The Great Scottish Squirrel Survey is back!

The Great Scottish Squirrel Survey returns for its second year this autumn. Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) are calling on people all over Scotland to explore outdoors on the lookout for tufted ears and bushy tails between 21-27 September, during National Red Squirrel Week.

SSRS monitors squirrel populations all year round, but autumn remains a particularly rewarding time of year for squirrel-spotting. Squirrels are often more visible as they busily forage the autumn harvest in preparation for the winter ahead.

Anyone can take part in the Great Scottish Squirrel Survey by reporting sightings of both red and grey squirrels throughout the week. Each sighting creates a snapshot of the situation, helping the project understand how populations are changing over time and to decide where to focus its conservation efforts.

To find out more and record your squirrel sightings, visit

Red Squirrel feeding on nuts. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Britain has just 160,000 or so native red squirrels. About 75% of them live in Scotland’s woodlands, parks and gardens. NatureScot is a partner in the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project, led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Posted in biodiversity, mammals, Squirrels | Tagged , , , , ,

Farmers working to save Scotland’s corn buntings

This week, NatureScot’s Helen Taylor tells us about the work going on protect one of Scotland’s best-known farmland birds – the corn bunting.

Corn Bunting. ©Lorne Gill

Farmers do an important job making sure we are all fed – but they also have an important role in providing homes for some of Scotland’s wildlife. With agricultural land making up about 80% of Scotland, our wildlife lives alongside farming.

One species which relies heavily on finding food and nest sites on our farms is the corn bunting. This small brown bird is a Red List species in the UK. Its numbers have tumbled, not just in Scotland but across large areas of Europe. The Scottish population is now restricted to coastal Fife and Angus, North East Scotland with remnants in the Borders and Western Isles. It is estimated that only 750 to 900 singing males are left here.

Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra). Uist. ©Lorne Gill

Corn buntings nest relatively late; on average, they lay their first eggs in the middle of June.  This means that they have suffered as a result of the trend for silage-making rather than hay, as the earlier mowing means nests and chicks are very vulnerable.

Over the years, environment schemes for farmers, like the current Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS), have helped farmers manage their land to benefit nature, including committing £1.74m in AECS funding to date. Measures to help corn buntings include safeguarding nesting sites with no mowing, grazing or harrowing of fields between 1 May and 1 August, and providing feeding areas in fields, such as weedy fodder crops, seed-rich cereal stubbles and grain or hay, which are particularly valuable sources of winter food for the corn buntings. Where this has been deployed effectively, populations have responded. In Fife, farmers have been successful in reversing the decline as the result of well targeted management supported by specialist advice.  

Corn bunting – © Hywel Maggs, RSPB Scotland

This year, a new £38,000 corn bunting project involving nine farmers, with eight in Aberdeenshire and one in the Scottish Borders, has continued the work to protect these special wee buntings.

Under the current AECS scheme, there were several farmers whose payments for supporting buntings ended in 2019 and there was a gap before further funding becomes available. As corn buntings are a nationally vulnerable species, both NatureScot and the farmers were keen to ensure that this positive work continued, so we have entered into agreements with the farmers. This will give the corn buntings the best chance of successfully rearing their chicks and surviving over the winter.

Corn Bunting – © Ian Francis

It’s work the farmers involved are rightly proud of. Cameron Ewen, who farms at Meikle Toux, is one of the farmers involved in the project. He says supporting wildlife on the farm is something he’s been interested in for a long time and he jokes that he has a bit of ‘green tinge’ about him. Another Aberdeenshire farmer taking part, James Fowlie, added that he didn’t know that the area where he farmed was so important for corn buntings and as conservationists at heart, they were very happy to help out.

This project is part of a package of support for corn buntings in Scotland.  The funds will secure safe nesting habitat by compensating farmers to delay cutting of grass crops and by creating seed and insect rich feeding areas. Funding for corn buntings has also been provided through AECS, the Biodiversity Challenge Fund and through RSPB Scotland’s corn bunting work.

Posted in Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, biodiversity, Birds, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , ,

Sea eagles and a shared approach to wildlife management

Two weeks ago, NatureScot launched the 
Shared Approach to Wildlife Management which sets out how different interest groups can work together to help ensure healthy and valued populations of wildlife across Scotland. In the second of a series of blogs, we look at how this approach can help us navigate some of the opportunities and challenges arising from sea eagles.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is adult-white-tailed-eagle-haliaeetus-albicilla-in-flight-c2a9lorne-gill-4.jpg
Adult white-tailed eagle in flight ©Lorne Gill

What is the shared approach?
The shared approach is a way of working together on wildlife management issues, even when opinions differ. At its heart are the principles of how we can work in partnership; respect each other’s views, build knowledge, share information, develop a common understanding, clearly communicate decisions, pursue best practice in animal welfare, and ultimately nurture the best outcomes for people and nature. In this blog on sea eagles, we show how we can apply these principles, particularly in relation to bringing together practitioner knowledge and peer-reviewed science, to inform action on the ground.

What does it mean for sea eagles?
Following a successful series of re-introductions beginning in 1975, white-tailed eagles, or sea eagles as they are often known, are now well established in Scotland.  The return of the sea eagle to our skies is a conservation success story.  They attract people from near and far, to places like the Isle of Mull, hoping to catch a glimpse of these impressive birds.

However, for others the return of the sea eagle has led to challenges. The National Sea Eagle Stakeholder Panel is a partnership of stakeholder representatives, including those experiencing losses from sea eagles, to try and find solutions to a complex wildlife management issue that is much bigger than the bird itself.

It is widely acknowledged that in some places, sea eagles predate live, healthy lambs and the impact on farmers and crofters livelihoods can be significant. The issue of livestock loss is complex and the impacts extend beyond the direct loss of individual animals. Predation on hill flocks, which rely on recruitment to the flock adapted to that environment and hefted to that place, can adversely affect the sustainability of the whole livestock system.

Apart from the loss of individual animals and the emotional distress of finding lambs which have been predated, impacts range from a direct loss of future breeding stock to the farmer, changes to the flock age structure and the loss of genetic characteristics from the flock.

The National Sea Eagle Stakeholder Panel have looked at a number of ways to reduce predation, including changes to historic management practices such as shifting the traditional location of lambing parks or retaining stock on in-bye areas for longer periods in the spring.

©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Sea Eagle Management Scheme (SEMS), administered by NatureScot on behalf of the stakeholders, is available for those suffering livestock losses.  It seeks to mitigate the impact that sea eagles can have. Work is ongoing with farmers and crofters to address the true costs of living and working alongside eagles which are causing damage. 

SEMS supports the presence of shepherds on the hill in the period during and after lambing – a time when the majority of losses are experienced.

©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Shared Approach recognises the need for wider knowledge and data. Shepherds record their observations on the hill and gather as much data on eagle behaviour as possible, often with the help of tracking and mapping software such as ViewRanger. Signs of lamb predation, the presence or absence of other prey species, and presence or absence of other predators are all recorded, to help guide management on those areas where damage is occurring. Gathering first-hand observations reflects the Shared Approach in the need to have open and shared information. This knowledge will help to increase our understanding at both local and national levels.

This year, SEMS is working with three sheep stock clubs on Skye and four farms in Argyll to trial this measure. The enhanced shepherding measure will not only help to develop our understanding of the specific issues on these areas but is also helping to support rural employment, with 14 shepherds employed in this seasonal work supported by NatureScot.

©Lorne Gill/SNH

Brexit, unstable market prices, uncertainty over future agricultural support schemes and a lack of new entrants are all current and future threats to the continuation of hill farming and crofting on the west coast. Sea eagle predation is often an added pressure which some businesses may struggle to cope with. Conversations with those experiencing damage reveal that it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Blackface sheep on the shore at Breakish, Isle of Skye. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

There are still a number of challenges ahead of us. Adopting the Shared Approach in a practical, hands-on manner will support those who are experiencing agricultural damage from species such as sea eagles. Sea eagles are a key part of Scotland’s nature and bring many benefits. These benefits are balanced with the needs of people working the land under the Shared Approach, taking into account diverging views.

For more information go to The Sea Eagle Management Scheme (SEMS) or contact if you want to discuss the scheme further.

Posted in Farming, Uncategorized, wildlife management | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Beavers and a shared approach to wildlife management

Last week, NatureScot launched the Shared Approach to Wildlife Management which sets out how different interest groups can work together to help ensure healthy and valued populations of wildlife across Scotland. In the first of a series of blogs, we look at how this approach can help us navigate some of the opportunities and challenges arising from the return of beavers to Scotland.

Wildlife management is a key part of our work. It includes a range of targeted interventions including species conservation, species reintroductions and translocation, mitigation and species control. It is an integral part of our ambition to help Scotland secure a nature rich future.

What is the shared approach?

The shared approach is a way of working together on wildlife management issues, even when opinions differ, as we regularly see on social media and in the press. At its heart are the principles of how we can work in partnership; to respect each other’s views, build knowledge, share information, develop a common understanding, clearly communicate decisions, pursue best practice in animal welfare, and ultimately nurture the best outcomes for people and nature. We aim to apply these principles across a wide range of wildlife management issues and to expand the list of organisations signed up to this approach. 

What does it mean for beavers?

On 1st May 2019, we were delighted to see the Scottish Government give beavers European Protected Species status in Scotland.  This is something we have been working towards for a long time and now we have beavers ranging from the mouth of the river Tay in the East, through to the Clyde catchment in the West.  The decision to protect beavers recognised that they provide a variety of important benefits for biodiversity and a range of nature-based solutions in the face of climate change; increasing ground water storage, stabilising water flow, contributing to carbon storage, reducing soil erosion and reducing flood risk. Added to that they are enjoyed by the public and wildlife-watchers alike with economic potential through ecotourism.

However, the largest population of beavers in Scotland is currently in Tayside and is the result of unauthorised releases before 2019. Beavers from these releases quickly established in those parts of Tayside which are low-lying and flat with highly productive agricultural land which makes them vulnerable to serious flooding and damage from beaver burrowing and dam building. Herein presents the challenge; how can we realise the benefits that beavers can bring, whilst at the same time minimising their impact on local interests, particularly in farming, and infrastructure?

This is exactly the sort of circumstance where the principles of a Shared Approach to Management can be applied and the right balance in management secured.

Underpinning the new protected species status of beavers, a Beaver Management Framework was prepared. This Framework, which is available on NatureScot’s website, sets out a suite of policy, guidance and actions to manage beavers in a way that delivers these benefits, whilst allowing negative impacts to be minimised. This Framework was successfully developed in consultation with the Scottish Beaver Forum (a forum of key partners representing conservation, farming, fisheries, forestry and other interests). The decision to allow beavers to remain in Scotland was ultimately founded on the willingness of stakeholders with differing perspectives to work together to agree this management framework.  Inevitably there are differences of opinion and difficult conversations on contentious issues such as the use of lethal control, the ambition around further reintroductions and who should bear the costs of beaver damage.

Working collaboratively can take time to build relationships and understanding among the different interest groups, but to realise the best outcomes for beaver conservation and the benefits beavers can bring, there needs to be broad support from both the public and from land managers, whose interests will potentially be affected by beavers if not presently, but potentially down the line as their range expands, either naturally or through further carefully planned and supported releases.

We need to build our knowledge and demonstrate where and how beavers can deliver biodiversity benefit and ecosystem services and at the same time develop approaches and support mechanisms to minimise the negative impacts on those most impacted by beavers.

Beavers have been absent for more than 400 years and whilst embracing their great potential as ecosystem engineers we also need to work together on the difficult issues, taking a shared approach to enhance their future.

Posted in wildlife management | Tagged , , , ,

#YCW2020 A Day in the Life – Wetlands Graduate Placement Fairlie Kirkpatrick Baird

During the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, we’ve been joining NatureScot staff working along our shorelines and watery places to gain an insight into the important and varied work they do. This month we hear from graduate placement Fairlie Kirkpatrick Baird about her research on how our changing climate could impact on wetland sites.

As one of NatureScot’s graduate placements, I’ve spent most of the past year focused on one particular research project – trying to predict which areas of Scotland might be most affected by drought in the next twenty years. One of the consequences of climate change is increases in extreme events, which includes longer, more frequent, and more severe droughts. When we think of extreme events in Scotland, we usually think of flooding and storms, but droughts are increasing here too, with potentially disastrous consequences for human and ecological environments. If we can predict which areas may be most affected, we can start to take mitigation actions to try and reduce potential damage.

To do this, I spend most of my time doing a mixture of coding and mapping. Before COVID-19, I had planned to also spend some time in the field to understand first-hand the impacts of drought and how to manage land in response, but unfortunately this hasn’t been possible, so I’ve had virtual chats with land managers and conservationists instead – disappointingly, from home rather than knee-deep in a bog!


Graph showing how water availability could change at an example site – blue is wetter and red is drier.

Drought risk can be estimated using data from climate models to calculate whether areas may become wetter or drier. This estimate can then be mapped, so we can work out which areas of the country may be ‘hotspots’ that might experience particularly bad conditions in the future. It’s particularly useful to compare the future drought estimates to data on the number of actual droughts that occurred in the recent past, because this tells us which areas will experience the greatest amount of change from their normal conditions. Splitting the data by seasons is also helpful, since the spread of drought across the year can affect how ecosystems function as well as timing of restoration work and land management.

Maps showing the actual number of extreme droughts 1981-2001, total and seasonally

The maps showing how drought may change clearly show quite substantial increases in many areas of the country, particularly in autumn. While this is very concerning, knowing where and when the effects may be strongest lets us plan for and hopefully reduce some of the damage.

Maps showing which areas may experience the highest increases in drought, total and seasonally

This planning is particularly relevant to wetland habitats, which are especially sensitive to drought and can be easily damaged by changes in water levels. Since wetlands play a huge role in providing ecosystem services, including habitat provision, water management, and carbon capture and storage, the ability to preserve them more effectively is vital for protecting Scotland’s environment. As I draw near the end of my placement, I’m focusing on making my results as easily understandable and widely available as possible, in the hope that this project can contribute to the conservation of these hugely important and beautiful habitats.


Restoration can help make wetlands more resilient to drought ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Posted in Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 | Tagged , , , , ,

The Lockdown Sessions – NatureScot’s virtual house band

During the early days of lockdown when most of us were just getting acquainted with Zoom, the NatureScot Virtual House Band was formed. Each in their own little corner of Scotland the musicians merged to entertain the troops with some of their favourite tunes and show that while lockdown kept us apart, we were still connected through technology, music, nature and more!

We each have our own favourite sounds in nature. Maybe yours is the crashing of breakers on a shingle beach, the rustling of leaves as the wind blows through the canopy or the call of the sometimes elusive corncrake.

Nature has inspired some of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed from the rising and falling of Vaughan Williams ‘The Lark Ascending’ to Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ and in more recent times, Neil Young’s album ‘Earth’.

Scotland has deep roots in connections between music and nature through its own ancient classical music for the bagpipe, called Piobreachd. Tradition has it that nature gifted the piper the melody with some of those tunes still with us after over 300 years. There is a lovely story attributed to the early composers of Piobreachd, that they would compose at low tide and capture the notation on the sandy shore. Once practiced and perfected, the tune remained with the piper whilst the tide rolled in and washed the stave away forever.

It is our pleasure to share with you these few nature melodies — you can tell there was an ornithologist in charge of tune selection! The group’s final song … their swansong … is called ‘The Little Bird’. A fitting tune for spring 2020 when many say they became more aware of nature changing and the intensity of new life bursting around them.



Sally Thomas – Concertina and Flute

Juan Brown – Low Whistles

Kirsty North – Clarsach

Cathy Tilbrook – Cello

Daryl Short – Accordion

Stuart MacQuarrie – Low Whistle, Uilleann (Irish) Pipes and Scottish Small Pipes

And for Lark in the morning & Eagle’s whistle:

Alasdair MacQuarrie – Guitar and sound/video production

Posted in art, Nature in art, SNH, Staff profile, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Career through a lens: my favourite photographic memories

Working with us for over forty-five years now, our celebrated NatureScot photographer, Lorne Gill, has seen many changes to Scotland’s countryside. The creation of the West Highland Way and several other long-distance routes, two National Parks and the reintroduction of long lost iconic species to the Scottish landscape, to name just a few…Today Lorne shares some of his favourite memories from a career through a lens … 

About me

I started my working life in 1975 as a trainee cartographer and surveyor and changed my career path to photography in the 1980s after gaining a vocational photography qualification at Napier College in Edinburgh.

Working with film cameras and spending many hours in darkrooms processing and printing seems like a lifetime ago now. The advent of digital photography and the ability to shoot and edit video on a personal computer means that I have never stopped learning new skills. To my mind, the value of photographic collections only increases over the passage of time as these records allow us to contrast and compare them with the places of today.

I hope some of the photographs that I have captured over my working life will prove useful for many years to come. Do I have a favourite? Read on and find out!


John Strachan, farmer, in a conservation area at Tullo Farm, Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire.© Lorne Gill/SNH

Farmland biodiversity. John Strachan, farmer at Tullo farm near Oldmeldrum. I visited John on a summer’s day in the early nineties as John had won a national farming and conservation award for his farm. I recall him saying that he was steadily creating ponds, woodlands and wildflower meadows reversing decades of agricultural improvements and encouraging wildlife to return. As we talked he was thrilled to see an osprey fishing on a newly created pond.


Letham Moss, © Lorne Gill/SNH

Letham Moss. Commercial peat extraction at Letham Moss near Falkirk. Many of Scotland’s lowland raised bogs lay hidden behind a fringe of woodland. This aerial photo was taken in the early nineties as part of a national survey to establish their condition. It has been used many times in national campaigns to encourage the use of peat-free garden compost. I believe that peat extraction no longer takes place on this site.

Dick Balharry MBE. NatureScot has had many dedicated and visionary staff, both past and present. I met Dick at Creag Meagaidh NNR, just as the upland birch woods there were showing their first signs of recovery after many years of overgrazing. Dick had been instrumental in the woodland recovery at Beinn Eighe NNR and then at Creag Meagaidh too. Dick’s passion, enthusiasm, knowledge and can-do attitude was a joy to behold.

Hermaness. I visited Shetland in the summer of 1995 to offer audiovisual support to Magnus Magnusson, the then SNH chairman, who was on a public lecture tour of Scotland. I stayed on for a few days to photograph our reserves and other points of interest. The highlight was the unexpected evening light that bathed the amazing seabird cliffs at Hermaness NNR. I got back to the carpark after dark and too late to pitch a tent, so I slept overnight on the visitor centre floor!

White-tailed eagle. There have been several white-tailed eagle reintroductions to Scotland over the years. Firstly on the Isle of Rum NNR, then Wester Ross and more recently in north east Fife. Working for NatureScot has given me the opportunity to see these amazing birds in close detail and to witness the dedication and professionalism of the project teams that are key to their continued success.


Primula scotica. I have always loved photographing plants, and looked forward to receiving calls from colleagues in which they would report a particular plant was in flower and could I find time to visit. Primula scotica or Scottish primrose is our only endemic plant, so it was inevitable that I would find myself travelling to photograph it. It is very particular in its choice of site, and can only be found in coastal areas in the very north of the country and in Orkney. It’s more challenging to photograph than most plants as it’s unexpectedly small.


Puffin chick on the Isle of May NNR.© Lorne Gill/SNH

Puffling. I have visited the Isle of May NNR many times over the past 30 years, mostly photographing the wildlife and day visitors enjoying the reserve. However, on one trip in the nineties, I photographed some of the seabird researchers including Mike Harris showing me a puffling that was resting in its burrow. Mike has been researching seabirds on the Isle of May for well over forty years and is a source of all knowledge on the island’s seasonal residents.


Bluebell woods,© Lorne Gill/SNH

Bluebell woods. I have known this woodland for over fifty years as it’s not far from where I grew up. It’s also one of the first places that I visited when I bought my first proper camera. The best time to visit to see the bluebells is usually the third week in May, but it does vary annually depending on the type of spring we get.  A warm spring and it’s earlier, cool and it’s later. I must have thousands of images that I’ve taken over the years, but the vibrant colour and the intense perfume of the flowers always draws me back. Long ago it wasn’t unusual to be the only person in the woods, but as the years have gone by it has got busier and busier, so much so that I only visit there at dawn and dusk now.


Panorama of Beinn Eighe at sunrise from the slopes below Meall a Ghiubhais, Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Beinn Eighe morning and Loch Maree evening. It was the first day of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July 2014, and I found myself sleeping in my car at Beinn Eighe NNR to avoid the summer midges. I set off up the pony path in near darkness to reach the high ground north of Beinn Eighe before sunrise. There are never any guarantees that an early start will be rewarded, but on this occasion, all worked in my favour. It was one of the hottest days I can remember but it wasn’t over yet, as I intended to photograph the Loch Maree islands later in the day from a high viewpoint overlooking the loch. Several hours later and with tired feet it was mission accomplished. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Panoram of the Loch Maree Islands NNR.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Panorama of the Loch Maree Islands NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Taynish NNR. I have visited many NNR’s over the years but one particular visit to Taynish sticks in my mind. I went on a guided walk with reserve staff and a group of eighteen young men from Zambia, who were part of a cultural exchange programme with local residents, up over the hilltop path and back through the woods by the shore. My enduring memory of the day was the joyous rendition of the Lion King sung in great voice and amazing harmonies as it echoed through this Scottish rainforest.


Eighteen young Zambians visited Taynish NNR for a guided walk by SNH staff on the 12th of August 2010. Argyll and Stirling Area. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Storm. I have visited the Uists many times but mostly in the summer to photograph the machair and its wildlife. However, I did visit a couple of times in winter. On one occasion a storm blew up giving me the perfect opportunity to photograph stormy seas and the impact on the dunes. It was so windy I could hardly get the car door open, and when I did venture out, I could barely stand up. The blowing sand stung my face and hands, and the gusting wind made my tripod blow over several times.


Atlantic storms eroding the sand dunes at Stadhlaigearraidh, South Uist, Western Isles. ©Lorne Gill For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 44177 or

Snapberry. I have always been an advocate for the power of nature photography, running the Scottish Nature Photography Fair for many years. So it’s no surprise that Snapberry, an annual photography and nature project by NatureScot and Lochgilphead High School, is one of my best NatureScot memories. It was the brainchild of Caroline Anderson from our Lochgilphead office and Lesley Donald, an English teacher at the school. The annual springtime visit to Taynish or Moine Mhor NNRs has seen many school pupils connecting with nature through the lens of a camera for the very first time. I never failed to be impressed with their creativity and enthusiasm.


Lochgilphead High School S3 pupils participating on the Snapberry photography project at Taynish NNR, June 2011. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Leaping salmon. Photographing wildlife used to be a specialist subject with only the most dedicated photographers achieving the standard required to capture quality images. Its difficulty was mainly due to the need for expensive equipment, fieldcraft skills and very slow fine-grained film that meant almost every shot was taken with the camera mounted onto a tripod. When digital photography came along everything changed. No longer were photographers constrained by the number of shots they could take, they could also view their results instantly, taking the guesswork out of getting the correct exposure and seeing if the images were sharp.  Things have progressed so fast that images that were thought to be too difficult to capture, like birds in flight or leaping salmon became achievable. This image is a result of this new era of photography.


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


And finally…People have often asked where’s my favourite place to photograph in Scotland? That’s a very difficult question to answer. Almost anywhere can look amazing in great light or at the perfect time of year. I’ve always liked working locally as you have more opportunities to be in the right place at the right time, whereas fleeting visits to faraway locations are not so easy to predict. However, I have found that spending at least a few days in a set location allows me to clear my mind and begin to focus on the job, without worrying if I should be somewhere else or working on an urgent image request or video edit.

One of the most memorable occasions was on a once in a lifetime trip to St Kilda. The archipelago is the only UK World Heritage Site designated for its cultural and natural heritage and I was lucky enough to spend four days there in early May 2009. By the end of the trip, my feet hurt and I felt like I had hardly slept as I photographed from dawn until dusk due to the fine weather. The long hours were rewarded when I witnessed this spectacular dawn view over Boreray and the sea stacks of Stac Lee and Stac an Armin. It was an uphill walk from the village to a viewpoint at the Gap, so the scene that awaited lay hidden until the last moment.


Stac Lee, Stac an Armin and Boreray from Hirta, St Kilda, Western Isles Area. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

If I was pushed to choose I’d have to say that the view that unfolded on that early morning was a real highlight from many years of photographing in Scotland. I felt so lucky to witness it standing there alone in complete silence without another person around. For a photographer, there are always personal memories behind an image that makes it more special and this was one of those occasions.

Posted in art, Nature in art, photography, Staff profile, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Natural born killers – biocontrol of invasive non-native plants in Scotland

Biological control is the use of living organisms to help control pest populations. In this post Marion Seier, Senior Plant Pathologist at CABI (Centre for Agriculture & Bioscience International), describes the work being carried out by CABI’s Invasive Species group to develop biological control agents for use on the UK’s non-native plants…

Control of invasive non-native plants in Scotland is typically carried out by hand – cutting, pulling and removing seed heads – and with chemical herbicides.  These types of control can help reduce the impact of invasive species in limited areas but they are expensive and unsustainable. There is also concern about the environmental impacts and toxic effects of the widespread use of herbicides, such as glyphosate.

Classical biological control – or biocontrol – has been used successfully to control invasive non-native plants species in other parts of the world.  It is based on the principle that in their new locations, non-native plants grow in freedom from the natural enemies that in the countries from which they originate – their native range – keep them in check. By introducing selected host-specific natural enemies to the introduced range the plants lose the vigour that makes them so invasive. Scientists at CABI are currently undertaking research and development of biocontrol agents for three invasive non-native plants causing problems in Scotland, and one that isn’t present in Scotland yet but is expected to arrive in the future.

Japanese knotweed Japan

Japanese knotweed in its native Japan (C)CABI

Japanese knotweed

In its native range of Japan, Taiwan and Korea, Japanese knotweed is found growing on hills and high mountains.  In Scotland it can form dense stands on riverbanks, outcompeting native species and causing an increased risk of flooding. Two biocontrol agents are being investigated for use in the control of Japanese knotweed; a bug and a fungus.

Biocontrol for INNP - Scotland's Nature blog - psyllid on JK image credit CABI

Psyllid on Japanese knowtweed (C)CABI

The bug, Aphalara itadori, is a sap-sucking psyllid that feeds on Japanese knotweed. Initial trials have had limited success as the bugs haven’t thrived in UK weather conditions. However hardier bugs were collected last year from a more northern area of Japan and subject to final safety testing and approvals it looks hopeful that these hardier bugs will be suitable for release in the wild.

Biocontrol for INNP - Scotland's Nature blog - psyllid impact native range Japan_Murakami_Niigata - image credit CABI

Psyllid impact on Japanese knotweed (C)CABI

A fungal leafspot pathogen was evaluated as a classical biocontrol agent but during safety testing it was found to cause disease symptoms on a couple of UK native plants and so is not suitable for release in the UK.  The fungus does, however, have potential for use as a mycoherbicide (herbicide based on a fungus).  This would allow targeted spray application against Japanese knotweed without the fungus being able to persist and spread in the field to infect any non-target plants.  Field trials are ongoing and it is hoped that ultimately a product will be developed that could be applied much in the same way as a conventional herbicide but without the risks associated with chemicals.

Mycosphaerella leafspot Japan

Mycosphaerella leafspot on Japanese knotweed (C)CABI

Himalayan balsam

Native to the foothills of the Himalayas, in Scotland this plant can form dense monocultures in damp semi-natural woodlands and along waterways, replacing native vegetation and destabilising river banks.


Himalayan balsam (C)GBNNSS

In 2016 CABI scientists discovered a rust fungus (Puccinia komarovii var. glanduliferae) infecting Himalayan balsam in its native range.   Extensive testing confirmed that the fungus infects only Himalayan balsam and was therefore safe for release in the UK.  Two strains of the rust have been released at test sites in England and Wales and the results have been promising.  However, not all populations of Himalayan balsam are susceptible to these two rust strains and so CABI is currently working to locate new rust strains in the hope that they will be more compatible with the resistant Himalayan balsam genotypes.  This year, with funding from the NatureScot Biodiversity Challenge Fund,  a Tweed Forum project with CABI is extending the field trials, releasing the rust into Scotland for the first time.

New Zealand pygmyweed

A native of New Zealand and Australia, this plant can form dense mats in lochs and marshy ground.  It can choke out native species and reduce water oxygen levels making the habitat unfavourable for aquatic animals.

Crassula helmsii smothering pond - taken by Stewart Angus_m195124

New Zealand pygmyweed being invasive in Scotland, (C)Stewart Angus

CABI scientists have discovered a gall-forming Eriophyid mite from Australia which causes stunted growth of the plant in its native range.  Extensive testing confirmed its safety for release in the UK and it has subsequently been released at five sites in England and Wales during 2018-19.  Results have been promising with mites developing self-sustaining populations. Further field testing is ongoing and it is hoped that in the future the mites may help control New Zealand pygmyweed in  Scotland.


Gall-forming mite on bud (C)CABI

Floating pennywort

Native to the Americas, floating pennywort is widespread and damaging to waterbodies in England and Wales.  Thankfully it has not yet been recorded in the wild in Scotland, however, should it be in the future, we might be glad of some weevils form South America. The weevil Listronotus elongatues is currently being investigated for its suitability for release in England and Wales.


While biocontrol will not provide a silver bullet to rid us of invasive non-native plants, it is hoped that it will become another useful tool to be used as part of integrated pest management.


This article is published in memory of Dr Carol Ellison who recently passed away after a prolonged illness. Carol was a passionate and dedicated scientist, a tremendous contributor, mentor and coach to CABI’s science team and to our broader work on invasive species. She leaves a legacy of significant scientific achievement, including on the biocontrol of Himalayan balsam.

Posted in invasive non-native species, Research, science, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Aiteann – ceangal eadar Dà Dheoch / Juniper – a link between Gin and Whisky

Bidh daoine a’ ceangal aiteann ri sine ach air a’ Ghàidhealtachd tha am preas cuideachd ceangailte ri uisge-beatha / Juniper is intimately linked with gin but, in the Highlands of Scotland, it also has connections to whisky …

Aiteann – ceangal eadar Dà Dheoch

Anns na làithean seo, nuair a tha tòrr thaighean-staile beaga gan cur air chois air a’ Ghàidhealtachd, bidh an fheadhainn a tha gan ruith gu tric a’ dèanamh sine, oir bheir i airgead a-steach fhad ’s a tha an t-uisge-beatha a’ tighinn gu ìre ann am baraillean daraich. Ge-tà, chan e rud ùr a th’ ann gu bheil ceangal ann eadar sine agus uisge-beatha. Ged as iad staoineagan (dearcan aitinn) a chuireas am blas àraidh ann an sine, bhiodh na Gàidheil, gu h-àraidh ann am meadhan na Gàidhealtachd, a’ losgadh fiodh a’ phris seo nuair a bha iad ris a’ phoit-dhuibh sa mhonadh, agus e an aghaidh an lagh. Carson? Uill, cha tig toit mhòr sam bith às an fhiodh agus chan fhaigheadh na gèidsearan lorg orra. ’S e sin as coireach gur e ‘connadh nam mèirleach’ a chanas feadhainn ri fiodh an aitinn (cho math ris an droigheann-dubh).


©Laurie Campbell/SNH

Thathar a’ cumail a-mach gun do chaill an dùthaich tòrr dhen aiteann aice bho dheireadh an ochdamh linn deug a-mach, agus am poball a’ dèanamh an uisge-bheatha fhèin leis gun robh deoch-làidir cho daor, taing do chìsean is laghan riaghaltais. Roimhe sin, biodh Gàidheil a’ cruinneachadh staoineagan anns na coilltean airson an cur a-null don Òlaind, far an robhar a’ dèanamh sine leotha. Tha ceangal inntinneach eile ann eadar an dà dheoch – bhiodh na Gàidheil aig aon àm a’ cur dearcan is duilleagan de ghrunn sheòrsachan ann an uisge-beatha airson a bhlasachadh. Nam measg, bhiodh staoineagan.

Tha an t-aiteann a’ nochdadh ann an grunn ainmean-àite, leithid Tom Aitinn, deas air Inbhir Nis, far a bheilear a’ dèanamh uisge-beatha, Caochan Aitinn agus Ruigh Aiteachain (coille bheag aitinn) anns a’ Mhonadh Ruadh, agus Ruighean an Aitinn ann an Asainte. Thathar a’ dèanamh dheth gun tàinig am facal aiteann bho fhreumh Ind-Eòrpach a’ ciallachadh ‘biorach’, mar thuairisgeul air cumadh nan duilleagan. Ann an Gàidhlig na h-Èireann, tha aiteann a’ ciallachadh ‘conasg’.

map 1
Cnap Chaochan Aitinn ann an àite iomallach sa Mhonadh Ruadh. Saoil an robh poitean-dubha air an obrachadh faisg air làimh?! Cnap Chaochan Aitinn ‘the lump of the juniper streamlet’, is named from the burn to its immediate west – Caochan Aitinn – whose name is an indication of a past ecology and might suggest the possibility of nearby whisky distilling! Detail from OS One inch map (pub. 1927). Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Bhathar a’ cur an aitinn gu feum ann an dòighean eile cuideachd, leithid mar stuth brodach agus airson a dhol ann an cungaidhean. Bhathar cuideachd ga chur gu feum airson casg-breith adhbharachadh, agus bhathar a’ cleachdadh staoineagan briste ann am fuar-lite mar leigheas air bìdeadh nathrach. Ann an Srath Spè, bhite ga losgadh air Latha na Bliadhn’ Ùire ann an bàthaichean, stàballan is taighean mar dhòigh gus na h-àiteachan ùrachadh. ’S dòcha gun robh e uaireigin air a chur gu feum ann an taighean airson an deathachadh às dèidh do ghalar a bhith ann.

Anns na h-Eileanan an Iar, bhiodh daoine a’ cumail pìos aitinn a-staigh airson an taigh a dhìon bho theine. Ge-tà, chan e ‘aiteann’ a chanar ris mar as trice anns na h-eileanan, ach iubhar-beinne no iubhar-talmhainn, oir bidh e a’ fàs gu h-ìosal, faisg air an talamh. Agus tha fiosrachadh àraidh aig Eideard Dwelly anns an fhaclair aige fo ‘Failceadh de dh’iubhar-beinne’. Tha an abairt sin a’ ciallachadh ‘amar air a dhèanamh le snodhach aitinn’ – agus a rèir Eideard còir, bha e air leth math mar leigheas airson ceann goirt!


Juniper – a link between Gin and Whisky


Heather, juniper and birch, Glenmore, Cairngorms National Park. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

In these modern days, when Scotland’s new whisky distilleries often turn to gin production while awaiting the maturation of their primary product, it will perhaps come as a surprise to some that there is an older relationship between the plant that provides the flavour for gin and our country’s national alcoholic drink. While juniper berries – called staoineagan in Gaelic – give gin its unique flavour, the wood of the juniper bush (which reaches the size of a small tree in the Central Highlands) was one of the smokeless fuels of the Gaels, known as connadh nam mèirleach ‘the fuel of the robbers’. It was not only robbers that made use of the wood, knowing they would not be located by the smoke, but also illegal distillers of whisky who were operating a poit-dhubh (illicit still) despite the close and energetic attention of excise officers.

It is reputed that Scotland lost much of its juniper cover when illicit distillation increased, following attempts by the government to more closely regulate the whisky industry in the Highlands in the late 18th century. Prior to that, there had been a trade in juniper berries from the Highlands to the Netherlands – for the production of gin. One other interesting link between juniper and whisky is that the Gaels at one time added various ingredients to flavour whisky, one of which was juniper berries.


 ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Gaelic for juniper is aiteann, which some will recognise in the name of a well-known distillery (and village) south of Inverness. Tomatin is from Tom Aitinn, meaning ‘hillock of juniper’. Aiteann appears in other place-names across the Highlands, such as Caochan Aitinn ‘juniper streamlet’ and Ruigh Aiteachain ‘juniper wood slope’, both in the Cairngorms, and Ruighean an Aitinn ‘the small slope of the juniper’ in Assynt. The word aiteann is likely to derive from an ancient Indo-European root meaning ‘sharp’, in reference to the leaves; in Irish Gaelic, the same word generally refers to whin (gorse).

map 2


Ruighean an Aitinn faisg air an Druim Bheag ann an Asainte. Ruighean an Aitinn ‘the small slope of the juniper’ in Assynt. The loch also carries the name of the plant. Detail from OS Six inch map (pub. 1907). Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland


Juniper had other uses as well, being employed as a stimulant, an ingredient of lotions and ointments, and as a means of causing abortion of a foetus. A poultice of bruised berries was reckoned a good treatment for adder bite, and in Strathspey it was burned on New Years Day in byres, stables and house fireplaces, perhaps an echo of an earlier use in fumigation following the presence of an infectious disease. There is also a Christian legend that the Holy Family hid in a juniper bush while being pursued.

On the west coast and islands, the shrub has a low, creeping habit and is often referred to as iubhar-beinne ‘mountain yew’ or iubhar-talmhainn ‘ground yew’. In the Western Isles it was sometimes kept in the house as a protection against fire, and Dwelly’s Gaelic Dictionary has this fascinating entry: ‘Failceadh de dh’iubhar-beinne “bath of the juice of the juniper” – a popular remedy for headache’. Most people would consider paracetamol to be a more straightforward treatment today!

Bha am blog seo air a sgrìobhadh le Ruairidh MacIlleathain, a tha na sgrìobhadair, craoladair, eòlaiche-nàdair is sgeulaiche, stèidhichte ann an Inbhir Nis.

This blog was written by Inverness-based writer, broadcaster and storyteller Roddy (Ruairidh) Maclean, whose work highlights the connections between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment.

Posted in Folklore, Gaelic, plants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Partnership working on beavers

A few months on from the publication of the 2019 beaver licencing statistics, we take a closer look at the ongoing work with partners to reduce levels of beaver control measures in future.

©Lorne Gill

©Lorne Gill

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has supported efforts to bring beavers back to Scotland for many years, and beavers became a protected species here in May 2019. Beavers are ecosystem engineers and provide huge benefits to people and nature, improving water quality and flow, and creating new habitats that foster many other species. However their burrowing and dam building activities can also occasionally cause significant problems, especially on farmland.

This is particularly the case in parts of Tayside which has some of the most productive farmland in Scotland and can be very susceptible to flooding. The beavers in Tayside and surrounding areas are the result of unauthorised releases or escapes, with many animals settling on Prime Agricultural Land where they have had serious impacts.

In such circumstances it may be necessary to manage beavers and their dams under special licences issued by SNH. We reported in May that in the first year we issued 45 species licences which permitted either lethal control or dam removal. These were granted when there was no other effective solution to prevent serious agricultural damage. Under these licences, 15 beavers were trapped and moved to either Knapdale or trial reintroduction projects in England, 83 beaver dams were removed and 87 beavers were shot by trained and accredited controllers.

©Lorne Gill SNH 2020VISION

©Lorne Gill/SNH/2020VISION

While it has always been clear to both SNH and our partners that lethal control of beavers would sometimes be necessary as a last resort, we recognise the upset that these cull figures caused and are working hard behind the scenes to look at how we can reduce the level of lethal control measures going forward.

Co-operation is key and our beaver work is informed by the Scottish Beaver Forum, a group of partners representing conservation, farming, fisheries, and other interests, and chaired by SNH. We were pleased to bring together the forum by video conference recently for a productive discussion on a range of different alternative measures to lethal control.

This includes working with land managers to increase the live trapping of beavers for relocation to conservation projects in England, where demand remains high. Beavers are also expanding their range naturally in Scotland, and we will be considering opportunities to translocate animals from areas of high to low conflict within existing catchments, in line with the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.

©Lorne Gill SNH 2020VISION 2

©Lorne Gill/SNH/2020VISION

A repeat survey of the Tay and Forth catchments will take place this year to give the most up to date information on the beaver population and range to help inform these conversations. This will include modelling of beaver habitat suitability and dam capacity which could help identify which areas are most or least suitable for translocations.

We are also continuing work on mitigation measures as an alternative to culling. In the first year our Beaver Mitigation Scheme provided advice and support for more than 40 cases, including installing flow devices, trialling water-gates, tree protection work, exclusion fencing and bank protection to protect agricultural land, infrastructure and property. Demand for advice remains high with good engagement and mitigation proving to be successful, in many cases with ongoing dialogue.

We look forward to continuing to work with forum partners to progress this work over the coming months, with the aim of reducing the level of licenced culls in 2020. Meanwhile we also expect to see the beaver population expanding away from high conflict areas and into suitable habitat where beavers can thrive and bring the positive benefits we want to see.

Posted in wildlife management | Tagged , , ,