Future planning: designing places in a climate emergency

As urban areas grow and the realities of the climate emergency become clearer, there is a need to look at the way we design and build the places where we live and work. Today, Abi Gardner, a graduate placement working with our Placemaking team, tells us about a recent Future Planning Conference she attended in Glasgow.

Extreme weather events such as heavy rain and heatwaves are becoming more frequent. Research shows that being in nature is good for your health and well-being making you more relaxed and increasing concentration and motivation. Wildlife, such as pollinators, need urban green spaces to live and thrive. To ensure our urban areas are sustainable, resilient and nice places to be, we must work together to integrate nature-based solutions and green infrastructure into our towns and cities.

Nature-based solutions use nature to address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, providing benefits to both human well-being and biodiversity. In our towns and cities, nature-based solutions are often delivered through green infrastructure. This includes having more street trees and rain gardens to help prevent flooding and to cool places down during heatwaves. It also includes wildflower verges and green roofs to help pollinators move around. It includes green networks to enable people to walk and cycle to work and green spaces to spend time relaxing, exercising or playing in nature.

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Green infrastructure at Strathclyde University, Glasgow. ©SNH

During Scotland’s Climate Week earlier this year, planners, developers and green infrastructure experts across industry and Scotland’s Key Agencies Group came together in Glasgow to discuss how to better design places as we mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Organised by our very own Green Infrastructure Fund, along with partners at the Ecosystem Knowledge Network, the day saw lots of motivating and proactive discussions. These included examples of successful green infrastructure projects from across Europe, partnerships showcasing exciting place-based projects across Scotland, as well as lots of conversations about how we can do more to make sure places benefit both people and nature.

Future Planning: Designing places in a Climate Emergency Conference.  ©SNH

With more collaboration among all stakeholders, the place-making process can more effectively use nature-based solutions to ensure places are resilient to extreme weather events and help wildlife, as well as creating healthy and thriving communities for those that live and work there.

Want to find out more?

To see more in-depth interviews with some of the key contributors of the event head over to the Future Planning conference website.

Posted in Access, active travel, biodiversity, climate change, Community engagement, conference, graduate placement, meadow, Natural Health Service, Planning, SNH, Uncategorized, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mapping our species-rich grasslands

According to UK charity Plantlife, Britain has lost 97% of its species-rich grassland in less than a century. Hundreds of plants, fungi and invertebrate species rely on these important habitats – which in turn support healthy populations of birds and mammals. This is why Apithanny Bourne, who is on a graduate placement with us, will be spending the next year attempting to evaluate the best method to locate and map remaining fragments of grassland…

My background is in entomology and I’m drawn to meadows for their rich diversity of insect life. Species such as the northern brown argus butterfly (Aricia artaxerxes) and the scabious mining bee (Andrena marginata) are specialists of grassland habitats, where they and others have developed interesting relationships with certain plants. Unfortunately, as our landscape becomes increasingly dominated by monoculture, species-rich grasslands are often restricted to small pockets of land – typically field corners and steep slopes, not easily accessible to farm machinery. Grassland types can also be difficult to identify when not in flower, meaning they are easily lost to forestry plantations and incorrect grazing regimes. Society has become so accustomed to the intensive nature of farming that whilst the felling of woodland might spark an outcry, the fertilising of grassland is a normal occurrence.  We haven’t noticed the steady disappearance of important grasslands from our landscape.

Field scabious (Knautia arvensis), Weem Meadow.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Scabious in our Battleby meadow

My project will initially involve a period of data collation – only around half of Scotland has been surveyed for species-rich grassland, so there are a lot of gaps to fill! Using contacts in the NGO sector and the knowledge of individual botanists, as much additional information as possible will be gathered. Satellite technology and automated classification using GIS software will then be used to identify potential SRG sites. By working in collaboration with the Cairngorms National Park, it will be possible to perform a pilot in an area such as Deeside, with potential polygons ground truthed by an ecological consultant. Data will be integrated into the Habitat Map of Scotland and the feasibility of using this method over a larger area will be evaluated.

Image - Meadow Brown on creeping thistle - 29 Oct 2019 (A3092247)

Meadow Brown on creeping thistle

I’m really interested in engaging the public with insects and wild plants – so I’d also like to explore a citizen science approach to recording grasslands. I hope to collaborate with an NGO such as Plantlife to find out whether trained volunteers could be used to monitor the sites for a more sustainable, long term approach. A web page or app into which the public can enter grassland data may also prove useful in the future. There are many natural history groups across Scotland and harnessing the power of social media may assist us in locating important undesignated grasslands.

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Base rich grassland


Next year I hope to spend more time out in the field, but in the meantime I am based at SNH’s Battleby office, and I’m  happy to chat more about my work (apithanny.bourne@nature.scot). Thanks for reading!

Posted in battleby, biodiversity, Cairngorms National Park, citizen science, Ecology, Flowers, Fungi, gardens, graduate placement, Habitat Map of Scotland, Land management, mapping, meadow, plants, SNH, Staff profile, Uncategorized, wild flowers, wild land, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Creagan, Aibhnichean is Minn a’ Leum / Crags, Rivers and Leaping Kids

Tha minn a’ nochdadh gu tric air aghaidh na tìre air a’ Ghàidhealtachd /  Young goats appear in many places in Scotland’s Gaelic landscape.

Creagan, Aibhnichean is Minn a’ Leum

Ann an monadh Chinn Tìre, deas air an Tairbeart, tha abhainn bheag air a bheil ainm mòr. Is e sin Abhainn Leum nam Meann – agus nach brèagha na h-ìomhaighean a tha an t-ainm sin a’ brosnachadh! Tha gobhair a’ nochdadh fad, farsaing is minig air mapaichean na h-Alba, agus uaireannan ’s iad an fheadhainn òga – na minn – a th’ air an ainmeachadh.

Feral goats. The Isle of Colonsay.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Feral goats. The Isle of Colonsay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Gu tric tha minn agus gobhair co-cheangailte ri creagan, agus tha an t-ainm-àite Creag nam Meann a’ nochdadh ann an grunn àiteachan, leithid ann an Arainn, Loch Abar, san Eilean Sgitheanach agus air Mòinteach Raineach. Tha Gleann nam Meann faisg air Gleann Fhionnghlais anns na Tròisichean, le Coire nam Meann beagan tuath air, faisg air Loch Bheothail. Faisg air Fisinis ann am Muile, tha Beinn nam Meann, agus tha Sgùrr nam Meann deas air Camas Shanna ann an Àird nam Murchan. Siar air Gleann Moireasdan, tha Sròn Badan nam Meann – ged nach eil e soilleir an e minn-earba no minn-ghobhair a thathar ag ainmeachadh an sin.

Tha dà ainm le ‘meann’ a tha doirbh a mhìneachadh. Is iad sin Bogha nam Meann agus Sgeir nam Meann, a tha faisg air a chèile far cladach a deas Eilein Alltanaigh ann an Asainte. ’S dòcha gun do dh’èirich na h-ainmean à seann sgeulachd no naidheachd.

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Feral goats, Isle of Rum NNR, © Laurie Campbell / SNH

Chithear a’ Mhinn cuideachd air aghaidh na tìre. Tha dà loch ann an Earra-Ghàidheal air a bheil Loch a’ Mhinn, agus tha Suidh’ a’ Mhinn sa mhonadh faisg air Cill a’ Bhacstair ann an ceann a tuath an Eilein Sgitheanaich. Agus tha am facal minnean againn, a’ ciallachadh ‘meann òg’ – an dà chuid aig earba no gobhar. Mar sin, chan eil e soilleir dè an t-ainmhidh a th’ air ainmeachadh ann an Coille Mhinnean air cladach Loch Fìne, ach tha dùil gur e an earba a th’ ann.

Crags, Rivers and Leaping Kids

In the hills of Kintyre, south of Tarbert, there is a small river with a big name. It is Abhainn Leum nam Meann ‘the river of the jump of the kid goats’ – whose name surely conjures up some bucolic images! Goats are a significant toponymic feature of the Scottish landscape, and in some places it is the young of the species that are named – the word meann ‘MYOWN’ being conspicuous.

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Feral goats, Isle of Rum nnr.© Laurie Campbell / SNH

Goats are often associated with crags, so the place-name Creag nam Meann ‘the crag of the kid goats’ is not uncommon, examples being found in Arran, Lochaber, Skye and Rannoch Moor. There is Gleann nam Meann ‘the glen of the kids’ near Glen Finglas in the Trossachs, with Coire nam Meann ‘the corrie of the kids’ a little to its north. Beinn nam Meann ‘the mountain of the kids’ is near Fishnish on Mull and Sgùrr nam Meann ‘the rocky peak of the kids’ is close to Sanna Bay in Ardnamurchan. West of Glen Moriston is the highly descriptive Sròn Badan nam Meann ‘the nose [hill-end] of the small copse of the kids’.

Less explicable, however, are the sunken sea rocks off Oldany Island in Assynt, Sutherland, called Bogha nam Meann ‘the sunken rock of the kids’ and the adjacent Sgeir nam Meann ‘the skerry of the kids’. Are their names perhaps related to an old story or legend involving goats?

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Roe deer doe,  Invereshie and Inshriach NNR, ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The genitive singular form of am meann is a’ mhinn [uh VEEN] ‘of the kid goat’, a form which pops up in some place-names – such as two lochs in Argyll called Loch a’ Mhinn ‘the loch of the kid’, and the intriguing Suidh’ a’ Mhinn in Trotternish, Skye which means ‘the sitting place of the kid’ ie the place where humans would sit and watch a kid goat! Again, there might be a folkloric context to this name.

There is one other related word for a kid goat we find in the landscape – minnean [MEEN-yan] – but it can also refer to the young of the earba or roe deer (as can meann on occasion). Thus, Coille Mhinnean on the north shore of Loch Fyne is either ‘wood of young goat kids’ or ‘wood of young roe deer’. The habitat suggests that it is likely to be the latter.

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

Buffering climate change with wetlands

We were delighted to host 18 colleagues from across Europe on a recent study tour by the Eurosite Wetlands and Climate Change working group, visiting sites across central Scotland to find out how we are using wetlands to help buffer the impacts of ongoing climate change.  The tour also helped us learn from our visitors’ experiences working with wetlands in countries including the Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, Croatia and Poland.

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Eurosite wetlands study tour at St Andrews ©Iain Sime/SNH

Eurosite is a network of site managers, sharing experiences on practical nature management.  As such, delegates were particularly interested in the techniques and means by which we have been restoring, creating and managing wetlands in Scotland.  The study tour also promoted the concept of using wetlands as ‘natural climate buffers’ – which seeks to give wetlands the space to evolve with climate change, adapt to it and play an important role in helping society cope with climate change. We were able to show how we have been trying to do that in a variety of different ways.

The tour visited Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve where there were gasps of amazement at some of the changes that have been achieved on the reserve – particularly the fun titled ‘stump flipping’ technique (illustrated in this video).  It has allowed areas of damaged bog to be transformed from bare peat to now wet, vegetated ground with returning Sphagnum within only 4-5 years.

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Results of PeatlandACTION work at Blawhorn Moss National Nature Reserve ©Iain Sime/SNH

Later the group also visited Blawhorn Moss National Nature Reserve where they were able to see the near complete restoration of this raised bog after many years of extensive and imaginative restoration work.  Andrew McBride from the Peatland ACTION project explained the wide range of impressive restoration techniques that have been developed and there have been invitations for the team to visit the Netherlands and other places to export our work and help with the restoration of their bogs.

The tour also included restoration in the urban environment with our Green Infrastructure project.  It was impressive to see work taking place to open up a culverted burn in Easterhouse as part of creating new greenspace for the local community, that also reduces flood risk to housing and the M8.  The group also saw work taking place near Sighthill to restore a local nature reserve and use the canal and wetlands to reduce flood risk in central Glasgow.  Even the Dutch visitors thought this work meant they should be doing more wetland creation work in their cities!

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Green Infrastructure work underway near Sighthill in Glasgow ©Iain Sime/SNH

We also ventured onto sand dunes and salt marshes to see case studies from the Dynamic Coast project.  At St Andrews, volunteer efforts to create and expand salt marshes were closely examined, with a desire to try such techniques elsewhere.  Other impressive salt marsh creation was discussed at Skinflats RSPB reserve, which was full of water and coping well with the 2nd highest tide since a flood embankment was breached a couple of years ago.  And there were further gasps at the scale of volunteer effort on St Andrews beach, and how successful this has been at expanding sand dunes.  The work was obviously of great interest to visitors from coastal countries such as the Netherlands, but also to a site manager of the Kampinos National Park in central Poland which has Europe’s largest area of inland sand dunes– who knew?!

With invitations to export our experiences to other parts of Europe, and plans to work on other collaborative initiatives, the tour was a great success.  It really helped emphasise the importance and scale of the wetland restoration work that we are doing here in Scotland.  That was despite sunny weather blessing the whole of the tour, something that you might expect wouldn’t help show off wetlands!

Posted in climate change | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

School proves learning outdoors really works (and is fun!)

Friday at SNH’s Battleby Offices – means fun and challenges for visiting pupils from St John’s RC School in Perth. 

Come rain, hail or shine, for the past academic year, P5-7 have been out and about learning, playing and having fun with their class teacher and Outdoor Learning teacher, John McManamon. 

The teachers and pupils have enjoyed their educational visits to Battleby

The teachers and pupils have enjoyed their educational visits to Battleby

John came to know and love Battleby having grown up nearby and saw its huge potential for learning, so he contacted us to seek permission to bring pupils.  One of our main offices, Battleby, is located about 5 miles north of Perth and features beautiful grounds, including a 200 year old oak wood and one of the largest wildflower meadows in Perthshire.  Recent additions have included a living wall, a pollinator trail, an array of bug, bee and bird boxes, and habitat piles.

John met with our Outdoor Learning Advisor, Gardener, and Property Manager to gain some background information and resources, and then set to work developing a programme of activities for pupils.  Pupil Equity Funding helped fund the bus transport to Battleby, as well as John’s post and an apprentice.

SNH staff helped develop a plan of suitable activities for pupils

SNH staff helped develop a plan of suitable activities for pupils

The main aim of the programme is to broaden learning experiences – with a particular focus on mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing.  In 2018/19, 170 pupils from P5-7 spent at least 3 full days at Battleby.  Activities included team games, individual and group challenges, learning about the history, plants and wildlife, and lots of free play.  Sessions were designed to develop confidence, resilience and help pupils evaluate risk, as well as develop relationships and improve communication decision making skills.

Pupils were encouraged to participate in challenges

Pupils were encouraged to participate in challenges

All pupils said they enjoyed the experience and saw the benefits – and became very passionate when asked to create some persuasive writing on the topic of ‘Is Outdoor Learning a waste of time?’:

“I think that Outdoor Ed helps with social lives because you need to co-operate in groups with people that you might not normally work with.  That will also boost your confidence in talking to new people.” Sean

“There are some people who think that Outdoor Ed is too dangerous.  I understand why they might feel that way but the point of Outdoor Ed is to learn about these dangers.” Niamh

“I think Outdoor Education is good because it gets children more active.  You get fresh air and you learn about wildlife like birds and animals.” Sam

“Outdoor Ed is good because you learn how to work together.” Rozerin

“In my opinion it is a good thing that every school should do.” Mario

Feedback from pupils and teachers has been very positive

Feedback from pupils and teachers has been very positive

Teachers reported some children had gained in confidence and as a result attainment improved.  Relationships improved because they were based on a more rounded picture as pupils witnessed and showed different sides of themselves. One teacher said:

“There was a very good balance between learning, challenges and free time. The free time was ‘just playing’ e.g. climbing trees, playing tig or other active games, but I think it was very valuable to some of these children. The outdoor challenges definitely saw them supporting each other to achieve.”

John has demonstrated the impact Battleby visits can have and convinced Senior Management to invest in further programmes of visits over the coming years.  He is currently designing these to build a progression of skills and experiences from P4–P7.

“Battleby’s unique setting and landscape is such a valuable resource for us to use for Outdoor Learning. Having such diversity on its grounds helps pupils and teachers explore and appreciate nature. The Scottish Natural Heritage staff have gone out of their way to help us create this experience and I really appreciate what they have done for us.” John McManamon

Pupils also experience a progression of place, as John ensures that Battleby visits build on learning in the school grounds and within walking distance. Additionally pupils have developed a real connection to Battleby with some bringing family to visit during weekends and holidays.

Further information

Battleby Grounds are open to the public and are free to access however if visiting as a group please let SNH know.  The Conference Centre and grounds are used for a range of events, such as police dog training and first aid training, therefore at times it can be impractical for a large group to visit.  Find out more.

John used a number of SNH’s resources, including Beyond your boundary:  easy steps to learning in local greenspace and those found on the Outdoor Learning Directory.


Posted in Outdoor learning, Scottish Natural Heritage, Young people | Tagged , , ,

Autumn delights at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve

Red Squirrel

Red squirrel at Tentsmuir – (c) Lorne Gill-SNH

Marijke Leith is one of our team at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. She joined the team at Tentsmuir in July on our student placement scheme having graduated from Aberdeen University in June.  Here Marijke talks about some of the many features that make this reserve such a special place to visit at this time of year.

Autumn spectacles
The start of September saw a quick turn of seasons from summer to autumn. The first of the leaves turned and the weather changed from (sometimes) warm, sunny mornings to clear and crisp mornings with a chill in the air. Tentsmuir has something for everyone in all seasons and, although the days are shorter and the temperatures are cooler, there is still a lot to see!

The beginning of autumn sees the trees laden with pine cones and beech nuts. This year, the branches are weighed down with the mass of beech nuts on them, happily for the red squirrels. Our resident red squirrels are busy eating and stashing the beech nuts, but they still make a visit to the feeders outside the hide to get a hazelnut as a treat, much to the delight of photographers in the hide (and me) – who doesn’t love a red squirrel picture?

Incoming to Tentsmuir
The autumnal signs also lead us to the incoming birds of winter. Although often thought of as a downtime in activity which it is for some species such as the dragonflies and butterflies, the arrival of birds is on the increase at both Tentsmuir Point and Morton Lochs. At Tentsmuir Point we see the increase of pink-footed geese and eider ducks, with pink-footed geese reaching their thousands in the winter.


Pink footed geese (c) Steve Buckland

The pink-footed geese have arrived early this year – about two weeks before they normally do – in Tentsmuir, as in other places on the east coast. Over autumn and winter, the geese are counted weekly by volunteers. The data is shared with Fife Bird Club and Fife Nature to monitor the numbers and species of geese visiting.

Inland at Morton Lochs, the number of visiting teal varies and although the numbers recorded are lower than in past years, they still visit the lochs with the September count recording 87 teal on one day. The kingfisher returning to the lochs is also a fantastic start to the autumn. This is a very exciting time for visitors and photographers, who have been flocking to the hides to grab a glimpse of this beautiful bird. I’ve been lucky enough to get great views of not just one but two kingfishers on the North Loch. But so far, they are too fast for me to capture on camera.

Kingfisher - credit Steve Buckland

Kingfisher (c) Steve Buckland

The volunteering activities at Tentsmuir NNR have also taken on an autumnal theme. Burning brash has begun down at Morton Lochs to remove the remains of the many trees and branches that were blown down in the gales in September last year. The burning of the brash helps to clear the site and also prevents the wood decomposing and adds nutrients to the soil. We burning the smaller branches, and pile up the larger logs to create a ‘habitat pile’ which will provide shelter for a range of insects and cover for frogs, toads and small mammals. We had a great helping hand to kick off the season with a team of volunteers from the Perth SSE office. What we managed to clear in one day with the help of the team would have taken us around five days without them. We really appreciate the help we get from volunteer groups.

Burning Brash - credit Lorne Gill

Volunteers from Scottish and Southern Electricity helping to burn brash at Morton Lochs. © Lorne Gill/SNH.

Although planting wildflowers might sound more like a spring job, we have been busy planting wildflower plugs and seed this month with a lovely group of young people working towards the ‘Out There Award’ run by Ramblers Scotland. Between us, we managed to plant almost 200 plugs and two areas of seed which will be used in the pollinator trail which we plan to create next year. Come spring, we will hopefully see a burst of wildflowers and be able to enjoy the results of our hard work. The trail will use existing paths to highlight what plants can be used to help pollinators such as bees and butterflies and the important job they do in nature.

Ramblers Wildflower Group 2

Ramblers Scotland members helping plant wildflower plugs.

On the 24 October, we have our dragonfly pond clearance volunteer day with Daniele Muir from the British Dragonfly Society. Why not come along and help out?

Despite the onset of cooler weather and shorter days, there is still plenty to do and see at Tentsmuir NNR! Whether it be searching for a glimpse of teal or goldeneye at Morton Lochs or watching the vast numbers of pink-footed geese at Tentsmuir Point, come visit and enjoy an autumnal day out in Fife!


Posted in Uncategorized

The bountiful birds of St Cyrus NNR

Simon Ritchie has been working at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve since he was 16 – initially as a volunteer, he is currently employed as a Seasonal Reserve Officer. Simon  has previously written about his passion for the wildflowers of St Cyrus.  Today he writes about another of the features that make this reserve such a special place to visit at this time of year, including the most beautiful bird he has ever seen…

I am fascinated by all of the wildlife of St Cyrus NNR, but the birdlife at St Cyrus NNR has always fascinated me the most. One of my earliest memories was coming to St Cyrus NNR as a young boy with my grandfather; I vividly remember my grandad pointing out a kestrel that was hunting over the cliffs and that memory has stuck with me for the last 18 years. Who knows, maybe that interaction with nature sparked an interest that has lead me where I am today!

Kestrel at St Cyrus NNR (c) Gus Routledge

Kestrel at St Cyrus NNR (c) Gus Routledge

I have been fascinated by birds since my mid-teens and this led to an interest in other wildlife. However, birds have stayed my main focus and St Cyrus NNR is the perfect place to learn and appreciate birdlife. I remember one of the earlier times I volunteered at St Cyrus NNR with Therese and the gang. It was winter 2012 and we were conducting a WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count, I was amazed with the amount of wintering wildfowl on the reserve; hundreds of teal, wigeon, pintail and pink-footed Geese!

Teal - credit Steve Buckland

Teal – (C) Steve Buckland

This brings me nicely on to the estuary at St Cyrus NNR, it is a tidal estuary of the River North Esk. It is a haven for waders, wildfowl and gulls. August is one of the best times of year for waders and over the years on the estuary I have seen; ruff, green Sandpiper, whimbrel, grey Plover, large flocks of knot, dunlin, ringed plover and sanderling amongst many others. A small number of pink-footed geese also use the estuary as a roost in autumn and up to 3000 can be feeding in the fields near-by.

As I have mentioned, the estuary is an important refuge for gulls. A lot of people are not into gulls, but I for one love them! St Cyrus NNR can boast large numbers of gulls, sometimes 5000+. These are usually a mixture of herring, lesser black-backed, great black-backed, common, black-headed gull and kittiwake. Scarcer gulls have also been recorded here in recent years including glaucous and Iceland gull, which are vagrants from the Arctic. Little gull also occasionally use the estuary and these birds breed in Finland and Asia.

Gulls at St Cyrus NNR estuary (c) Paul Ross

Gulls at the St Cyrus esturay, (C) Paul Ross

The cliffs of St Cyrus NNR provide a safe nesting place for birds to use. Our 75m cliffs are home to; 42 fulmar pairs, raven, jackdaw, peregrine and buzzard. All of which can be seen at once in territorial feuds! The scrubland below the cliffs is a fantastic area for smaller birds. Gorse, broom, hawthorn, meadowsweet and a  reed bed provide nesting habitat for a large variety of different birds including; willow warbler, whitethroat, reed bunting, stonechat, yellowhammer, linnet, meadow pipit, blackcap, robin, blackbird, goldfinch and sedge warbler, among many others. St Cyrus NNR is home to over 50 species of breeding bird.

Bluethroat at Tangleha’ (c) John Clark

A beautiful bluethroat at Tangleha’ (c) John Clark

As well as supporting breeding birds, St Cyrus NNR also welcomes passing migrants on their travels. Over the years, St Cyrus NNR has had some scarce and rare birds, and 2019 has been no different. Earlier this year, a hoopoe made landfall in our cattle field. This made for some excellent viewings. Just half a mile to the north of the NNR I was also lucky enough to find a male bluethroat, the best looking bird I have ever seen! Other notable birds that I have seen at St Cyrus include; sooty shearwater, pomarine skua, red-backed shrike, yellow-browed warbler, black redstart, velvet scoter and black-throated diver.

No matter what time of year you visit St Cyrus NNR, the birds always put on a good show. If you visit in the coming weeks, keep your eyes to the skies and listen out for returning flocks of pink-footed geese. There is always something to marvel at…

Simon Ritchie, Seasonal Nature Reserve Assistant

Posted in Birds, coastal, Flowers, gulls, National Nature Reserves, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, Staff profile, Uncategorized, Volunteering, wild flowers, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Working together to help nature tackle climate change

A message that seems loud and clear in the current climate discussions is that to tackle the emergency we all need to work together to address the common goal – and this is on the national and international scales as well as on the local level.  A good example of ‘people working coherently’ can be found in our recent EcoCoLIFE project.  It was a project producing nature-based solutions to biodiversity loss and climate change – having local people at the heart of the whole decision-making and implementation. Phil Baarda, who worked closely on the project, tells us more about it…

EcoCoLIFE was all about improving habitats and creating stepping-stone connections across Scotland’s Central Belt to benefit people as well as wildlife.  It focused on improving ecological coherencethat is, making habitats more abundant, bigger and of better quality, and making better connections between habitats.

EcoCoLIFE, though, went beyond this – it looked at restoring and creating new sites in the very best places to improve linkages across the project’s 10,000 square kilometres.  And, most importantly, these places were identified by local people and groups to also provide the most additional benefits, such as preventing flood risk or locking up carbon into the soil, or a range of other social and ecosystem benefits.

For example, local people decided that the Slamannan Plateau – a once vast peatland in the hills near Falkirk – was a key place for peatland restoration.  Using a range of data and maps, and local expertise, specific hotspots were identified where management could improve the Plateau’s overall quality and resilience – allowing key heathland species such as the large heath butterfly to spread and thrive as our climate changes.  Additionally, the blocking up of drainage ditches retains water on the site, and so prevents flooding downstream in Falkirk, and the management also locks up a vast amount of carbon – in this case, an estimated 350 million tonnes.

The project also came much closer to people’s lives in, for example, creating some fabulous green roofs.  Not only are these new jigsaw pieces of green infrastructure in urban areas benefiting bees and other pollinators under threat, they also help to better insulate the buildings they’re constructed on – and so reducing heating emissions (and bills).  Also, depending where they’re situated, green roofs can be fantastic places for people to get up close to wildlife and to appreciate the benefits we get from it.

The Central Belt is Scotland’s most populated area.  It’s where the majority of Scotland’s industry and urban centres sit – and it’s also where wildlife is particularly at risk. But, we’ve seen through EcoCoLIFE that people working together, coherently and with nature, can produce big and positive changes – which is exactly what we need today, for the future.

Here’s a short and engaging summary of the project.



Posted in biodiversity, climate change, Community engagement, conservation, Ecology, meadow, peatland restoration, Projects, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, Uncategorized, Volunteering, wildlife management | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Stormie nights on Fair Isle

Fair Isle sits at the southernmost point of Shetland and its name derives from the Old Norse name Friðarey, meaning ‘island of peace’. Fair Isle is famous for its knitwear, historic shipwrecks and its diverse bird life, so what better place to study the Atlantic’s smallest seabird, the European storm petrel (herein stormies for short)? Helen Gunton spent a month on the island this summer, as part of her Masters degree in marine environmental management at the University of York, working on a project supported by SNH, in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory (FIBO).  Helen tells us more about her first visit to Scotland…

My journey to Fair Isle included two days in and around Shetland’s capital, Lerwick, where I saw my very first Orca! I ended up spending 8 hours in a stranger’s car driving around the coast to get the best view of the pod swimming by.  What a start to my time in Scotland!


Orca pod with its male leader ‘Busta’ chasing some eider ducks. Photo credit: Helen Gunton

It was then time to board the tiniest plane I’ve ever been on and get my first aerial view of Shetland. The views were stunning and the plane ride was smooth, but very noisy. I was greeted at Fair Isle’s small runway by FIBO warden, David Parnaby, who drove me to my home for the next four weeks, the Puffinn (the name made me chuckle).

My first week in Fair Isle was spent getting to know the land and seeking out potential stormie nesting sites. Fair Isle is about 5km long and 3km wide, with cliffs that rise to almost 200m, so my legs were in for a treat! Dr. Allan Perkins, a senior conservation scientist for the RSPB, and I needed to find out where and how many stormies are breeding on the island because no formal population estimates have been made on the island yet. Stormies are nocturnal birds that nest underground in crevices or in cliffs, so they’re incredibly hard to study. Their vulnerability to invasive non-native predators restricts their breeding distribution, making them a conservation priority.


My first glimpse of a stormie on a ringing session. Photo credit: Helen Gunton

On my second day FIBO staff invited me to one of their stormie ringing sessions where I got my first glimpse of these tiny seabirds. My heart melted – nothing could have prepared me for this cuteness overload! I helped release a few birds after they’d been ringed and I couldn’t help but notice that they smelled quite nice, for a bird that spends most of its life out at sea. FIBO staff and volunteers ringed around 250 birds that night and they ring a maximum of around 4000 annually! One bird was already ringed revealing that it had travelled around 300km across the North Sea from Norway.

At the end of the first week we were invited to a Sunday night concert at the community hall, where the local band played songs by the likes of Tom Petty and Jonny Cash (which stuck in my head for a whole week after). They were really good and I witnessed how the community really gels here and how welcoming everyone was.  This was a great introduction to the islanders and over the following weeks people I met at the concert kindly offered my grateful legs lifts around the island!


Dr. Allan Perkins from RSPB playing stormie recordings into a dyke. Photo: Helen Gunton

The real footwork began in week two as we sought out potential stormie nesting sites by using recordings of their calls. If we got a response from a nearby stormie, we set up motion sensor cameras in the area and searched for evidence of predation. We played the recordings at several locations across the whole island and we calculated that we racked up over 2km worth of playback transects.

At the end of week two, as I was starting to doubt whether they were breeding here at all, I finally heard my first response from a stormie nest among a pile of boulders. Over the next few days we started to hear more and more stormies in different locations across Fair Isle, catching some glimpses of the birds flying over our heads at night. Unfortunately, we also found some discarded wings and carcasses of little birds, indicating that they are being predated on.


Puffin and fulmar with chick.

To find out what could be predating them, we set up motion-sensor camera traps in known and potential nesting sites. As well as some amusing images of curious sheep, we did manage to capture images of potential predators in nesting areas, these included cats, mice, ravens and great skuas, known locally as bonxies. We also deployed flavoured wax blocks around the nesting sites to get an idea of mouse activity in the area and to confirm the absence of rats on the island. Rats would be a major problem for the island. They’ve caused population declines and local extinctions of some seabirds and other species on islands and eradicating them is a lengthy and costly mission. Much better to avoid them being introduced in the first place and regular checks through the Biosecurity for LIFE project will help to prevent this. Around 25% of our wax blocks showed signs of mouse activity at nesting sites and, because mice can still predate on chicks and eggs, it’s important these mice populations are also regularly monitored.

My final week in Fair Isle mainly involved checking the camera trap images and setting them back up after sheep had knocked them over. We now have almost 24,000 images to review! The day of my departure I was scheduled to leave on the small ferry, the Good Shepherd, but it unfortunately sprang a leak (which I believe has been fixed now so you’re alright!) The rest of the morning was spent waiting for the fog to lift so I could fly instead, and still catch my flight home from Aberdeen.


Sheep selfies were a common occurrence. Images taken from camera traps.


My first experience in Scotland was hard work, but Fair Isle is a magical place. It’s one of the best places to watch seabirds at close range, to enjoy lazy seals bathing on the rocks and, with some luck, to catch a glimpse of some whales and dolphins. We found around 60 occupied stormie sites, which is likely to make the overall population estimate in the low hundreds (the data is yet to be analysed).  This made all the hard work worthwhile! If we come back for next year’s breeding season, we hope to find more birds establishing themselves on this beautiful island. And quite frankly, who wouldn’t want to call this place home?

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Posted in Birds, coastal, Marine, Marine Protected Areas, MPA, MPAs, Non-native species, Scottish Natural Heritage, sea life, seals, Shetland, SNH, survey, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bringing butterflies and bees back to Skolie Burn SSSI

Since starting a Community Woodland group, Ian Records’ life has changed completely – dropping leaflets, knocking on doors, writing up woodland management plans and doing flower surveys.  Here, he tells how a protected area can galvanise a local community to take action to improve their local area for people and wildlife.

I was moving house in 2017 and my wife was looking for a bungalow.  I had stipulated I wanted somewhere to walk the dog.  So while my wife was examining the inside of a bungalow, I took Skye for a walk in the adjacent field.


Greater Butterfly Orchid (a nationally rare species) was discovered by the local community at Skolie Burn SSSI.

There was hardly a butterfly or bee in sight. I have had a keen interest in butterflies and insects since childhood. I felt the urge to do something about it. What ‘it’ was going to be, I had no idea, but the thought kept coming back.  A cold winter passed and I had heard rumours that there was a rare orchid in the field.  I kept an eye out but only saw one single specimen of an orchid which I knew was common.

I found out from a neighbour that this field was a meadow called Skolie Burn Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), special for its grassland and geology.


An area where the local community want to introduce conservation grazing, in partnership with the local farmer to restore the grassland diversity.

I went out with my camera trying to photograph and identify every flower in the meadow. I have recorded where they were found as well as the date, with 69 distinct flowering plant species recorded so far.  This does not seem like a bad number but when you consider that it previously held over 160 species, you can see that there has been a considerable loss.


Flowering knapweed provides an important nectar source for insects at Skolie Burn SSSI.

My neighbours and I formed a community group (Skolie Burn Community Meadow and Woodland Group) and have developed a management plan with West Lothian Council (the main owners of the land) and SNH. This plan aims to restore the grassland and improve public access.  We have already completed botanical surveys. These surveys will tell us what we have and give a measure of success or failure in the future.

Next spring we shall start this exercise again in accordance with the National Vegetation Classification getting college science students involved and, yes, the orchid we were looking for was found: the greater butterfly orchid.  There were just five of them in a very small area of the meadow.


Lesser Celandine, a relative of the buttercup, adds some colour to the grassland plant community.

So what about the butterflies and bees? Well, there have been a lot more this year, but I have noticed that a few species are missing despite the abundance of their caterpillar food plants.  So why are they missing? There is nectar and food in the meadow and they should be there! The answer slowly dawned on me: the meadow is not in the right condition to support these species.  Dead grass is reducing the sunlight and smothering their food plants at the points of the year when they need them most, and there is not enough nectar to feed the adults. But many of the desirable flowers are still there and, with a return to traditional meadow management, Skolie Burn will bloom again and the butterflies and bees will return.


Skolie Burn provides an important habitat for Marsh Orchids

Thank you to Mike Thornton from SNH and Hannah Crow from West Lothian Ranger Service for all their support, advice and patience. Furthermore, I need to acknowledge the amazing bravery of my fellow trustees of the community group; the students of Edinburgh College, where I work; and finally, neighbours who have given up their time to help start this project.

SNH is currently working with the local community group, the main land owner (West Lothian Council) and a local farmer, to develop a Skolie Burn management plan which aims to restore the SSSI grassland, improve public access and provide environmental education. 

Posted in Access, bees, biodiversity, citizen science, Community engagement, conservation, Ecology, Flowers, Insects, Land management, meadow, Orchids, plants, Projects, Scotland's Protected Places, SNH, SSSI, Uncategorized, Volunteering, wild flowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,