Now that the better weather seems to be here to stay, we can all start thinking about trips to the seaside and walking the dog without the need for full winter gear. A popular walk near Aberfeldy lies along the River Tay, but many people walking there are completely unaware of the natural treasures all around them.
If you keep your eyes, ears and nose open – you will be amazed at what you come across. The brightly coloured butterflies and moths; the distinctive songs of cuckoos and skylarks; the barking of roe deer and foxes; the distinctive liquorice smell of sweet cicely; and the more subtle aromas of woodland and grassland herbs. Part of the riverbank walk near Aberfeldy runs through the Weem Meadow Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Officially recognised and legally protected, SSSIs are the best examples of Nature in Scotland. The clue is in the name and Weem Meadow has a wonderful variety of wild plants and insects found in a now rare habitat that was once quite common.
Hay meadows like Weem are not 100% natural, but the long established, traditional management ensures it continues to support an enormous variety of Scotland’s less obvious wildlife. In 50 years Scottish farming has gone from heavy horses to satellite controlled fertiliser spreading, and we tend to think of agriculture now as totally based on modern technology. While that is important, without the bumble bee and other pollinating insects, crops of tomatoes, oil seed rape and just about every kind of soft fruit, would amount to nothing.
The role that bumble bees and other insects play in pollinating our crops is one of the most obvious ways in which we still depend on Nature. Despite all of farming’s modern technology, such as GPS controlled tractors and combine harvesters that cost as much as a house, the humble bumble and its striped cousin the hoverfly remain vital to ensuring there is food in our supermarkets and on our tables. And you just need to listen to the buzz of bees in your garden, local park or favourite country walk to appreciate that they work very long hours; from first light to sunset. Just have a think about all the food you eat in a week and you will realise how much of it is there because of pollinating insects.
Of course they don’t do this just for our benefit. It’s a great example of how People and Nature both gain. Although we literally get the fruit of their labours, they get pollen and nectar to keep them alive and raise their young. We can help keep this collaborative effort going by providing food for them, in the form of wildflowers (lots of garden varieties don’t produce much pollen or nectar) throughout the spring, summer and autumn, and leave some slightly untidy places where they can lay their eggs, shelter from the worst weather and hibernate during winter.
Saturday 2 July is National Meadows Day and events like the one at Weem Meadow will explain the importance of these fast-disappearing, flower-rich habitats for all sorts of reasons. If there isn’t an event close to where you live, just Google “wildlife gardening” and you will find lots of ideas for things you can do in your garden, on your farm or in your school grounds or local park. And remember that those tireless workers are responsible for much of the food on your table.
Because of the benefits Nature still provides for even the most modern farming, it’s very appropriate that Weem Meadow survives on Donnie Campbell’s working farm.
If you would like to find out more about Weem Meadow and see some of its wonders at first hand, you might like to join us when we hold our Open Day on Saturday 2 July 2016. In return, we would ask you to please remember three things.
- Weem Meadow is both an important wildlife site and part of a working farm, so please follow the Outdoor Access Code – as we hope you do everywhere you go in the countryside.
- On the day, access to the meadow will be on foot only from the village of Aberfeldy, or Weem.
- There are more details available on our website
Part of our job is to identify the bits of Scotland that are most important for Nature so that landowners and those who make decisions on the use of land, such as Planning Authorities and other government organisations, can make their decisions in a way that doesn’t jeopardise the future of our wildlife. Comprising about 14% of Scotland, these wildlife sites help protect important examples of geology, wild plants, animals and the habitats they need to survive.
The information Service on our website has loads of information on where you can find 100 SSSIs. Unlike Nature Reserves, SSSI’s are rarely signposted; they are there to be discovered and to explore with your own senses.
All images by Lorne Gill/SNH.