The Cateran Trail – a walkers dream

The Cateran Trail, aptly acknowledged as ‘the sort of Scotland walkers dream of’ by TGO magazine is a fully waymarked circular route through the spectacular Perthshire and the Angus glens.  Andy Barrie, is Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust’s Strategic Routes Officer and he provides an insight into the management of the trail.

Cateran Trail - Kirkton of Glenisla - © Mike Bell

Cateran Trail – Kirkton of Glenisla – © Mike Bell

The trail can be divided into five stages, which can be comfortably walked in five days. It has no official beginning or end and can be joined at any stage.

It mostly follows old drove roads and ancient tracks across a varied terrain of farmland, forest and moors, which includes some boggy bits especially after rainfall. It undulates with the land between and over hills, alongside rivers and burns, across rolling countryside, over bridges, and through towns. Its highest point reaches 650 m / 2,130 ft at An Lairig gate.

Cateran Trail - GlenIsla to the West © Mike Bell

Cateran Trail – GlenIsla to the West © Mike Bell

The top selling points of the Trail are definitely the views! The scenery of East Perthshire and the Angus glens is breath-taking and always leaves people in awe. Some great points of interest along the route include: Blackcraig, Dalnaglar and Forter castles; prehistoric buildings; the Upper Lunch Hut, once visited by Queen Victoria; Dirnanean Gardens (open in summer); Auchintaple Loch and Loch Shandra; Mount Blair (774 m / 2,440 ft); and a 19th century wrought iron bridge across the River Isla.

Cateran Trail - Feet crossing bridge © Zoe PKCT

Cateran Trail – Feet crossing bridge © Zoe PKCT

The land through which the Cateran Trail passes is held by 42 land owners, so our biggest management challenge is ensuring that all of the land owners continue to support the Trail and the people using it. It also means we aren’t able to simply carry out maintenance or other works along the Trail but need to get several different sets of permissions before we are allowed to work on any of the land.

Currently, we’re working on installing new self-closing gates funded by Scottish Natural Heritage at various points, new signage along the Cateran Mini Trail between Kirkmichael and Lair, and new drainage across the Trail to try to make it less muddy underfoot.

Plan a trip soon – find all you need at


Posted in paths, Scotland's Great Trails, SNH, Trail, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

#CycleForNature – an inspiring week!

Another three offices and three National Nature Reserves visited this week and 147 miles cycled. Now with four legs completed, #CycleForNature will soon look forward to pushing off again from Aviemore on 16 July. Today, following on from Wednesday’s post, Francesca reflects on the end of another inspiring, activity-packed week.

On Thursday, SNH colleague, David Shepherd, and I set off from Kinross to Falkland with Storm Hector at our backs. We had a brilliant ride on quiet roads and the strong tailwind meant that we arrived at the Falkland Stewardship Trust 30 minutes early!


David on the Falkland hill climb challenge

David suggested a hill climb challenge which was great and brought us back in perfect time to meet the Trust. The Falkland Stewardship Trust is part of the Centre for Stewardship which brings together a range of organisations supporting sustainable living and skills development in Falkland and beyond. It was great to meet staff and volunteers who are learning techniques as diverse as wood carving, rope skills and vegetable growing.


Staff and volunteers at the Falkland Stewardship Trust

Then on to the SNH office in Cupar, now accompanied by colleague Helen McGeorge, dodging the debris of Storm Hector.  The afternoon was spent in the office with colleagues discussing our shared aspirations for SNH and learning about the work of SNH in the area.

It was a relatively short hop this morning to Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. Here I met colleagues and volunteers and discussed some of the challenges and opportunities of reserve management and visitor engagement.  It was a pleasure to meet Gillian Fyfe,  a Tentsmuir volunteer whose butterfly report was published today by SNH.  Gillian has been analysing 40 years of data on butterfly numbers at the reserve and has produced an excellent report which you can find on our website – It’s inspiring to meet people with such a passion for Scotland’s nature.


Volunteer Gillian Fyfe’s butterfly report was published today

I had a good tour of the fantastic reserve before setting off for the final stop of this leg of #CycleForNature: Dundee waterfront.

At the waterfront I met Graeme McLean, the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland  project manager.  This is a cross-sector collaboration, supported by SNH, to maximise the potential of mountain biking in Scotland. Projects include development of new and sustainable trails and working with the National Access Forum to manage conflict. All of which supports SNH’s mission to connect people and nature and encourage everyone to enjoy Scotland’s amazing natural assets in a positive and sustainable way.


Leg 4 finished with a meeting with the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland project.

Cycle For Nature is raising funds for the Scottish Association for Mental health.

Posted in Access, active travel, biodiversity, citizen science, Community engagement, Cycle for Nature, cycling, Flanders Moss NNR, National Nature Reserves, SNH, Staff profile, sustainable travel, Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Planning for Great Places

Peter Hutchinson, SNH’s Supporting Good Development Activity Lead, explains our new approach to engaging in the Planning System.

When it comes to planning, it’s good to talk – and the earlier the better.  Sharing ideas, considering the benefits of nature, being visionary about ‘place’ and helping to find solutions, is the thinking behind our new approach to engaging in the planning system.

After listening to our customers, considering the direction of regulatory and planning reforms, and reflecting on the need align our work to the whole of the government’s programme, we have recently launched  Planning for Great Places – a new service statement to strengthen the connection between people, development and nature.

Planning for great places cover

Our aim is to be more active in helping to make Scotland the best place to live, work, visit and do business.  We want to focus our efforts on:

  • early and upstream engagement in the planning system
  • stronger working with business interests
  • clearer advice that is alert to other interests

This is fine in theory, but what will it mean in practice? Our new approach has four key priorities:

First, sharing knowledge about Scotland’s nature – we want to help others see and understand the benefits nature gives us all and how our natural assets can be part of developments.  Our Sharing Good Practice programme has proved to be a good start, but we want to do more.  We want to develop good practice with the people who make our great places:  for example, working with the Civil Engineering Contractors Association and supporting their recently established environmental forum.

Planning for great places 2

Second, investing in nature – we want to work with business interests, such as City Deals and housing sector partnerships to help them invest in nature.  We want to help them maximise the competitive advantage from our nature.  As recently illustrated by the tourism book, The Rough Guide, promoting Scotland as the most beautiful country in the world, our nature is pretty special! It supports a range of social and economic benefits – from jobs to climate change to people’s wellbeing.

Planning for great places 3

Third, supporting plan and place making – we want to continue to work with planners, other key agencies, communities, developers and others to support a plan-led approach to delivering development.   We want to work together to plan how best to use nature.  A good example of the sort of approach we want is the Midlothian Green Network map which carefully planned active travel routes and other green networks.

Midlothain Green Network

And fourth, providing advice that enables good development.  We want to help achieve the right development in the right place. And for this, we want to help make any development as good as it possibly can.  We want to talk to development interests as early as possible, whether individually or through sector or industry groups.

Planning for great places 4

Collectively, and by working in an inclusive and engaging way, we hope that these priorities will help planning for great places – connecting people and nature and supporting good development.

If you would like to keep in touch with our work to help Planning for Great Places, please sign up for updates via our twice-yearly Planning Bulletin sign-up form.

Posted in Uncategorized

#CycleForNature – half way there

Our blog today catches SNH Chief Exec, Francesca Osowska,  with three and half legs behind her and at the half way point in her epic active travel challenge. To celebrate she went on a duck survey, met a delegation of Chinese environmental officials, enjoyed a BBQ and cycled less than 15 miles.

Leg four of #CycleForNature began at Stirling train station on Monday morning.  Great planning or an excellent coincidence meant that this leg of #CycleForNature coincided with Bike Week.  It was therefore fitting that the first stop was the Stirling Cycle Hub (with their amazing huge map) to talk about promotion of active travel, e-bikes and local food provenance, among other subjects.  The mission: get people out of their cars as much as possible.  To support this, the Hub run a number of courses, work with local businesses, hire out bikes and have a great drop-in centre at the station.  It’s beginning to pay off with more cycle commuters in Stirling and e-bike hire has the potential to be a game changer for many people.  Great to see.

It was then a short cycle to the SNH office via the Stirling Old Bridge for an outdoor meeting with Brian Roberts and David Hopper of Stirling Council.  The key topic to discuss was the recently announced Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal worth £90.2m.  The City Park is one of the projects that was part of the bid document and discussions are now actively underway about realising the vision of more active engagement with the River Forth running through the city to support economic, cultural and social prosperity.  In addition, improving connectivity for visitors so that they stay in and around Stirling to see everything that the area has to offer, is a key aim.  SNH is involved in supporting this vision so that development can occur in a sympathetic way to nature found along the river bank.  The beginning, I hope, of a long an collaborative partnership.


After an energising discussion with colleagues in the SNH office in Stirling, six of us set off to cycle to nearby Flanders Moss NNR.  It was lovely to experience such tranquillity close to the city and it is an easy cycle on quiet roads.  After hearing about the history of the reserve from reserve manager, David Pickett (“If Flanders Moss was a football team, it would be Tottenham Hotspur”), we went up to the viewing platform to be rewarded by fantastic views.  I was lucky enough to be there when the Bog Gallery was in residence.  Fantastic art from pupils of Port of Menteith Primary, Thornhill Primary and McLaren High schools who’d spent time on the bog and in class capturing the beauty of bog plant life.  A great example of engaging young people in nature.  Two colleagues and I then made the 44 mile cycle journey to Perth, which was beautiful in the evening sun.

Tuesday morning started with a leisurely cycle from the centre of Perth to SNH’s Perth office in Battleby.  I’ve never done it by bike before and having done it once, I now think I should do it more!  It’s an easy flat, mainly off road path that starts off along the river.  I spent most of the day in Battleby at a Senior Leadership Team meeting and then an informal discussion with staff in the Battleby office.  Again, very insightful and incredibly useful to me as I build up a picture of the organisation.  Wheels rolled for the cycle from Battleby to Kinross at 17:15.  Six started the journey and, having dropped off a colleague in Perth city centre for the train (great example of active travel), five happy souls rolled into Kinross.

On Wednesday, I made the arduous half mile cycle from Kinross to the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve.  Loch Leven NNR is incredibly accessible and that’s probably why it attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year.  I was to spend the morning with volunteers surveying tufted ducks.  It’s not as easy as you think, they are elusive birds who build elusive nests!  The volunteers were much better than me and I soon realised that my best strategy was to watch for the ducks breaking cover.  This survey work is incredibly important so that we have a dataset for the population, and it could not be done without the help of our volunteers.  It was great talking to the volunteers, many of whom have been volunteering at Loch Leven for a number of years.  All talked about the great camaraderie that came from volunteering and how much they enjoyed supporting their local NNR.


I briefly welcomed a Chinese delegation of officials from China, all involved in environmental protection, to the NNR.  They are on an eight week visit to the UK, including one week in Scotland.  They were interested in SNH’s role and how we interact with government and other agencies.  This was followed by a merry band of us cycling the 13 mile Loch Leven Heritage Trail which runs around the loch.  It’s a fantastic path suitable for walking, cycling and is accessible for wheelchair and motorised scooter users.  It’s incredibly popular and it was great to see it being so well used.  My visit coincided with the annual Loch Leven barbecue to thank all the volunteers for being so generous with their time.  A relatively small gesture given all the hours that our volunteers provide: it seemed appreciated and was a great end to the day.


Posted in Access, active travel, Birds, Community engagement, conservation, Cycle for Nature, cycling, Flanders Moss NNR, National Walking and Cycling Network, Uncategorized, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , ,

Affordable homes, Greener Places

Ivan Clark, our Plan and Placemaking Team Manager explains how we can deliver better quality greenspace in social housing developments.

Social Housing Report 2018 - Friends of Halfway Park © Southside Housing Associatio

Arlene MacLeod and John Williamson Moss Heights residents and Pauline Fletcher, Community Initiatives manager at Southside Housing Association beside the Green Infrastructure project site at the Halfway Park by Moss Heights, Cardonald, Glasgow. ©Lorne Gill

Scotland’s urban green spaces provide a range of benefits for people and nature. They can provide opportunities for people to connect with nature close to where they live, spaces to grow food and refuges for wildlife. Green space can also provide valuable services such as managing flood water and mitigating the effects of air and noise pollution. Considering green spaces as ‘green infrastructure’ in this way can help to create successful places with healthy, thriving communities.

Social Housing 2018 - A raingarden in social housing in Malmo, Sweden © SNH

Social Housing 2018 – A rain garden in social housing in Malmo, Sweden © SNH

Over the past year I’ve been working with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, Architecture & Design Scotland, Scottish Government and others to explore the opportunities for delivering better quality green infrastructure in social housing developments. Today, we publish a report of that work “Maximising the benefits of Green Infrastructure in Social Housing

The report suggests there are currently few examples in Scotland of social housing that fully maximises the potential of green infrastructure to deliver multiple benefits for tenants and the wider urban environment. It found that there is a general lack of awareness of the costs of different elements of green infrastructure and its benefits amongst social housing providers. In addition, the way that social housing is currently being delivered means that the detailed design of the spaces around buildings is not considered until later on in the process. There is still a perception that good green infrastructure is a ‘nice to have’ rather than a fundamental aspect of a successful place.

The research identifies several recommendations including the need to establish a stronger business case for green infrastructure. In other words, we need better information on exactly what,  say , a green roof costs compared to its ‘grey’ alternative or what the costs/benefits are of using some land for sustainable drainage compared to the costs of mowing ‘amenity’ grassland several times a year. We need to get better at selling the benefits of green infrastructure by delivering and then sharing some examples of good practice on the ground. Part of this may be to provide some support to social housing providers in the early stages of procurement to enable them to establish a more robust design brief that delivers more public benefits from the land around the buildings.

The report also recommends that we find a better way of monitoring the quality of places that are currently being delivered through ‘More Homes Scotland’, the Scottish Government’s affordable housing investment programme. This might mean expanding the scope of the current Value for Money tools for new affordable housing so that the benefits of the ‘green’ aspects of housing developments are recognised more explicitly.

Social Housing 2018 - Initial design image for Southside Housing Association’s Halfway Project © Southside Housing Association

Initial design image for Southside Housing Association’s Halfway Project © erz Ltd

We believe everyone should have a good quality home that meets their needs and that nature can play a key role in making places where people can thrive and lead healthy lives. We will continue to work with colleagues in the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and Scottish Government to look at how the recommendations can be implemented in a way that supports the provision of more affordable homes for more people and greener places where people have more opportunities to connect with nature.

Social Housing 2018 - family on the bench © SNH

Connecting people and nature © SNH

Find out what else we are doing to help deliver better green infrastructure in Scotland




Posted in biodiversity, Green infrastructure, Planning, SNH, Uncategorized, urban nature | Tagged

Scotland’s natural features improved

SNH recently released a report looking at the condition of Scotland’s natural features. SNH’s Site Condition Monitoring Data Manager Brian Dickson explains some of the findings and shares a few examples of the work we’ve done with partners.

Calgary Dunes ©Jan Dunlop

Calgary Dunes ©Jan Dunlop

Scotland’s protected nature – including wildlife and local beauty spots that boost local and national economies – are continuing to improve, and encouraging more people to connect with Scotland’s natural heritage.

Despite a small drop of less than 1% in the last year, a new Site Condition Monitoring (SCM) report by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) shows nearly 8 in 10 of Scotland’s natural features are ‘either in or recovering towards a favourable condition’ – a  4.3 per cent increase since targets were established in 2007.

Much recent improvement has come through SNH, its partners, and private landowners tackling invasive non-native species; and over-grazing on protected areas. In Argyll and Bute, SNH worked with Mull and Iona Community Trust to help manage grazing levels on species-rich machair grasslands at Calgary Dunes SSSI. After years of overgrazing degraded the health of grasslands, improved management helped local flowers, herbs, and grasses to recover, and host a thriving population of insects and bumblebees. Today the result is flourishing greenspace, run by local people.

Jan Dunlop, Mull and Iona Community Trust Ranger, said: “Before work began, visitors to the grasslands were viewing seemingly barren fields. Our 2017 plant survey shows there are now many more flowering plants, and we hope to build on this with even more diversity this year.”

SNH is also working with volunteers so more people can access Scotland’s natural features. At Lynn Spout SSSI, an overhanging tree was proving a risk to the future stability of the local trail, until SNH funded and helped with its removal. Volunteers removed vegetation obscuring the gorge, and the local community and friends group is improving the path network, for more people to enjoy.

Alastair Adamson, Sub-Committee Chairman for Dalry Community Development Hub, said: “Dalry Community Development Hub is very appreciative of the support and assistance provided by SNH during the restoration of the Lynn Glen Trail. The clearance of the SSSI geological exposure by the enthusiastic TCV volunteers, and the removal of a tree that would have ended up damaging it, has created an interesting focal point on the trail which again can be enjoyed and well used by the local community.”

A rare plant risking extinction was revitalised following a project partnership by SNH and Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. Whorled Solomon’s seal is found only at steep sided wooded gorges in Perthshire, and was greatly threatened by erosion and landslips. RBGE grew plant stock, transplanting it to locations in Perthshire identified by SNH as having at-risk populations including the Den of Riechip Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Den of Airlie SSSI, helping to bring this beautiful plant, with its white bell-shaped flowers and elegant, long leaves back to the wild.

Whorled Solomons Seal (c)Lorne Gill/SNH

Whorled Solomons Seal (c)Lorne Gill/SNH

These are only a few examples of the work SNH is doing to help improve Scotland’s nature. Connecting people with nature is our key priority, and we know our partners feel the same. But there is more to be done. We are committed to working with our partners and private landowners to manage and improve protected areas, so they can be enjoyed now, and for generations to come.

If you’d like to read more, the full statistical publication is available on our website.

Posted in Research | Tagged , ,

Why you must experience the John Muir Way?

Elaine Macintosh, John Muir Way Development Officer of Central Scotland Green Network Trust explains the extent of the John Muir Way and the opportunities it offers.

Dunbar Beach East Lothian - SNH SGT JMT 238 (c) Becky Duncan Open Aye

Red sandy rock coastline with green grass, Dunbar © Becky Duncan Open Aye

When I first heard about the John Muir Way, I’d no idea it passed so close to my home. As almost half of Scotland’s population live within ten miles of this long distance route, I suspect I’m not alone!

One of Scotland’s Great Trails – and one of Central Scotland’s great adventures – the John Muir Way stretches 134 miles coast to coast across the country’s heartland, linking the best of the area’s landscapes and heritage. Running between Helensburgh in the west and Dunbar in the east, it takes in Scotland’s first National Park Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, the Kilpatrick Hills, the Antonine Wall and its Roman forts, the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals, the Falkirk Wheel, Linlithgow Palace, the Forth Bridges, capital city Edinburgh, castles, estates, woodlands, stunning coastline and John Muir’s birthplace museum in Dunbar. It is a route of surprising diversity and contrast.

Kilpatrick Hills 17 - credit Becky Duncan Open Aye c.i.c

Kilpatrick Hills © Becky Duncan, Open Aye

The route commemorates John Muir, the great conservationist who was born in Dunbar in 1838 and whose work led to formation of America’s National Parks and protection of wild places.

The John Muir Way is well-served by a wide range of facilities and offers an excellent introduction to long distance walking (9-11 days) and cycling (4-5 days). Terrain is mostly easy to moderate, with some more challenging upland stretches. For cyclists, much of the route is off-road and a mountain, hybrid or very sturdy touring bike is recommended. Good public transport links mean the route can be easily completed in sections or day trips. An end-to-end expedition offers, in the words of one walker from the USA, ‘an adventure of a lifetime’. Being close to so many people, it is popular as a charity challenge.

John Muir Way - Forth bridges - SNH SGT JMT 129 (c) Becky Duncan Open Aye

John Muir Way – Forth bridges – SNH SGT JMT 129 © Becky Duncan Open Aye

The John Muir Way has secured funding for a 2-year Marketing and Business Engagement Officer, so exciting times lie ahead as we develop plans to encourage greater use of the route and work with tourism businesses to highlight the economic opportunities of the John Muir Way.

The John Muir Way offers opportunities for more than just a long distance expedition: such as local communities getting involved in ‘Planting for Pollinators along the John Muir Way’; and heritage projects like the John Muir Artists Residency.  A John Muir Way Activity Guide contains ideas and resources to help groups and individuals explore the John Muir Way and increase understanding of John Muir’s legacy by getting closer to nature.

Edinburgh - SNH SGT JMT 200 (c) Becky Duncan, Open Aye

Edinburgh – John Muir Way  ©Becky Duncan, Open Aye

To find out more about the John Muir Way, visit the route website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted in active travel, John Muir, paths, Scotland's Great Trails, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Securing Nature for Future Generations

Sally Thomas, our Director of People & Nature, attended the Securing our Natural Environment for Future Generations symposium on 23-24 May. This event was organised by the UK’s Statutory Nature Conservation Agencies (Joint Nature Conservation CommitteeNatural Resources WalesNatural EnglandScottish Natural HeritageDepartment of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland) and the British Ecological Society to set the direction of travel for nature conservation in the UK. Here, she shares her thoughts on the conference.

Securing our Natural Environment for Future Generations (c)British Ecological Society

Securing our Natural Environment for Future Generations (c)British Ecological Society

The ‘Securing our Natural Environment for Future Generations’ Symposium in Manchester was a great opportunity to put what we do at SNH into a wider context, think about the future for nature conservation, and test our working assumptions. Is the approach to conservation that we’ve developed over the last 25-50 years likely to stand us in good stead for the next 25-50 years?

Thought-provoking contributions from the speakers included how to move from a narrative of protection to one of restoration, responding to environmental change, action for species and ecosystems in a landscape scale context, and how to engage young people from BAME communities. There were also some great positive references to SNH and our work.

Over 200 people from all over the UK attended Securing Nature for Future Generations (c)British Ecological Society

Over 200 people from all over the UK attended Securing Nature for Future Generations (c)British Ecological Society

The first session set the scene through the ‘challenges and opportunities’. John Lawton gave an excellent overview of 100 years of conservation, noting that what were to become protected areas in the early 20th Century were generally larger areas set in a matrix that was, overall, benign or kind to nature. Through the mechanisation and increased use of chemicals in farming this pattern changed especially over the last 50 years to one of smaller and more isolated protected areas set in a matrix that is much more hostile to nature. The solution, from ‘Making Space for Nature’, of ‘more, better, bigger, joined’ protected areas can only work if they are set in an environment kinder to nature. Activity on protected areas must go hand-in-hand with activity in the surrounding countryside, and that is exactly the thrust of our own 2020 Challenge work on protected areas.

John Lawton, making space for nature through more, better, bigger, joined protected areas set, crucially, in a countryside that is kinder to nature. (c)British Ecological Society

John Lawton, making space for nature through more, better, bigger, joined protected areas set, crucially, in a countryside that is kinder to nature. (c)British Ecological Society

The standout presentation for me was from a young naturalist from Fermanagh, Dara McAnulty. Aged just 14, he challenged us to be more positive about young people and their engagement with the environment. Highlighting the common phrase about a lost generation he challenged us “we are not lost, we just haven’t been found’. In the Year of Young People that feels a lot like a challenge for us at SNH.

14-year old Dara McNulty stealing the show for young people: “we are not lost, we just haven’t been found” (c)British Ecological Society

14-year old Dara McAnulty stealing the show for young people: “we are not lost, we just haven’t been found” (c)British Ecological Society

Louise Macdonald reinforced Dara’s presentation with some great examples of co-design and joint work between Young Scot and SNH on the ReRoute Panel. Helena Craig (Black2Nature) continued the theme of ‘who is conservation for’ with a view from the BAME communities. Looking at the almost all white audience, it was easy to see how conservationists could unconsciously stereotype audiences to create a largely single white view on how to connect with nature. If nature is for everyone we must reflect that diversity in our policy and practice.

Tony Juniper and Henk van Zeijts both challenged us to be pragmatic and flexible in accepting a range of motivations to protected and enhance nature. We already use at least four (science, aesthetic, intrinsic and spiritual values), so why not add a fifth to make explicit the benefits that people derive from nature? Conveying that through the language of natural capital can help to make the political case for restoration.

Chris Thomas put matters into perspective emphasising how nature changes in both space and time. Change is the only constant and we need to learn to live with that. For instance, almost all of the vascular plant species in landscapes deemed to be of high nature conservation value are not native to them, rather, resulting from selection and management by people. Since the 1600s, over 2000 species have been brought into Britain, and none have been lost. Baselines in conservation are arbitrary and indefensible. He gave us three principles to look forward: accept change (it isn’t the same as ‘loss’); maintain flexibility, including genes and species to provide the building blocks to fuel future change; and, think global (what is Britain important for globally, including assemblages and landscapes?).

Chris Thomas putting a persuasive case on the need to accept change and thinking global – what is Britain important for, globally? (c)British Ecological Society

Chris Thomas putting a persuasive case on the need to accept change and thinking global – what is Britain important for, globally? (c)British Ecological Society

Hazel Curtis (Seafish UK) reinforced earlier points about the importance of co-design, especially in fisheries to reduce the otherwise escalating transaction costs of implementation and monitoring. One striking image showed a 90% reduction in by-catch as a result of changing trawling techniques. She also endorsed the importance of John Lawton’s ‘matrix’, noting that sustainable use of marine resources is as important as protection.

Susan Davies (SWT) brought these points together in a well-argued case for placing species management in a landscape context, co-designed and relating to wider social and economic interests and concerns.

Susan Davies (SWT) on co-designing species management at a landscape scale (c)British Ecological Society

Susan Davies (SWT) on co-designing species management at a landscape scale (c)British Ecological Society

There was much more, including much on food and nature, and the recently appointed Chief Scientific Adviser for Marine, Colin Moffat, kept our energy levels high with a great talk on marine ecology and the important roles that we each play as individuals through our lifestyles and what we choose to consume.

SNH staff were involved in presenting, chairing workshops and contributing in other ways to make the Scottish presence keenly felt. An event like this doesn’t happen by accident, so full praise to the organisers from BES and the four agencies, with Clive Mitchell and Des Thompson representing SNH.

You can see more photos and reactions from the day by searching #N4FG on Twitter.

Posted in Uncategorized

Beauty and innovation at Beinn Eighe NNR

George Winter, from Derby, recently spent 4 months volunteering at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. However, this was far from his first time volunteering for outdoor work! Here he tells us about how his passion for the Scottish Highlands grew from experiences as a child, about the reserve, and what woodland management on a highland NNR involves.

George and Shadow the dog keeping a keen eye out on the reserve for Golden Eagles ©George Winter/SNH.

George and Shadow the dog keeping a keen eye out on the reserve for Golden Eagles ©George Winter/SNH

When I was five years old, my grandparents won a holiday to Gairloch and I was lucky enough to be taken along with them. Since then, I’ve been transfixed by the landscape of the northwest highlands. What became annual visits to the region, shaped nearly every aspect of the person I am today. But beyond my personal connection to Wester Ross, there are many reasons why the opportunity to work with the team at this unique NNR is an opportunity I’d recommend to anyone.

Looking across to Liathach and the hills of Coulin Forest after a day on Beinn Eighe ©George Winter/SNH

Looking across to Liathach and the hills of Coulin Forest after a day on Beinn Eighe ©George Winter/SNH

The landscape of Beinn Eighe is seemingly all encompassing, with climatic zones ranging from temperate rainforest near the shores of Loch Maree to an environment not unlike the Arctic Tundra on the summit plateau.

Visually, it is a timeless landscape. When looking around from high up on the mountain, you can quite easily imagine the scraping and deep cracking of glaciers as they carved out the landscape over 10,000 years ago (especially with how much snow and ice has covered the hills this past winter!). More importantly, however, you can imagine into the future: a mountain shrouded by Scots Pine, Birch, Alder and the other flora that once dominated not only Beinn Eighe, but the whole of Caledonia. For the scientist, student or volunteer, there can surely be few places more exciting to get involved.

Ascent to Spidean Corrie nan Clach: taking in the spectacular views of the mountains ©George Winter/SNH

Ascent to Spidean Corrie nan Clach: taking in the spectacular views of the mountains ©George Winter/SNH

One of my responsibilities at Beinn Eighe was to help thin the forest whilst creating deadwood habitat. This meant winching trees over to create a horizontal log in which mosses, lichens and insects can mulch and leaving the exposed roots and soil for burrowing animals to make a home.

We’ve also been aiming to leave vertical, rooted deadwood. This is achieved by snapping trees rather than pulling them over entirely, thus creating the perfect environment for birds, squirrels and pine martins.

Preparing for a day of tree winching with fellow volunteers Rich and Andy ©George Winter/SNH.

Preparing for a day of tree winching with fellow volunteers Rich and Andy ©George Winter/SNH

There was a bonus to our methods: as the tops of trees are brought to the ground, we have been able to access large quantities of pinecones for seed collection. These masses of pinecones are soaked twice, before being placed in trays slotted in a wooden container with a heater beneath them. This mimicking of natural processes releases their seeds that are then frozen to prepare for the following spring.

In the run up to this spring, we have been busy sorting the thousands of saplings that will be planted on to the mountain slopes to further extend the forest. In order to both condense the load and secure the survival of the trees themselves, we have been tightly bundling them in groups of 15. In addition to the dominant Scots Pine, we have worked with Alder, Elm, Holly, Rowan, Oak and Willow. Although my volunteering will have finished before the actual distribution, it is exciting to know that in the future, when I return, I’ll be able to look up at the forest and know I played a part in the re-generation of our ancient woodland.

Volunteers move to a different site after carefully managing an area of forest through the practice of thinning ©George Winter/SNH

Volunteers move to a different site after carefully managing an area of forest through the practice of thinning ©George Winter/SNH

I’ve also had the opportunity to help run several wildlife cameras. So far we’ve had no luck with the pair of golden eagles, but buzzards, pine martins, badgers, mice and roe deer have all made an appearance. One of the cameras has been set up in an accessible location in order for visiting school groups to learn about capturing footage of animals. Luckily, this has been one of our most successful locations, so far.

Looking across to Spidean Corrie nan Clach from the main plateau above Coire Mhic Fhearchair ©George Winter/SNH

Looking across to Spidean Corrie nan Clach from the main plateau above Coire Mhic Fhearchair ©George Winter/SNH

You may wonder what the living situation is when volunteering for a long stretch of time at the NNR. With a large hostel connected to the field office, sharing a living space has been a fun and highly social experience. After a day’s work in the forest, other volunteers and I have been able to enjoy communal meals, board games and movie nights. At the weekend, this community aspect leaves you with the option of a group walk, or some alone time with some of the best backcountry terrain in Europe to explore. I was somewhat nervous about getting bored after committing to such a long stretch of volunteering, but it’s been quite the opposite!

My time at Beinn Eighe NNR has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my life so far: not only have I had the opportunity to learn about the ecology of an area I have always cared about deeply, but it has inspired me to return to University and finish my degree after previously leaving at the end of my 2nd year. I re-join in September!

You can find out more about the Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree Islands National Nature Reserve here.

Posted in Beinn Eighe NNR, National Nature Reserves, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , ,

Ainmean Gàidhlig air na Maoraich / Gaelic Names for Marine Molluscs

Tha liosta de dh’ainmean Gàidhlig airson 85 maoraich a ghabhas lorg timcheall costa na h-Alba air a dhol a-mach gu co-chomhairleachadh poblach / A list of proposed standard Gaelic names for 85 marine mollusc species in Scottish waters has gone out to public consultation.

Northern cowrie and Spotted cowrie -SNH

Northern cowrie and Spotted cowrie (C) SNH

Trusadh Ainmean nam Maorach

Tha pròiseact airson ainmean coitcheann aontachadh do na sligean-mara as cumanta timcheall oirthir na h-Alba a-nise a’ sireadh beachd a’ phobaill air na h-ainmean a chaidh a thaghadh. Mar phàirt dhen phròiseact, rinneadh rannsachadh litreachais agus chaidh agallamhan a chumail le ceithir duine deug, a’ chuid as motha aca sna h-Eileanan an Iar, airson na h-ainmean a tha iad fhèin a’ cleachdadh a chlàradh. Far nach robh ainm Gàidhlig ri fhaighinn airson gnè maoraich, chruthaich an sgioba-phròiseict ainm ùr, stèidhichte air feartan na slige no air a h-ainm ann am Beurla. Chuir iad ri chèile cuideachd briathrachas co-cheangailte ri maoraich – agus bidh sin mar an ceudna mar phàirt dhen cho-chomhairleachadh.


Limpits (C) SNH

“Fo shar-stiùir an eag-eòlaiche chladaich, an t-Àrd-ollamh Stiùbhart Aonghas, tha ar sgioba-phròiseict bheag air ainmean Gàidhlig a thaghadh airson 85 gnèithean,” tha Oifigear Gàidhlig SNH, Robyn Ireland, ag ràdh. “Tha ar rannsachadh a’ sealltainn gu bheil grunn ainmean uaireannan air an aon ghnè mhaoraich, agus gun do chailleadh na h-ainmean airson cuid eile uile-gu-lèir. Airson foghlam agus ghnothaichean nàiseanta, a bharrachd air sgìrean far a bheil a’ Ghàidhlig lag an-diugh, bha sinn airson ainmean a mholadh do luchd-labhairt na Gàidhlig, tidsearan agus luchd-ionnsachaidh airson ’s gum biodh iad misneachail a thaobh a bhith a’ cleachdadh a’ chànain air a’ chladach agus ann an co-cheangal ris a’ mhuir.”

Gheibhear lorg air a’ cho-chomhairleachadh aig; dùnaidh e Dihaoine 15 Ògmhios 2018.

Gathering Names for Shellfish


Hermit crab in a borrowed shell – (C) SNH

An SNH project to create a standard Gaelic name list for the more common marine molluscs found in our waters is now open for public consultation, with the nomenclature team hoping that the general public will feed in their opinions on the suggested names.

The project involved an extensive literature search and subsequent interviews with 14 Gaelic-speaking informants, most of them in the Western Isles, with the purpose of finding extant names for shellfish and creating new names where no recorded form exists. The project team also put together a vocabulary of Gaelic terms associated with marine molluscs, which is likewise part of the public consultation.


Horse mussels

“Under the expert direction of coastal ecologist, Professor Stewart Angus, our small project team has come up with recommended Gaelic names for 85 species,” says SNH’s Gaelic Officer, Robyn Ireland. “Our research showed us that some species have multiple names, while in other cases the names have been lost entirely. For the purposes of education and national discourse, as well as for locations where Gaelic is no longer widely spoken, we wanted to provide species names for Gaelic-speakers, teachers and learners so that they might be encouraged to use the language on the seashore and in connection with the marine environment.”

The consultation can be accessed at and closes on Friday 15 June 2018.

A flame shell on a maerl bed.

A flame shell on a maerl bed (C) SNH

Posted in beach, beaches, coastal, cowries, Gaelic, Marine, sea life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,