbers. But again the wren has inbuilt resilience. Feathers obviously give efficient insulation against heat loss but wrens have relatively long thin legs and, like most birds, these extremities are not feathered.


A Fair Isle wren, (C) Dave Curtis, Creative Commons

How do birds cope with this and minimise heat loss? They have a heat exchange system, by which vessels carrying warm arterial blood out of the body to the legs and feet are closely integrated with those vessels carrying the cooler blood back into the body to the heart; heat is exchanged between these two sets of vessels, thereby minimising loss to the bird. This system is perhaps most obviously essential in waterbirds which swim in cold water or sit on ice!

Night-time, when birds can’t feed or move about to keep warm, is obviously another critical period. Wrens are renowned for their communal winter roosting, many birds cluster tightly together to minimise heat loss from a single larger object. As many as 60 wrens have been recorded in one nest box!

Perhaps most importantly, with its wide distribution and use of many habitats, it can rapidly replace numbers lost during winter. Wrens can be polygamous, with males having up to four actively breeding females in their territory, each capable of producing two broods of between five and eight eggs in the season. That’s potentially a lot of new birds if all the chicks fledge successfully!


Wren with leaf for nest building, (C) Kentish Plumber, Creative Commons

Nests are built by the male; he builds several, often between four and six, with the female ultimately choosing which will be used. Nesting in crevices gives the opportunity for both a variety and abundance of nesting sites and perhaps may be the nearest it becomes to being a cave dweller!

In some places killing or harming a wren is thought to bring bad luck, resulting at the very least in broken bones or problems in the home or farm. However, in some places, such as Ireland on St Stephen’s day, in a surprising contrast, wrens used to be hunted so they could be attached to a decorated pole; nowadays I’m pleased to say a fake wren is used! Despite its size it is also known as the king of the birds and in folklore there is a story of how the wren tricked the eagle to enable it to fly the highest (clever not ignorant!). Look back to pre-decimal coins in the first half of the 20th century and  you’ll see that the wren figures prominently on the farthing – then the smallest extant coin with a value of ¼ of one (old) penny.

Perhaps the most obvious fact about the wren is that, with its abundance, it occurs on virtually all of our statutory sites, whether they are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI),  Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Areas (SPA) or Ramsar sites. These protected sites, with their variety of habitats, are vital in underpinning a significant proportion of one of Britain’s most common and typical bird species.

Posted in Birds, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

Rewarding the Delivery of Public Goods – Land use conference highlights

SNH staff attended The Scottish Biennial Land Use and the Environment conference late last year.  The event – organised by SRUC and partners, including SNH, SEPA, SEFARI, CEH, JHI and Forest Research – attracted a large audience of policy makers, academics and public body representatives. Today, Kirsten Brewster of our Natural Resource Management team reports back on what she learned.

The theme of the conference was ‘Rewarding the Delivery of Public Goods: How to Achieve this in Practice?’ Public goods is an economic term used to describe resources that are available for everyone to access and which are not diminished through their consumption.

Scottish Natural Heritage CEO Francesca Osowska opened the conference. She commented, “Our natural environment makes a fundamental contribution to Scotland’s economy, health and well-being. Supporting the delivery of public goods is not only good for the environment but also for dynamic rural communities.”

francesca at land use conference - dec 2018

Francesca Osowska  opening the conference.

David Baldock, of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), set the scene with a reference to the debate on public goods and definitions: “Food is not a public good but the capacity to produce it is.”

Jon Westlake of the Welsh Government summarised how they are hoping to shape farming support towards the support of public goods; this will sit on top of a broad and shallow support scheme. Only outcomes with evidence of a causal relationship between actions and results will be paid for and it is envisaged that for many farmers this will be a significant new income stream. For marginal hill farmers it is thought that businesses will continue to diversify and tourism income will also be an important opportunity.

anna brand at land use conference - dec 2018

Anna Brand of RSPB speaking at the conference.

Anna Brand, RSPB policy advisor, described a recent survey commissioned by Scottish Environment LINK of 1000 people: it found that 77% were in favour of farm support being conditional on providing environmental goods. For those farmers who do provide public good and environmental benefit they are not currently being rewarded financially for this even if it causes them additional effort.

SNH woodland advisor Kate Holl gave a passionate talk on Agroforestry, which will feature in an upcoming blog post.

Roseanna Cunningham, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Cabinet Secretary, opened the afternoon session, which was well attended by conference delegates. She spoke about plans to reinvigorate the Land Use Strategy.

The Cross party group in the evening was chaired by John Scott MSP and Professor Sarah Skerrat.

cross party group - land use conference - dec 2018

The Cross Party group in the evening session.

Panellists included (L-R) Davy McCracken of SRUC, Roger Madrigal of Environment for Development for Central America (EfD-CA) and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE), John Scott, Sarah Skerrat, Caroline Sullivan of the Irish Hen Harrier project and Stephen Chaplin of Natural England (not pictured). Each gave us a flavour of their own experience and we reflected on how this could apply in Scotland.

Róger Madrigal, the director of Environment for Development for Central America (EfD-CA), spoke on the second day of the conference. The global value of Costa Rica’s Payment for Ecosystem Services programme is $36-42bn across 550 projects. The main ecosystem services they incentivise are carbon sequestration, water, biodiversity and scenic beauty. One million hectares of land has been restored. There is strong demand for the funding, with only 50% of applicants successful. This creates issues for the future for financing, with the need to move from state-based to investor-based, funding. The state are committed to developing a green economy.

Caroline Sullivan of the Irish Hen Harrier project talked about results-based solutions. The programme, which began in May 2017, is being led by a private company which responded to a tender put out by DAFM; they received 25m Euros and designed their own payments to farmers, and the calculations behind these. There is a 1-10 scale, and if a farmer scores 4 or lower they do not receive money. The application for funding is a simple side of A4 and importantly, there was a need to include an advisory service to support the scheme.

Stephen Chaplin of Natural England described a pilot Payment by Results project, in conjunction with the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The ability to deliver successful results is being tested in both arable and upland grassland farms. These each have target objectives to deliver: winter bird food, pollen and nectar mix and habitat for breeding waders and species-rich hay meadow. The 19 grassland farms taking part in the pilot have been quick to pick up skills in meadow plant identification as a result of training and have also benefited from working with their peers on field assessments. Payments depend on quality of outcome achieved but the average payment for meadows has been £260/ha with a maximum of £371/ha. I look forward to seeing if this approach is taken forward as part of future farm support in England.

andrew mcbride - land use conference 2018

SNH’s Andrew McBride speaking about Peatland Action.

Andrew McBride, SNH’s Peatland Action project manager, spoke about the project and the Peatland Pound. Through the PeatlandACTION project, there are 15,000 ha under restoration and no management payments. There was discussion around whether we can we measure all the benefits.  Success is very much down to engaging and working with land managers.

Overall, I found the conference to be a great opportunity to hear first-hand how money has been channelled towards delivering public goods in other countries. In particular, I was inspired by the simplicity and success of the Irish Hen Harrier scheme for the land managers who take part and also the dedication of the Costa Rican government to the Ecosystem Services approach. My final thoughts of the day were inspired by the words of Davy McCracken of SRUC: “In Scotland, we need to get on and do it”.

There is more coverage at #LandUseConf and on the conference webpage, where you can read more about each session.



Posted in Farming, Land management, peatland restoration, sustainable farming | Tagged , ,

Cluaidh – Ùrachadh na h-Aibhne / Clyde – A River Recovery

The Clyde is a living, lively place for people and nature. Let’s celebrate  the nature and culture of one of Scotland’s most famous rivers, the river Clyde.  Let’s look back at the unique performance as part of the Royal National Mòd.

Cluaidh – Ùrachadh na h-Aibhne’, (‘Clyde - a River Recovery’)

Cluaidh – Ùrachadh na h-Aibhne

 Nuair a bha mi òg, bha an turas an cois Chluaidh air an trèan a Ghlaschu caran gruamach. Bhiodh gàrradh-iarrainn dùinte ann ri taobh teanamaint thrèigte làimh ris an abhainn anns am faiceadh buaidh nan gnìomhachasan trom agus fàs a’ bhaile mhòir. Cha chanadh tu gum biodh nàdar ri lorg ann an abhainn mar seo.

Ach anns an latha an-diugh (agus cha mhòr 30 bliadhna air a dhol seachad bhon uair sin) ‘s e àite gu tur eadar-dhealaichte a chithear mu bhruaichean Abhainn Chluaidh. Tha pròiseactan mòra, a leithid Fèis Gàrraidh Ghlaschu, air na bruaichean ath-bheothachadh ann an Glaschu fhèin agus nas fhaide siar, agus shoirbhich leis na h-oidhirpean fada airson truailleachd na h-aibhne a ghlanadh. Chithear an soirbheachas sin anns na bradain a tha air tilleadh agus na mucan-mara aig beul na linne.

Cluaidh – Ùrachadh na h-Aibhne’, (‘Clyde - a River Recovery’)

Clyde river – puffer © Scottish Maritime Museum

Mar thoradh air ath-bheothachadh na h-aibhne, dh’iarr SNH air a’ chraoladair is neach-ciùil ainmeil, Màiri Anna NicUalraig, taisbeanadh ciùil a chur air dòigh airson a’ Mhòid Nàiseanta Rìoghail ann an Dùn Omhain am-bliadhna. Tha sinn air maoineachadh a chur mu seach am-bliadhna – Bliadhna na h-Òigridh – a thuilleadh air a bhith a’ comharrachadh nàdar is cultar na h-aibhne, airson sgoilearan fhiathachadh air gach taobh den abhainn – Bun-sgoil Taigh a’ Chladaich, Dùn Omhain is Bun-sgoil Cnoc a’ Chonaisg, Grianaig – a thighinn an sàs ann an leasachadh is taisbeanadh na cuirme.

Chaidh a’ chuirm le Màiri Anna, ‘Cluaidh – Ùrachadh na h-Aibhne’, a thaisbeanadh ann an Talla a’ Bhaile, Dùn Omhain, Dimàirt 16 An Dàmhair. Bha an luchd-ciùil Finlay Wells (giotàr) agus Lorne MacDhùghaill (pìob/fìdeag) na cuideachd. Ghabh sgoilearan bho ionadan Gàidhlig Taigh a’ Chladaich agus Cnoc a’ Chonaisg òran a dh’ullaich iad anns na bùithtean-obrach le Màiri Anna is chaidh òran ann an Gàidhlig na sgìre a sheinn le dithis chloinne a tha a’ cumail dualchainnt Chòmhghail beò san teaghlach aca.

Chaidh a’ chuirm fhosgladh le Leas-chathraiche SNH, Aonghas Caimbeul agus Ceann-suidhe a’ Chomuinn Ghàidhealaich, Ailean Caimbeul.

Lean prògram na cuirme sruth na h-aibhne far an deach nàdar, gnìomhachas agus na daoine fhighe an lùib a chèile. Bha na h-òrain agus pìosan ciùil ùra aig toiseach na cuirme stèidhichte air bràigh na h-aibhne agus Easan Chluaidh NNR, is sinn air turas dàna air bàt’-aiseig thar na h-aibhne ann an Glaschu agus anns a’ bhaile fhèin, ‘Màthair Ghlaschu’.

Fhad ‘s a lean sinn an sruth gu sàl, nochd cuspairean a leithid tilleadh a’ bhradain, air an deach pìos ùr a chruthachadh; chaidh obair ùrachaidh sa choimhearsnachd le GalGael a thaisbeanadh nam faclan fhèin; chualas ath-bheothachadh na Gàidhlig mu bhruaichean Chluaidh agus chaidh an cam-glas – eun a bhios a’ neadachadh sa gheamhradh mu Linne Chluaidh – a mholadh.

Tha an t-òran seo, Pilililiu – a’ cur gairm an eòin sa chuimhne agus chaidh a dhèanamh, a dheisealachadh is a ghabhail leis na sgoilearan à gach taobh na h-aibhne, an dèidh nam bùithtean-obrach anns an do dh’ionnsaich iad mun cham-ghlas a bhios a’ geamhrachadh ann am poll nam fidean anns an sgìre.

Lean an dàrna leth sruth na h-aibhne le òran mu rèis dhachaigh eadar trì cliopairean-teatha a chaidh a thogail air Chluaidh agus aon dhiubh le caiptean Tirisdeach oirre agus seo a’ taisbeanadh cho cudromach ‘s a bha gnìomhachas nan gàrraidhean-iarainn air an abhainn. Chaidh òran à sgìre Chomhghaill a ghabhail le Caoimhe agus Saorsa O’Bròin, agus cuid den teaghlach bhon deach an t-òran a thional an làthair air an oidhche.

Chaidh Ortha Feamainn a thaisbeanadh an uair sin, anns an robh beairteas nan àrainnean feamad agus maerl a mholadh agus cho cudromach ‘s a tha feamainn airson mathas a chur ri talamh cruaidh. Chaidh a’ chraobh uinnsinn Arainneach a mholadh ann am pìos ciùil ùr agus an uair sin chaidh òran traidiseanta Gàidhlig a ghabhail a bha a’ moladh beathaichean na mara, eadar èisg bheaga is mucan-mara, agus dealbhan den mhadadh-chuain a chaidh fhaicinn faisg air Dùn Omhain o chionn ghoirid na lùib. Chaidh an oidhche a thoirt gu crìch le òran seòlaidh anns an robh Creag Ealasaid is a cuid eun-mara, agus òran deoch an dorais.

Bha taisbeanadh ri fhaicinn an lùib na cuirme anns an robh filmichean is dealbhan tasglainn cuide ri dealbhan is ìomhaighean ùra, stèidhichte gu mòr air an dualchas nàdarra, ach le measgachadh eile a thaisbean na ceanglaichean eadar na daoine, nàdar agus gnìomhachas.


Clyde – A River Recovery

When I was young, the train journey up the Clyde to Glasgow was a fairly depressing one.  Deserted shipyard sat side by side with dilapidated tenement alongside a river that was still showing the signs of heavy industrialisation and urban growth.  It didn’t feel like a place where you could be close to nature. 

Fast forward a number of years (too close to 30 to mention) and Clydeside feels like a different place.  Urban regeneration projects, starting with the Glasgow Garden Festival, have transformed the river banks in Glasgow and downstream, and the long-term efforts to remove pollution from the river have paid off, with salmon restored to the river and dolphins and whales seen in the upper reaches of the firth.

In recognition of the revival of the Clyde, we commissioned well-known musician and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy to develop a performance for the Royal National Mòd which was held in Dunoon this year.  In addition to celebrating the nature and culture of the river, in Year of Young People 2018, we also funded the engagement of pupils from schools either side of the Clyde – Sandbank, Dunoon and Whinhill, Greenock – in the development and performance of the concert.

Cluaidh – Ùrachadh na h-Aibhne’, (‘Clyde - a River Recovery’)

well-known musician and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy  developed a performance for the Royal National Mòd

Mary Ann’s commission, entitled ‘Cluaidh – Ùrachadh na h-Aibhne’, (‘Clyde – a River Recovery’) was performed in the Burgh Hall, Dunoon last October.  She was joined on stage by fellow professional musicians, guitarist Finlay Wells and piper/whistle player Lorne MacDougall.  The pupils from the Gaelic-medium units at Sandbank and Whinhill performed a song they had developed in workshops with Mary Ann, while a song in the Cowal dialect of Gaelic was performed by two children whose family are committed to keeping this minority dialect alive.

The concert was opened by SNH Vice-Chairman, Angus Campbell and Allan Campbell, President of An Comunn Gàidhealach.

Cluaidh – Ùrachadh na h-Aibhne’, (‘Clyde - a River Recovery’)

The concert was opened by SNH Vice-Chairman, Angus Campbell

The concert programme followed the river downstream, blending the key themes of nature, industry and people together.  The upper reaches of the river and the Falls of Clyde NNR; an ‘epic voyage’ on a ferry crossing the Clyde in Glasgow and the city itself, ‘Mother Glasgow’, provided the focus for the opening songs and newly-written instrumental pieces.

Broadening out towards the Firth, the themes included the recovery of salmon in the river and its tributaries, which was the focus of a newly-created piece; the community regeneration work of GalGael, celebrated in their own words put to music; the revival of the Gaelic language on Clydeside and a celebration of the overwintering redshank of the Inner Clyde estuary.

This song, Pilililiu – reminiscent of the bird’s call, was a piece created, rehearsed and sung by the pupils of the schools either side of the river, following workshops during which they learnt more about the redshank wintering on the nearby mudflats.

Cluaidh – Ùrachadh na h-Aibhne’, (‘Clyde - a River Recovery’)

This song, Pilililiu – reminiscent of the bird’s call, was a piece created, rehearsed and sung by the pupils

The second half continued downstream, with a song about a race homewards between three Clyde-built tea clippers, reflecting the importance of shipbuilding on the river.  A song collected in Cowal and beautifully sung by Caoimhe and Saorsa O’Bròin was appreciated by descendants of the family from whose repertoire it came and who were able to attend the event.

This was followed by a Prayer for Seaweed, celebrating not only the richness of seaweed and maerl habitats, such as those in the no-take-zone round Arran’s maerl beds, but also the importance of seaweed as a soil enricher on hard ground.  Arran’s whitebeams were celebrated in a newly-written instrumental piece, which was followed by a traditional Gaelic song, celebrating marine life from little fish to whales and including visuals of the Orca seen recently off Dunoon.  A voyaging song referenced Ailsa Craig and its seabird populations, and a ‘parting glass’ song brought the evening to a close.

The performance was accompanied throughout by superb visuals, blending archive film and photography with contemporary clips and imagery, primarily based on the natural heritage, but also featuring a vibrant mix clearly demonstrating the interrelatedness of people, nature and industry.






Posted in Gaelic, Nature in art, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival 2018 – Alice Brawley’s Reflections

Earlier this month, we joined forces with RSPB Scotland to host the Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival Youth Conference in the Glasgow Science Centre. The day formed the closing event of a fantastic year celebrating 30 years since the Glasgow Garden Festival and also the final month of Scotland’s Year of Young People. Tying the two together, the Youth Conference brought 90 pupils from schools across the city together to share their experiences of local greenspace and their ideas for the future of Glasgow’s green infrastructure.

One of our graduates, Alice Brawley, joined the event and shares her reflections on the day in this blog.

Anne McCall, RSPB Scotland Director gave a warm welcome to the conference, followed by Kerry Wallace, Scottish Natural Heritage Area Manager for Strathclyde and Ayrshire. Kerry reflected on her memories of attending the Glasgow Garden Festival 30 years ago and spoke of her hope that young people would be “the next generation to ensure we create places that benefit both people and nature.” The day certainly demonstrated we were working with young people who valued nature, understood the need to protect and maintain the environment in a sustainable way, and have the motivation and potential to make a real positive change.

©Suzanne Downey /SNH

©Suzanne Downey /SNH

Taking part in the day, were pupils from a number of different Glasgow schools and students had the opportunity to share their environmental projects with each other before a day of workshops and hands-on task. We heard from Friends of Springburn Park who renovated their local park into an attractive space for everyone to enjoy, funded by Tesco’s “Bags of Help” scheme. Hillhead High School’s “Queen Bees” talked about their work with the local shops and community in the West End to create a pollinator highway around Gibson Street.

© Suzanne Downey / SNH

© Suzanne Downey / SNH

The youngest presenters were from Sunnyside Primary School. From watching David Attenborough as a class to getting involved in local conservation projects, sending letters to MPs to advocating for the ban of single-use plastic, they are communicating all the right messages. Their passion is something we can all learn from as they try to tackle environmental problems facing their generation and reminding us of the quote;

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”

During the activity session, I supported Williamwood High School to create a model of how their school might look if green infrastructure was at the forefront of school policy. Armed with tissue paper, cardboard, scissors and glue, their imaginations ran wild as they constructed their vision of green walls, roof gardens, wildflower patches, ponds around running pitches and bee and bird boxes everywhere! Once the model was built, the pupils had discussions on how they could practically make their local area greener. From setting up a green committee to involving their parents and local community, the students left enthused and ready to talk with their head teacher about opportunities within their own school.

© Suzanne Downey / SNH

© Suzanne Downey / SNH

There was a lot to be learnt from talking to individual students. One had individually built and sold 100 bird boxes, with profits going to charity – a creative project we could all get on board with! Another acknowledged the frequent use of environmental ‘buzzwords’ and thinks we could all be doing a lot more to help nature while one group of pupils talked about the benefits they feel to their own health and wellbeing from being outside and hope to advocate for spending time in nature as an essential part of their ‘mental health awareness’ week at school.

© Suzanne Downey / SNH

© Suzanne Downey / SNH

The conference left many of us filled with joy and faith for the future of the planet. The knowledge, confidence and awareness from the young attendees was outstanding. They were clued up on so many of the environmental issues we try to communicate to adults and the wider public on a daily basis – from the impact of climate change, plastic in the ocean and loss of biodiversity, to the benefits the outdoors and nature has on our own wellbeing. It’s without hesitation that I say the young people at this conference have the knowledge and talent to lead the world into positive environmental change, and they should be listened to!

Alice Brawley

Thank you to all our partners, guests and helpers on event day and to all the staff and pupils from Hillhead High School, Rosshall Academy, Sunnyside Primary School, Springburn Academy, Saint Andrew’s Roman Catholic Secondary School and Hyndland Secondary School for attending the day and sharing all their ideas on the future of greenspace across Glasgow.

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Monitoring the condition of our Marine Protected Areas

Almost 90 years after St Kilda’s last 36 residents were evacuated to the mainland, the islands remain hugely important for the wildlife they support.   The World Heritage Site hosts huge seabird populations, including the world’s second largest colony of North Atlantic gannets; and the waters around St Kilda are part of Scotland’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA) network, designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for their reefs and sea caves, which attract a wealth of spectacular sea life.

Crucial to the management of our MPA network, as with protected areas on land, is monitoring. At each site we monitor the condition of a range of individual natural features of special interest: these can be a habitat, such as a marine reef, a species population, or geological formations, such as underwater caves.

In 2015 we sent a team of divers out to St Kilda to survey the sites’ special reefs and sea caves. The purpose of this survey was to judge the current condition of the site and to establish a baseline against which future assessments of the site’s special features could be made. Weather conditions severely interrupted the team’s plans but they managed to survey four caves at St Kilda, returning with valuable data and a collection of stunning photographs.

We publish the reports from all of our marine surveys and you can find them, including the report of the St Kilda survey, on our website. To see more photographs from this and other marine surveys visit our FlickR page.

Posted in biodiversity, Birds, conservation, cowries, Marine, Marine Protected Areas, MPA, MPAs, photography, Priority Marine Features, Protected Areas, Scottish Natural Heritage, sea life, SNH, survey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Six years on – Scotland’s Marine Protected Areas Network

A report on the progress we and our partners have made developing Scotland’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA) network over the last six years is presented to the Scottish Parliament today (Friday).

Our MPA network today looks very different to the one last reported on, in 2012. Since then 42 new MPAs have been designated to protect marine habitats, wildlife, geology, undersea landforms, historic shipwrecks, and to demonstrate sustainable management of the sea. Additionally, two existing sites have been extended to provide better protection for important seabed habitats.


Not only are there more MPAs, the network now protects a wider range of features that are more representative of Scotland’s seas.

As we’ve developed the network we’ve engaged extensively with people and organisations that have an interest in our seas – from coastal communities, to industry, recreational users, government bodies, scientists and environmental organisations. Some groups submitted their own proposals for MPAs and 14 of these contributed to areas that were subsequently designated.

Near the coast our MPAs embrace a spectacular array of landscapes, including coastal islands, exposed sandy beaches and sheltered inlets. These coastal habitats support a wealth of plants and animals including, internationally important wading birds, and common and grey seals.

Saline lagoons and estuarine habitats mark the freshwater-seaward transition with specialist plants and animals that are able to cope with dramatic changes in salinity and temperature. In nearshore MPAs the complex and variable coastline is mirrored by a diversity of productive and species-rich seabed habitats, with luxuriant kelps and beds of seagrasses, blue mussels and maerl in the shallows.


Maerl, black brittlestars, seaweeds and sponges

Alongside these habitats are MPAs for some distinctive species. The Moray Firth on the east coast is home to the world’s most northerly population of bottlenose dolphins, whilst on the west coast the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA protects a stronghold for flapper skate; a species of fish that has shown heavy declines in numbers across its historical range, including most of the North Sea. Black guillemot – a bird for which Scotland is a stronghold – is now offered protection in six sites across the north and west coasts. And while in most countries otters would not be considered as part of their MPA networks, in Scotland they are because of their unusual habit of feeding in shallow coastal waters here.


Black Guillemot, (C) Lorne Gill

The history of Scotland’s seas survives underwater too, in the form of wrecks of boats, aircraft, or more scattered remains, such as groups of artefacts on the seabed from submerged pre-historic landscapes. Since 2012 eight new MPAs have been put in place in nearshore waters to protect nationally important ship wrecks (Figure 6). They include protection for 17th-century warships, a 17th-century Dutch merchant trading vessel and the HMS Campania. Collectively, these MPAs give us fascinating insights into Scotland’s rich global maritime history.

Kinlochbervie MPA - Wessesx Archaeology copyright

Cannon on the seabed at Kinlochbervie MPA – (C) Wessesx Archaeology

Establishing an MPA network around our coastline has contributed to a sense of stewardship by some communities, local groups and individuals. Developed and proposed by the Fair Isle community, Scotland’s first Demonstration & Research MPA was designated around the island in 2016. The aim of this MPA is to demonstrate the socio-economic benefits of the marine environment and the additional benefits that MPA designation can bring to the community.

Promoting local marine life and providing opportunities for people to explore MPAs has been a focus for some communities making the most of their local MPAs. Local stewardship also led to the latest nearshore addition to the MPA network. In early 2017, residents from Lochcarron and Plockton raised concerns about potential damage to sensitive seabed habitats within Loch Carron. Following confirmation of the damage and public consultation, an MPA has now been designated to protect what is recognised as the world’s largest flame shell bed.

Further from the coast on the continental shelf, MPAs increase in size quite dramatically. The shelf environment is dominated by large sediment plains and the new MPAs now reflect this. There are MPAs for sands and gravels, burrowed mud and sandbanks, as well as for species that live in these habitats, such as the long-lived ocean quahog – evidence suggests that some of these shellfish may be over 500 years old.

Large glacial ridges known as moraines (formed from material deposited by melting ice sheets) are protected to the east of the Firth of Forth, and sandy banks within the MPA provide habitat for sandeels, a key prey species for seabird and marine mammals. The Turbot Bank MPA was selected in part for the high densities of sandeels present and its potential to provide a source of young sandeels to surrounding areas. This species is also protected down much of the east coast of Scotland from fishing. The newest addition to these continental shelf MPAs runs down much of the west coast of Scotland, protecting our smallest cetacean, the harbour porpoise.


A sandeel on a maerl bed

Beyond the edge of the continental shelf, lies the deep sea. This vast area is divided by the Wyville-Thomson ridge (an existing MPA for its reefs) which has a huge influence on the environment and therefore the marine life that lives there. The Faroe-Shetland Channel lies to the north of the ridge and is dominated by cold, Arctic waters. It was first explored by Charles Wyville-Thomson 150 years ago at the dawn of deep sea research. The MPAs in the channel were set-up to protect fragile beds of deep-sea sponge communities and an impressive series of mud volcanoes, known as the ‘Pilot Whale Diapirs’.

South of the Wyville-Thomson ridge is an area dominated by warmer, mid-Atlantic waters. Alongside the existing MPA for reefs, there are now new MPAs for spectacular gardens of soft and hard corals, all three of Scotland’s underwater mountains (known as seamounts), and systems of polygonal faults which resemble the dried mud plains of the Sahara desert. There is also an MPA for the long-lived deep-water fish, orange roughy.


Seamounts size comparison

The MPAs set-up since 2012 were selected to complement those that already existed and collectively they help ensure that the Scottish MPA network better reflects the rich variety found in Scotland’s seas.

You can see the full report here, and plenty more information about Scotland’s MPA network on our website.

All photos copyright SNH, except where stated. Graphics copyright Marine Scotland.


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Reul-bhad nan Dreagan / The Meteor Constellation

Tha ainm Gàidhlig air fear de na reul-bhadan a’ cur nar cuimhne tachartas iongantach anns na speuran gach bliadhna / The Gaelic name for the constellation Ursa Minor reminds us to keep our eyes open this month for an unusual cosmic event.

Reul-bhad nan Dreagan

Tha an t-ainm Gàidhlig air fear de na reul-bhadan as follaisiche a’ cuimhneachadh tachartas iongantach bliadhnail a ghabhas faicinn anns an Dùbhlachd. ’S e an reul-bhad An Dreagbhod no Ursa Minor ‘mathan beag’, no an Little Dipper mar a chanar ris ann an Ameireagaidh. Tha e mu choinneimh reul-bhad eile car coltach, a tha eadhon nas ainmeile – An Crann-arain. Fhuair An Dreagbhod ainm air sgàth ’s gum bithear a’ faicinn frasan dhreagan anns a’ cheàrnaidh sin dhen iarmailt a h-uile bliadhna anns an t-seachdain ron Nollaig.

Moonrise. ©Lorne Gill For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or

©Lorne Gill

Bha aithneachadh an Dreagbhoid riamh cudromach do mhac-an-duine, gu h-àraidh do mharaichean na seann aimsire. Air a cheann a-mach dheth tha an reul bhrèagha, An Reul-iùil, a tha air leth feumail oir bidh i a’ comharrachadh na h-àird’ a tuath fad na h-oidhche is fad na bliadhna.

©beckyduncanphotographyltd/SNH For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or

©Becky Duncan Photography Ltd/SNH

Tha dùil am-bliadhna gum faicear na dreagan seo (‘dreagan mathain’ no ursids) eadar 17 agus 24 Dùbhlachd, agus iad aig an ìre as fheàrr aig grian-stad a’ gheamhraidh nuair a chithear suas ri deich dreagan gach uair a thìde. Airson am faicinn, coimheadaibh air ceann a tuath na h-iarmailt. Ge-tà, bidh a’ ghealach làn am-bliadhna aig an aon àm, agus cha bhi iad cho faicsinneach ’s as àbhaist.

The Meteor Constellation

An unusual annual cosmic phenomenon is remembered in the Gaelic name for one of the best-known of constellations, which is readily visible at this time of year. The star-cluster in question is Ursa Minor ‘little bear’, also known as the Little Dipper, which appears almost as an adjacent mirror image of an even more famous grouping – The Plough. The Gaelic name for Ursa Minor is An Dreagbhod, derived from dreag ‘meteor’ and bad ‘constellation’. The name recognizes the annual occurence of a meteor shower, known as the Ursids, in that part of the heavens during the week leading up to Christmas.

Aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights, Gallowhill ©Lorne Gill For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or

©Lorne Gill

An Dreagbhod was for long an important constellation to recognise, particularly for mariners. At its outer end is Polaris, the Pole Star, known in Gaelic as An Reul-iùil ‘the guiding star’ because of its usefulness to navigators. It hardly moves through the night or year, and always indicates north.

This year, it is expected that the Ursids will be active on 17-24 December and that they will peak on the night of 22-23 December, when as many as ten meteors per hour might be observed. To find them, locate the Pole Star which sits above the North Pole. However, the peak activity also coincides this year with a full moon, which will reduce their visibility.

Posted in Gaelic, National Nature Reserves, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH

Pupils develop products to get more people outdoors and improve mental health

Sixth year pupil Eve Hart writes a guest blog about Culloden Inspire, the Young Enterprise team from Culloden Academy, and tells us about the innovative products they’ve developed. 

Young Enterprise is a charity set up to allow sixth year pupils to set up a business. There’s a large team this year, with twenty one members. We have two products; Go Explore, a children’s card game, and StressLess; a box filled with things designed to stress less and live more. We decided to produce two products because it allows us to create a greater impact on mental health and well-being by reaching out to all stages of life.

Culloden Inspire, the Young Enterprise team from Culloden Academy

Culloden Inspire, the Young Enterprise team from Culloden Academy

Go Explore aims to get children out of the house; to get their minds working and inspire them to connect and engage with the beautiful natural surroundings that we are so lucky to have, and often take for granted. We also hope that this product will reduce the time that children spend sitting inside and on technology, encouraging them to get active. This is particularly significant given that childhood obesity is such a growing and important issue in Scotland, and across the UK.

Go Explore aims to get children out of the house and be more active

Go Explore aims to get children out of the house and be more active

Whilst it can be played alone, the game also works very well when played among friends, even as a competition; this will help children develop essential social skills. We hope the game will bring families together as children can play with their parents/guardians/ grandparents, and positive family relationships will be encouraged. It will also promote outdoor sensory development by discovering many new sights, sounds and natural physical objects.

By creating a game that can fit in anyone’s pocket, can be played anywhere outside, and is affordable, we believe it is accessible to all children and families. We’ve visited local primary schools and the feedback we’ve received has been extremely helpful. From this we’ve developed two new editions – GoExplore Woods edition and GoExplore Winter edition. For the Christmas gift market, we know this is the perfect stocking filler!

The products are ideal stocking fillers

The products are ideal stocking fillers

Stress Less is a box filled with things to help people “stress less and live more”, incorporating a variety of locally sourced products from four key areas, aimed to help improve mental health, well-being and promote a positive mindset. These areas are ‘relaxation’, ‘organisation’, ‘well-being’ and ‘mindfulness’. Given that mental health among young people, particularly in the Highlands, is an increasingly prevalent issue, we feel our product will raise awareness of this. Furthermore, 15.8 billion working days are lost each year in the UK as a result of mental health and the cost of poor mental health to the UK economy is estimated to be between £70-100 billion each year. As this product is aimed at an older demographic in comparison with Go Explore, we hope our product can really make a difference within this area. We believe this product would also be ideal for the Christmas gift market as many people look to start the new year with a fresh, positive outlook, and Stress Less provides the perfect opportunity to do that.

Promotion during the festive season

Promotion during the festive season

We’ve really focused on promotion through our social media channels – a great way to reach out to the community and local businesses.

From creating and running our own business we’ve discovered the difficulties and the triumphs of going through the process and we hope to continue progressing and developing in the coming months.

For further information contact or take a look @cullodeninspire on Instagram and Facebook.

Culloden Inspire

Culloden Inspire


Posted in Outdoor learning, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,