Iasgair nan Loch / The Fisher of the Lochs

Tha iasgair iteach air a chuimhneachadh ann an Loch an Iasgair / Loch an Iasgair means ‘loch of the fisher’ but it’s not the human variety.

‘Iasgair’ nan Loch

Anns an dùthaich mhonadail, gharbh air cùl Pholl Iù, tha loch ann air a bheil Loch an Iasgair. Tuigidh gu leòr de dhaoine an t-ainm le bhith a’ beachdachadh air daoine le slatan is maghairean a bhios a’ falbh air thòir nam breac a tha pailt ann. Gu dearbh, bha an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais dhen bheachd gum b’ e sin ciall an ainm nuair a tharraing iad ri chèile a’ chiad mhapa aca. Ge-tà, bha iad ceàrr, oir tha an t-uachdaran Osgood MacCoinnich ag innse dhuinn anns an leabhar aige A Hundred Years in the Highlands, gu bheil e a’ ciallachadh ‘Loch na h-Iolair-uisge’.

Osprey in flight.©Lorne Gill

Fisher overhead, (C)LorneGill/SNH

B’ e sin dùthaich nan iolairean (bha an iolaire-mhara ann cuideachd), oir tha an t-uabhas de lochan ann, agus bha am Fionn Loch, beagan deas air Loch an Iasgair, gu math ainmeil airson cho pailt agus cho mòr ’s a bha na bric ann. Anns an Dàmhair agus san t-Samhain, bhiodh muinntir an àite a’ glacadh bhreac le sleaghan anns na h-uillt air an oidhche, agus iad a’ dèanamh solas le leusan de ghiuthas-blàir. Sin cho lìonmhor ’s a bha na h-èisg!


Loch an Iasgair, (C)Nigel Brown (Creative Commons)

Tha Osgood ag ràdh gur e ‘Ailean Iasgair’ a chante ris na h-eòin, agus gur e sin as coireach gur e Loch an Iasgair a th’ air mar ainm. Anns an leabhar, tha e ag innse dhuinn mu thachartas duilich (timcheall nan 1860s no 1870s), nuair a nochd dithis Shasannach à Suffolk ann an Taigh-seinnse Pholl Iù – am Morair Huntingfield agus companach aige. Nuair a chuala iad gu robh iolairean-uisge a’ neadachadh aig Loch an Iasgair, chaidh iad ann sa mhionaid. Lorg iad an nead, a bh’ air mullach staca cas aig an robh a bhonn san uisge. Shnàimh sgalag aca a-mach chun an àite, ghoid e an dà ugh às an nead agus shnàimh e air ais gu tìr, leis na h-uighean ann am bonaid air an do chùm e greim le fhiaclan. Aig an àm sin bha an iolair-uisge air a dhol à bith ann an Sasainn mu-thràth, agus cha robh fada aice ri dhol ann an Alba (thathar a’ smaoineachadh gun deach i à bith an seo ann an 1916). Gu fortanach tha sinn beò ann an linn nas fheàrr, agus tha an iolair-uisge air ais nar measg a-rithist. Ach co-dhiù tha i air tilleadh gu Loch an Iasgair, chan urrainn a ràdh.

The ‘Fisher’ of the Lochs

In the wild country to the north-east of Poolewe in Wester Ross, there is a body of water called Loch an Iasgair. Many people probably take a quick look at a Gaelic dictionary and translate it as ‘fisher’s loch’, reaching the same conclusion as the Ordnance Survey when they first mapped the area. If catching wild brown trout is not your thing, then the place might have minimal attraction. However, there is an interesting story behind the name, for it refers, not to anglers of the human kind, but to a famous bird for which fishing is its very means of existence – and what a paradise it would be for such a species, as the country is peppered with freshwater lochs. In particular, the nearby Fionn Loch was long recognised as having a very healthy population of large trout. The fish were so plentiful that locals at one time would spear them by bog-pine torchlight in the burns and rivers in the autumn.


Osprey, (C)NASA

The bird named in the loch is the osprey – known variously in Gaelic as iolair-iasgaich ‘fishing eagle’, iolair-uisge ‘water eagle’, iasgair-còirneach ‘hooded fisher’ and Ailean Iasgair ‘Allan the Fisher’. Loch an Iasgair is actually ‘the osprey’s loch’ – and we know this from Osgood Mackenzie’s account of the locality in his book A Hundred Years in the Highlands.


Loch an Iasgair, (C)Julian Paren (Creative Commons)

Mackenzie, who was an enthusiastic hunter of avian prey, relates an unfortunate story about the fate of ospreys living there in his day (probably around the 1860s – 1870s): ‘How well I remember the excitement over the arrival at Poolewe Inn of Lord Huntingfield and a Mr. Corrance – both, I think, from Suffolk – the first egg-collectors who ever came to this country. Hearing of the ospreys, they made at once for the loch, where the nest was built on top of a high stack of rock rising sheer out of the water. Their valet swam out and returned with the two eggs safely in his cap, which he held between his teeth’. The osprey was already extinct in England, and only had a few decades left in Scotland before it disappeared here also. Thankfully, we live today in more enlightened times, and this beautiful bird is back fishing in our lochs once more.


Posted in Birds, Folklore, Gaelic, History, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Sea-searchers recognised for 31-year contribution to marine conservation.

SNH has supported Seasearch in Scotland for many years now. The skills and enthusiasm of their union of marine life investigators has in turn supported our own research. Some of our marine team are Seasearch volunteers in their free time. So we were almost as pleased as they were to see the efforts of their citizen scientists recognised as Seasearch won the special Coasts and Waters prize at the recent Nature of Scotland Awards – a one-off award  to mark the Year of Coasts & Waters 2020.


Seasearch celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2018.

Seasearch is a project for volunteer sports divers and snorkelers who have an interest in what they’re seeing underwater, want to learn more about it and help protect the marine environment around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. The information collected by Seasearch divers is helping us to map out the variety of life found on Scotland’s seabed.

For example, during a week-long expedition along the far north coast, Seasearch divers found a live skate egg on a dive near Cape Wrath, which helped us understand how far north these secretive animals are breeding. Other volunteers alerted us to damage on a previously un-mapped flame shell bed in Loch Carron, which we could then protect to prevent further damage.

If you’re a qualified diver who would like to get involved, Seasearch organises a variety of training courses at locations throughout Scotland. Seasearch Observer is a one-day course aimed at giving divers and snorkelers new to the project and marine recording a basic grounding. At the end of the course you should be able to complete the Seasearch Observation Form and take part in Seasearch dives and snorkels on your own, with your club, or on dives organised by Seasearch partners. You can see what they have planned for the coming months on their website – and who knows, the Year of Coast and Waters 2020  could bring you a new connection with Scotland’s nature, and some new dive buddies too! As one course participant said: “I have been diving for 21 years and this is going to transform my diving.”

Natlie Hirrst, Seasearch Coordinator in Scotland, said: “Following the 30th anniversary of Seasearch and a record 500 forms from Scotland in 2018, we are delighted to see the commitment of our volunteers rewarded. We would like to thank our partners and sponsors, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Marine Conservation Society and everyone involved in the project over the years, who continue to make the project a success and contribute vitally important data towards marine conservation goals of the future.”

For further information see the Seasearch website. See Nature.scot for information about the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, including community funding opportunities.


Receiving the Coasts and Waters Award.

Posted in Awards, biodiversity, citizen science, coastal, Community engagement, conservation, mapping, Marine, Marine Protected Areas, MPA, MPAs, Priority Marine Features, Research, sea life, SNH, survey, Uncategorized, Volunteering, Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tis the Season to get out along the Firth of Forth!

The Edinburgh Shoreline project began in February 2018 – an initiative from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to encourage people to connect with the coastline in our capital city. In today’s guest blog, Project Manager Charlotte Johnson tells us why this is the perfect time of year to explore the area.

Redshank shoreline small

Redshank ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Through exhibitions, walks, talks, planting sessions and more, almost 50,000 people have learned a little bit more about how special a place this shoreline is for wildlife and for people. But did you know it’s just as fantastic to explore our coast in the winter as it is on a warm summer’s day? As well as crisp, clear days giving excellent views from our coastline, it’s an important time of year for our internationally important populations of wading birds. They spend their winters here with us in Scotland, and can be found making the most of the food found on our shoreline.

Anti tank blocks at Cramond on the Firth of Forth. March 2018. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Cramond ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Scottish Natural Heritage has made a grant to the project to continue community engagement work over winter 2019-2020, and we’ve already been up to lots of exciting things. Primary schools in Edinburgh have been given the opportunity to visit an RSPB reserve in the Inner Forth area to look at how the habitats along the Firth of Forth change from inland estuary out to sea. Pupils have had chance to explore and play, and learn more about why our wildlife chooses to make this landscape their home each winter.

A male Goldeneye duck.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Goldeneye ©Lorne Gill/SNH

We’ve also led walks for adults too, visiting the North Berwick coast to watch birds (and even a few seals!) as well as venturing out to Cramond Island with lichenologist Rebecca Yahr from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to identify the lichens that find refuge there from the air pollution of the city. In early 2020 we’ll be continuing our work with young people, and are looking forward to a boat trip on the Forth Princess to get up-close-and-personal with the landscape and the wildlife that calls it home.

Only a short bus ride or cycle from the city centre, the Edinburgh coastline is a great way to get away from the bustle of busy life. Taking in the views and sea air is a great way to unwind, de-stress and get some exercise. There’s plenty to see and do whilst there: from uncovering stories of the cities industrial past, to hunting for the plant life that colonises secluded spots.

Oystercatcher-D0595 small

Oystercatcher ©Lorne Gill/SNH

If you’re looking for inspiration of what to do with an afternoon over the Christmas and New Year break, or on a quiet January weekend, why not try an activity from our Edinburgh Shoreline activity pack? There’s lots of inspiration to be found inside, from going rock-pooling to conducting your own beach cleans. There are easy-to-follow instructions for each activity, which are suitable for families, individuals, clubs and school classes. Just make sure you wrap up warm! You can download a copy of our activity pack from www.edinbughshoreline.org.uk or to receive a hard copy please contact our Project Manager Charlotte Johnson on cjohnson@rbge.org.uk

For more information on the work the project does please visit www.edinburghshoreline.org.uk. Click to read more about the Firth of Forth SSSI.

Our project is kindly supported by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Posted in urban nature | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Leigheasann Tonn a’ Chladaich / Thrifty Gaelic Cures

Tha tonn a’ chladaich na leigheas airson dà thinneis, a rèir beul-aithris / Traditional lore identifies thrift as means of curing two ailments.

Leigheas airson Trom-inntinn is Ceann-daoraich

’S e tonn a’ chladaich (ris an can cuid neòinean a’ chladaich) luibh dhùthchasach cho iongantach ’s a th’ againn, agus e a’ fàs bho thaobh na mara, far am bi e air a chòmhdachadh le sàl aig amannan, gu ruige creachannan nam beann air a’ Ghàidhealtachd. Bidh a’ mhòr mhòr-chuid againn ga aithneachadh air na blàthan liath-dhearg aige a tha pailt agus brèagha eadar am Màrt is an t-Sultain.


Tha an lus aithnichte mar leigheas airson dà thinneas. Ann an Tiriodh, bhathar ga chleachdadh an aghaidh dìth-lùths agus trom-inntinn ann an clann, nuair a bhiodh iad air an adhbharachadh le clisgeadh no eagal. Bha na Tiristich eòlach air an tinneas mar bàrr a’ ceann (sic). Bhite a’ cruinneachadh còrr is trithead freumh de thonn a’ chladaich, gan glanadh is gan cunntadh. Bhiodh na ciad ochd freumhaichean air an gleidheadh, agus an naoidheamh fear air a shadail a-mach. Bhathar a’ dèanamh an aon rud dà thuras eile, gus an robh meall ann de cheithir freumhaichean air fhichead. Bha iad sin air am pronnadh gu mìn agus air an cur ann am poca beag a bhiodh air a chrochadh bho amhaich an leanaibh. Bhite a’ cruinneachadh nam freumhaichean air trì latha – Didòmhnaich, Diardaoin agus an ath Dhidòmhnaich, no Diardaoin, Didòmhnaich agus an ath Dhisathairne – agus bhiodh e ceart gu leòr an cur a-null thairis sa phost – cho fada ri Astràilia.

Tha leigheas eile an cois tonn a’ chladaich cuideachd – rudeigin a dh’fhaodadh a bhith feumail aig an àm seo dhen bhliadhna. Anns na 1930an, fhuaireadh fios bho sgiobair an MV Loch Mòr ann an Uibhist a Deas gun dèanadh na lusan sin leigheas air a’ cheann-daoraich. Bhiodh bad de na lusan, air an spìonadh leis na freumhaichean slàn, air a ghoil airson còrr is uair a thìde. An dèidh dha fionnarachadh, bhiodh duine a bh’ air a bhith ri deoch is daorach, ag òl an lionna gu slaodach. Bhiodh sin ga dheisealachadh airson oidhche mhòr eile air tìr.

A Maritime Cure for Melancholy and Hangover

Thrift, also known as Sea Pinks (Armeria maritima), is a native herb with an amazing distribution, being found in plenty from our salt-lashed shores to the very tops of our mountains. The most common Gaelic name for the species – tonn a’ chladaich ‘wave of the shore’ – reflects its abundance in our maritime environment. Indeed, what Scottish child has wandered our rocky shores in the summer months and not marvelled at its wonderful pink blooms?


What is perhaps less well known is the use of the species in Gaelic Scotland as a cure for ‘listlessness and melancholy [in children], usually resulting from a bad shock or fright’. At least, that was the tradition recorded in Tiree, where it was employed as a remedy for a mental affliction known locally as bàrr a’ ceann. Over thirty clean green roots of thrift were taken and counted. The first eight were retained, and the ninth discarded (nine being a special number in traditional Gaelic lore). This was repeated twice more until there was a heap of twenty-four roots. These were ground down to the consistency of sand and put into a small bag which was tied around the child’s neck (back or fore). The roots would be harvested on three days – a Sunday, Thursday and the following Sunday or, alternatively, on a Thursday, Sunday and Saturday – and could be posted to wherever they would be used, even being sent as far as Australia. The second and third days’ harvests would be added to the bag, without the previous materials being removed.


A second remedy connected to thrift might be considered useful by some at this ‘festive’ time of year. It is a cure for a hangover, and was collected in South Uist in the 1930s. A bunch of the plants, pulled out with their roots intact, would be boiled for an hour or more. Left to cool and then drunk slowly, the informant (the redoubtable skipper of the MV Lochmor, no less) claimed that the potion made the consumer ‘ready for the next night ashore.’

All photos (C)Lorne Gill/SNH


Posted in coastal, Flowers, Folklore, foraging, Gaelic, History, Natural Health Service, sea life, SNH, Uncategorized, wild flowers | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Great VIBES at Environment Business Awards

This year was the 20th Anniversary of the Scottish Environment Business Awards – the VIBES Awards – and for the first time SNH was a strategic partner. The Awards celebrate the efforts of businesses across Scotland, large and small, that are committed to improving environmental sustainability in their products, services and practices. Attended by over 350 people, the November Awards ceremony was the culmination of a three-stage judging process, which included a site visit from a judging panel to each of the finalists.

The Awards

The ‘Best of VIBES’ was awarded to Cumbernauld-based CMS Windows, a company at the forefront of innovative development within the building industry, creating energy efficient and environmentally friendly products and systems. Their windows, doors and walling contain high levels of recycled content and are fully recyclable. They were previous VIBES Awards winners in 2009 and 2015.

The Leadership Scotland Award is for organisations with the vision and systems to improve their contribution to sustainable development. With increasing awareness of the environmental impacts of throwaway fashion, it was won this year by ACS Clothing Ltd, for their circular ‘hire and re-use’ fashion system. They’ve developed an eco-friendly way to clean garments, reducing chemical use, and with 0% waste from the business going to landfill.


ACS CLothing’s fashion without the footprint

The Product Scotland Award went to Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES), a leading innovator in sustainable analytics for the built environment. They estimate that their software, which facilitates the energy efficient design and operation of buildings, has generated energy savings equivalent to the building of thirty 500MW power stations!

Vegware is a global specialist in plant-based, compostable, food and drink packaging. The Edinburgh-based company makes an extensive range of catering disposables from renewable, lower carbon or recycled materials and they have recently instituted a ‘close the loop’ service, collecting used containers from their clients, and established a Composting Collective for consumers. Vegware took home the Service Scotland Award.


Vegware products

Forres-based Biomatrix Water Ltd picked up the Adapting Scotland Award, for a proactive approach to managing climate change risk and helping society to adapt.  The company develops ecological water technology – from floating ecosystems to solar islands and constructed wetlands – deployed across the globe.  They offer nature-based solutions to water quality improvement and urban habitat creation.

Planting a floating ecosystem at the Biomatrix workshop

Planting a floating ecosystem at the Biomatrix workshop

The winner of the Innovating Scotland Award was agri-tech business Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS).  IGS is creating optimal conditions for commercially viable vertical farming.  By combining different technologies, they have created ‘total controlled environment agriculture’, which has significant water and energy savings compared to glasshouse production.

The Hydro Nation Scotland Award recognises businesses that maximise water resource benefits.  Winners, Diageo at Leven, have increased production by 10%, while reducing water consumption by a similar percentage. A newly-installed reverse osmosis plant at Leven has resulted in significant water savings and reduction in effluent.

Craigengelt windfarm

(C)Lorne Gill/SNH

Renewable Parts Ltd won the Circular Scotland Award.  The Argyll company refurbish used wind turbine parts, testing and certifying them for re-use within the wind industry. Within the last year they have reused 10 tonnes of material which would have otherwise been scrapped.

The Engaging Scotland Award recognises a ‘green team’ delivering sustainable changes within a business. The winner was Aberdeen Performing Arts who impressed judges with the way their green team is driving changes in the organisation.  The company has made changes including with their energy use, recycling, cleaning products, public transport promotion and, perhaps most significantly, programming of pieces, debates and conversations which address environmental issues, all within their core business.

Leon Gray from APA with the Engaging Scotland Award

Leon Gray from APA with the Engaging Scotland Award

Businesses whose environmental impact has reduced significantly as result of encouraging active travel and sustainable transport are recognised with the Moving Scotland Award. This year it was won by TechnipFMC, who provide technical solutions to the oil and gas sector.  The company has instituted sustainable transport initiatives, including the operation of a bus to save journeys to and from work in private cars; a cycle-to-work scheme; the introduction of walking meetings; and  the installation of electric car-charging points.

A multi-sector partnership behind the Outer Hebrides Local Energy Hub was the winner of the Partnership Scotland Award. The Scottish Salmon Company, Pure Energy Centre, Community Energy Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have joined forces to combine fish waste with household and garden waste to produce biogas.  The biogas fuels a Combined Heat and Power Plant, with some of the energy produced being used to make hydrogen and oxygen for the salmon hatchery.

The 2019 VIBES Awards winners

The 2019 VIBES Winners

The final award of the day was the Small Business Award, won by Findra, who were also finalists in the Product Scotland category.  This Innerleithen-based company produce a range of active lifestyle clothing made from Merino wool. Merino clothing needs less frequent washing than some fabrics and the production system used by Findra also generates less waste than traditional knitting processes.

Many other inspiring and innovative businesses were shortlisted for the finals and you can read more about some of them on the VIBES website.

Posted in Awards, climate change, Community engagement, Competition, industry, Recycling, Renewable Energy, science, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, sustainable farming, sustainable travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Flow Country projects ends on a high

The Flow Country is one of our last wild places, stretching across Caithness and Sutherland in the far north of Scotland. And it’s a crucial spot in the battle against climate change – on the best and biggest peatland of its type in the world.

FlowsTTF-D5855 - credit SNH-Lorne Gill

As the Peatland Partnership’s £10.6 million Flows to the Future Project draws to a close, we want to celebrate all that it’s achieved. Inappropriately planted forestry on deep peat had damaged this blanket bog over the decades, impeding the amazing capacity of peatland to capture carbon. But in the past five years, the project has cleared 837.4 hectares of non-native trees on deep peat, while helping neighbouring landowners receive funding for another 75,000 hectares.

Restoring peatland provides an important habitat for plants and wildlife, improves water quality, and mitigates flood risk. In Scotland, around 25% of the country is covered in peat soil. If all of the C02 from that peatland were released, it would be the equivalent of more than 120 years of Scotland’s emissions being produced at once.

FlowsTTF-D5917 credit SNH-Lorne Gill

As well as peatland restoration, the Flows to the Future project also had a strong community focus, with a huge amount of work going into education, visitor facilities, training and bolstering local business.

The project trained 270 volunteers; signposted five walking routes with four viewpoints which include information, seating and parking; constructed an amazing viewing tower; held almost 180 meetings; held over 200 school visits at the reserve or at schools; created a touring exhibition, seen by over 150,000 people, which travelled to 13 U.K. venues; and spent £4.3m with Caithness and Sutherland businesses.

FlowsTTF-D7234 - SNH-Lorne Gill

Fortunately, as one significant project comes to a close, another picks up momentum. The Partnership is looking to build on the legacy of the Flows to the Future Project with a bid to recognise the Flow Country as the best peatland of its type in the world, and be declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. If successful, this will be Scotland’s only purely natural World Heritage Site and the only site in the world acknowledged solely for its peatland habitat.

For more information on Flows to the Future, see www.theflowcountry.org.uk.

FlowsTTF-D7790 - credit SNH-Lorne Gill

The Peatlands Partnership includes Scottish Natural Heritage, Forest and Land Scotland, Scottish Forestry, The Highland Council, RSPB Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, The Highland Third Sector Interface, The Flow Country Rivers Trust, and The Environmental Research Institute.


Posted in biodiversity, citizen science, climate change, Community engagement, conservation, Land management, peatland restoration, The Flow Country, Uncategorized

Winter walks for International Mountain Day

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is encouraging people to celebrate International Mountain Day with a visit to one of Scotland’s stunning nature reserves.

Some of our finest mountains lie within these special areas, and while the high tops may be restricted to experienced mountaineers at this time of year, many reserves have accessible walks for all to get up close to and appreciate the grandeur of the snowy peaks in winter.

Here are five highlights from our National Nature Reserves(NNRs) to mark the day.

Beinn Eighe

Beinn Eighe and pinewoods in winter © John MacPhersonSNH

Beinn Eighe NNR and pinewoods in winter © John MacPherson/SNH

Beinn Eighe’s rugged peaks, ridges and scree-covered slopes make it among the finest of Scotland’s mountain massifs. It is also home to the UK’s first National Nature Reserve, covering a vast area of 48 square kilometres stretching from loch-side to mountain top. Winter is a wonderful time to visit the reserve to see the ancient Scots pinewood set against the background of spectacular snow-capped mountains. There are plenty of walks for all levels to enjoy at the reserve, with waymarked trails leading through the woodlands from the visitor centre just outside Kinlochewe or the Coille na Glas-Leitir car park on the shores of Loch Maree.

Coire Fee

A waterfall at Coire Fee National Nature Reserve ©Lorne GillSNH

A waterfall at Coire Fee NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The magnificent natural amphitheatre of Corrie Fee sits on the shoulder of the Cairngorms plateau at the head of Glen Clova in Angus in eastern Scotland. Close to the Munro peaks of Dreish and Mayar, it is one of the best glacial corries in the British Isles, famed for its rare plants and stunning mountain views. In winter visitors can get a glimpse of the arctic and alpine environments as snow gathers and the waterfall freezes in dramatic icicles. Several trails start at the ranger base, including the Coire Fee Trail which leads up to the edge of Glen Doll forest for a spectacular view at the entrance to the corrie.

Creag Meagaidh

Native Birch woodland in winter Creag Meagaidh NNR ©Lorne Gill

Native Birch woodland in winter at Creag Meagaidh NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH 

Creag Meagaidh offers the complete mountain experience. From the Munro summits of the wild mountain plateau to woodland that’s slowly returning to life, it feels like the Highlands compressed into one reserve and is one of Scotland’s best areas for walking and climbing. There are three waymarked trails on the lower ground where visitors can explore the rich tapestry of regenerating woodland habitats and enjoy dramatic mountain views. Winter is a good time to spot black grouse among the birch trees, golden eagles circling overhead and red deer returning to the woods at lower levels.

Invereshie and Inshriach

Pines at Invereshie NNR ©Lorne Gill SNH

Pines at Invereshie and Inshriach NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Experience the wild side of the Cairngorms with a magical winter walk at Invereshie and Inshriach. Trails weave upwards through the peaceful ancient pinewood towards the high mountain plateau and the summits of Sgòr Gaoith and Carn Bàn Mòr beyond. Just a half hour walk on a well-surfaced path along the Allt Ruadh (the red burn) gives visitors a taste of the change from glen to open hill and superb views west over Glen Feshie to the Monadhliath hills beyond. Keep an eye out for the iconic red squirrel and, in snowy conditions, the tracks of pine marten and deer.

Knockan Crag

A temperature inversion at Knockan Crag NNR.©Lorne Gill/SNH

A temperature inversion at Knockan Crag NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The mountains of Coigach and Assynt are among the most dramatic in Scotland, and Knockan Crag NNR offers breathtaking views over favourites including Stac Pollaidh and Cul Mor. The location in the North West Highlands Geopark holds the key to an amazing story of colliding continents and scientific intrigue. The landscape reveals some of the world’s oldest rocks as well as evidence of the huge upheavals, collisions and pressures that have shaped Scotland. Wander the sculpture and poetry trails and take in the wonderful mountain views, with accessible options for all abilities.

Tips for safe winter walking:

  • Even at lower levels mountain conditions can change very rapidly – check the forecast and be prepared for sudden changes in the weather including sleet or snow between autumn and late spring. The Mountain Weather Information Service is a great resource for planning your walk.
  • Rough ground can sometimes be slippery or icy. Wear sturdy footwear such as walking boots or shoes with a good tread, warm and waterproof clothing, a hat and gloves and take plenty of food and a hot drink.
  • If you’re planning to explore beyond the marked trails, it’s recommended to have a map and compass, and experience of mountain walking.
  • Know your limits – if you encounter snow and ice and are not comfortable or don’t have the right equipment turn back.
Posted in National Nature Reserves | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Taking Cumbernauld’s Wild Ways Well to a European audience

Making more use of Scotland’s outdoors as Our Natural Health Service is an initiative being led by SNH. Paul Barclay from The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), is part of the Cumbernauld Living Landscape team and delivers an innovative green health programme, which brilliantly illustrates how connecting to nature can help people whose health would benefit the most …

Emerging from a forest onto a pristine white sand beach and watching the sun set over the sea is not my usual Tuesday routine as part of the Wild Ways Well mental well-being project in Cumbernauld.  On 24 September this year however, this natural outdoor space was exactly what I needed to recharge and de-stress having just presented at a workshop on green health and well-being, to the EUROPARC 2019 conference in Jurmala, Latvia.

2019 conference - workshop 3.1 WWW SNH blog - picture 1The EUROPARC Federation is the representative body for Europe’s Protected Areas, bringing together culture, heritage and nature, and highlighting the importance of conservation and the environment to the fabric of society. Their conference this year was called ‘Nature on your Mind: understanding our values’ and included an inspiring keynote from UK-based Dr William Bird, who invented health walks and Green Gyms.

Jurmala lies about 30km west of the Latvian capital Riga and is a famous Baltic health resort, specialising in using nature as a therapy. It was once the secret getaway destination of Soviet leaders, who would come here to relax and attend to their well-being.  We were lucky enough to visit a Sanitorium surrounded by dense woodland, which is still owned by Vladimir Putin and is where Russian citizens can be prescribed a therapeutic holiday among the trees. It is so dedicated to the woods that, despite being on the coast, it has no windows facing the sea!


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It was obvious from my brief visit that the people of Latvia value nature and its health-giving effects in a very different way to ourselves in Scotland. Walking through the town it seems that trees have priority over buildings, with developers and owners having to work with, and live with, the mature trees on a site, rather than simply cutting them down. Travelling through the centre of this busy urban area I was amazed at one point to suddenly find myself in a mature woodland, full of well-maintained paths, a basketball court, cycle and hoverboard trails, leisure, retail and relaxation areas, all built in harmony with the woodland – imagine that in George Square!

I had a chance to get into real wild places too. I took my shoes off and walked a 2km long ‘barefoot’ trail designed to help you focus on your senses while walking over a variety of natural surfaces (including knee deep in a river!). I was fascinated to discover that parks across Latvia have a network of colour coded walking routes through them, designed so that doctors can prescribe standardised walks to their patients – a blue walk once per week for someone with a mild heart condition perhaps, or a yellow walk every day for someone recovering from illness.

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It was wonderful to see so many people at the conference itself – and heartening that a good few were from the UK. Our hosts described us all collectively as the ‘green tribe’, working to put nature and conservation at the heart of European life and it did feel like a vast melting point of ideas and viewpoints. I was there to provide a case study as part of the ‘Nature on your doorstep’ workshop being run by Pete Rawcliffe from SNH, who also chairs the EUROPARC Commission on Health & Protected Areas. Our workshop had attendees from right across Europe, as well the United States and even Brazil, and my job was to show what we are doing in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust in Cumbernauld. It was exciting also to realise that the work we are doing to re-connect folk facing poor mental health and social isolation with people, place and purpose using their local greenspaces, is right on the cutting edge of green health and that others are keen to learn from us.

The programme noted that my presentation would be made in English so my first job on standing was to tell everyone that it would actually be in Scottish – which is like English but much faster! I did my best to slow my speech down, so much so that I felt like I was moving in slow motion, so hopefully everyone got the gist of what I was saying. Most of the laughs were in the right places, so that was encouraging at least!

Following me was a case study from Finland about establishing National Urban Parks as a way to deliver a range of policy areas including biodiversity, cultural heritage and human health – providing places for physical activity, mental refreshment and social contact. Afterwards we workshopped some of the themes from the presentations to see how they could be made relevant to parks and green spaces everywhere. It was wonderful to see that the power of nature as a tool for healing and therapy is gaining so much attention and really moving to the forefront of environmental and health agendas.

2019 conference - workshop 3.1 WWW SNH blog - picture 2The conference culminated in the presentation of the Jurmala Communiqué which announced the EUROPARC Federation’s plan to develop a ‘Healthy Parks Healthy People’ Europe programme. The HPHP approach began in Australia, promoted by Parks Victoria, and aims to influence policy, practice and partnerships to fully realise the potential of parks and protected areas to help deliver public health priorities.

It was a privilege to be invited to attend and speak and to present the work of TCV and Cumbernauld Living Landscape to such a wide audience.  I arrived home at midnight on the Friday tired but re-energised – which was lucky as I spent that Saturday and Sunday attending events in Cumbernauld, delivering green health and not just talking about it!

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Follow the links to find out more about Wild Ways Well; the 2019 EUROPARC conference (including the keynote Nature on Your Mind – in Health, the Jurmala Communiqué and access to all of the thematic workshop presentations including Paul’s case study); and TCV.

Posted in active travel, gardens, green health, Green infrastructure, paths, Planning, Projects, Scotland's Protected Places, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, Uncategorized, urban nature, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Celebrating National Nature Reserves at the Scottish Parliament

Late last month, our National Nature Reserve (NNR) staff gathered for an evening reception in Scottish Parliament’s Garden Lobby to celebrate Scotland’s amazing array of nature reserves and the many benefits they provide to us all. 

We were joined by a enthusiastic group of young people from Lochgilphead High School in Argyll. These youngsters have taken part in the wonderful Snapberry project, taking pictures on our beautiful Taynish reserve.

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We showcased eleven of our reserves, highlighting how they connect to the communities around them and how we manage nature in these special places to make sure it thrives. Reserves are brilliant for so many things: volunteering, outdoor learning, skills development, research, health and well-being.

But let’s hear about the evening from the group who joined us from Lochgilphead High School! Here is their account of the evening, which they shared with their school on their return:

For 11 years, our school has been working with Scottish Natural Heritage on a photography project, Snapberry.  This takes place every May and gives pupils the opportunity to get out and about with cameras, supported by teachers and staff from SNH. In recent years, we have been at Taynish National Nature Reserve (NNR) and wandered down to the old mill and shore enjoying the various installations that are part of Art Map.  In August, the photos we take are displayed in the old mill and form a dramatic and unusual gallery of pupil work for visitors to enjoy.

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We were delighted this year to be asked to go to the Scottish Parliament on the 19th of November for an evening event showcasing the work of the various NNRs managed by SNH around Scotland.  We knew we were going to Edinburgh, we knew we were going to the Scottish Parliament and we knew we were staying over but we did not realise how good the whole experience would be.

We left Lochgilphead on the bus and travelled by train to Edinburgh before checking into our apartments in the city’s west end. After a short wander through the town for pizza, we were off to the Scottish Parliament.

We were greeted by Mike Russell, MSP and Cabinet Secretary, where Craig took the necessary selfie. There were speeches and opportunities to hear about the work going on across Scotland and the whole event had the backdrop of our photos playing on a slideshow. 

The parliament building is stunning and it was really good to see our work so prominently displayed and to hear all the positive comments people had to make about our project and to be able to answer their questions.

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After a walk around to see other groups and their projects, we were given a tour of the Debating Chamber by Brian Whittle, MSP, who explained some of the procedures and how the Parliament works.  We got to sit in the seats where MSPs debate and vote and asked questions to Mr Whittle.  He was very patient with us and seemed to find our questions interesting. Our pupils took the chance to ask what he really thought of the First Minister and he was very diplomatic even when pushed.  This was Craig’s highlight as he says, ‘We see this place on the telly and it is good to see what it is really like.’

When we walked back to the apartments, we went through Princes Gardens which were all lit up with the Christmas Market. It was nice to have the place quite quiet, as some of us had been before and the crowds can make it difficult to really enjoy sometimes.

On the Wednesday, we had a great cooked breakfast made by Mr Povey and the boys and then set off to see some of the sights before heading back to the train.  The castle was obviously on our list and we really enjoyed seeing this part of Edinburgh. Walking down the Royal Mile, we were struck by just how many shops there are selling nothing but tartan!!  To get away from that, we thought we best head back to the market for waffles.

And then it was time to head home.  However when we got to Haymarket we could not resist an impromptu Jingle Bells on the piano which entertained some passers by.

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We had a really great couple of days. We would like to thank Mrs Donald, Mr Povey and Frances Drewery for all the organization and for making it such good fun. Thanks also to Caroline, Heather, Gordon and Stuart at SNH for everything  – especially all the patience over the years.  

Well done to Iris Bevan, Nicola Knight, Taylor McKibbin, Mark Newlands and Craig O’Meara for representing their project and Taynish National Nature Reserve so well. We look forward to seeing some more excellent Snapberry photography next year and hearing about the new things you have learnt about nature at the same time.

Posted in Argyll National Nature Reserves, National Nature Reserves, Taynish NNR, Young people | Tagged , , , , ,

Forvie’s Purple sandpipers

Our post this morning comes from Ron Macdonald, who is becoming well known on social media these days for his fantastic bird photographs. Today he talks about one of his favourite waders…

This morning I’m off to photograph purple sandpipers on Forvie’s wild eastern shore,  where the North Sea pounds against the high cliffs.  Here on the rocky shore below the cliffs I find 16 purple sandpipers foraging among the rock pools, gradually being pushed higher and higher as the tide comes in.  Soon they’ll call it a day and head for their high tide roost on a nearby islet.

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©Ron Macdonald

I’ve always been drawn to Purple sandpipers.  Compared to other waders they’re much more confiding, usually allowing me to get within 3-4 metres before they edge away keeping that minimum distance between us. They are slightly larger and dumpier than a dunlin with an overall grey looking plumage with yellowish legs and beak.  On the face of it you would think their grey plumage might make them, err, grey and uninteresting but the grey set against the yellow orange bill and legs results in one smart looking bird.  This morning I’m lucky enough to come across a bird with the last vestige of its purple summer plumage, which adds to its beauty.

The Purple sandpipers that winter on Forvie probably breed in Canada. Research on birds trapped and ringed in Eastern Britain (Kincardineshire to Yorkshire) are mainly short-billed and come from the Norway breeding population.  North of this and on Scotland’s west coast, long-billed (almost certainly Canadian breeders) dominate. Northeast Scotland has populations of both and there appears to be no clear boundary line between the two populations –  rather the percentage of small billed birds decreases as you go north.


©Ron Macdonald

Purple Sandpipers have fared badly in the last while.  Research* in the Moray Firth found that from from the mid 1980’s, the total population fell from 400-600 birds to 200-300 in the late 90’s, which represents over half the population. The decline in the Moray Firth has been replicated elsewhere in Britain with a similar 50% drop in the purple sandpiper population.  In the Lothians the decline has even been greater. Nowadays the UK wintering population is around 10000 birds.


©Ron Macdonald

What has caused the decline?   Research* has shown that the recruitment of young birds has been insufficient to maintain the numbers.   Exactly why this should be the case is open to question but climate change has been put forward as a possible reason with birds preferring a colder winter climate.  Increasingly, young birds are choosing to remain in Iceland, rather than migrate as far as UK. Adults are very site faithful so they keep coming to traditional wintering areas. As they die off numbers will drop – hence the decline.


©Ron Macdonald

Another reason responsible for the decline is the improvement in sewage treatment and the relocation of outfalls into deeper water which in turn reduces the amount of invertebrates found in rocky pools close to settlements.

It’s now nearing high tide and the birds have stopped feeding. The occasional squabbling between feeding birds stops and most tuck their heads under their wings.  Suddenly, as if on cue, a large wave breaks on the shore and they flit across to their high tide roost.

Ron Macdonald

My thanks to Bob Swann, Robert Rae and Raymond Duncan for providing information and advice on the origin of wintering Purple sandpipers in the North East of Scotland.

Local and global influences on population declines of coastal waders: Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima numbers in the Moray Firth, Scotland by Ron W. Summers, Simon Foster, Bob Swann & Brian Etheridge in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 102-103 (2012).

You can follow Ron’s amazing photography on Twitter – @ronpon_ron

Posted in Birds, coastal, conservation, National Nature Reserves, Nature in art, photography, sea life, SNH, Uncategorized, wild land | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,