Half a century down the road

Fifty years ago Scottish Natural Heritage hadn’t come into being and Scotland’s leading environmental agency was The Nature Conservancy.  Bodies like Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) and Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) were in their infancy. SNH’s Jim Jeffrey explores the Spring 1967 issue of the SOC magazine.

The Nature Conservancy Council carved crest.

If you wanted the low down on what was happening with Scotland’s birds then the lovingly crafted little SOC quarterly magazine (Scottish Birds) was the thing to get your hands on. It was stumbling across a copy of this busy magazine dated Spring 1967 that nudged me into thinking about how things have changed in the last half century.

I’d barely dipped into the simple black and white magazine when with some interest I spotted that the famous historian T. C. Smout, then a strapping youngster, held a leading editorial role. Professor Chris Smout, our Historiographer Royal in Scotland as he is today, was actually SNH Deputy Chairman between 1991 and 1997. Although best known for his seminal Economic and Social History work – A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830 –  the environment was always an abiding passion for him, and this was clearly demonstrated by his role with the SOC.

The magazine’s introduction advocated that if you wanted to help birds, and get to know more about them, then you should also consider joining bodies such as the RSPB and BTO – and it was interesting to note that the RSPB’s Scottish office was at this time run by George Waterston. George would play a major role in ensuring the survival of Scotland’s returning ospreys in the 1950s, and would no doubt have approved of the SOC magazine – particularly given that he came from an Edinburgh family associated with the printing industry. Fittingly today his name lives on at the SOC headquarters – Waterston House – in Aberlady; named so as to acknowledge his huge environmental passion and commitment in Scotland.

Cover of the Scottish Ornithologists Club magazine 1967.

Looking at the layout of old magazines from the lofty heights of today’s colour and pdf-laden era provides a stark contrast with a bygone time. Nevertheless the simple, yet striking, line drawing that adorned the cover back in 1967 has lost none of its charm 50 years later.

Behind the charming cover followed the meat and drink of this publication – the text, which was earnest and sought to enlighten and entertain in equal measure. Numbers of Capercaillie in the Black Wood of Rannoch along with Redwings breeding in Sutherland were vying for prime column inches in what was a crammed edition.  A few grainy black and white images jostled with the dense text to capture the reader’s attention.

Of course, from an SNH perspective it was lovely to stumble across a detailed reference to not just one, but two of our National Nature Reserves (NNRs). Shetland’s Hermaness NNR was the setting for the first article in the magazine, which looked primarily at numbers of great skuas on Scotland’s most northerly NNR.  There were some astute descriptions of the occasionally aggressive nature of these birds, and the many challenges of achieving an accurate count. A host of other seabirds received an honorary mention too, with the ever-popular puffins proving just as challenging to count given their near constant toing and froing.

A report from the previous nesting year on the beautiful Isle of May (another SNH NNR) included an excited reference to a dipper being spotted … “only the second since the Boer War”!

A brief summary of other wildlife to be found on ‘The May’ included the following good news about the insect life on the island. “In two visits he (Malcolm Smith of the Nature Conservancy)”, it was noted “has added 71 species to the island’s list of Coleoptera (which now stands at 169 species) and verified a 60-year-old record of one species by a chance discovery at the bottom of a corn-bin in the tomato shed!”

There are plenty more historic gems to enjoy, so without spoiling your enjoyment of the issue (for it is there on the excellent and recently revamped, SOC website for all to enjoy) I’ll move on to the adverts – which do date things very quickly.

Various binoculars were advertised, and none are housed in the sleek multi-coloured bodies we now view as the norm. There were echoes of Henry Ford’s comment in the solid and chunky black options available. Likewise the holiday offerings of trips to Hungary for £8 or the Dolomites for £11 (whilst expensive in their day) sound strangely affordable when expressed in 1967 pounds, shillings and pence. A trip to Iceland carried the added enticement that the flight would be on a ‘New Boeing Jet which has just come into service’, but the real highlight was I suspect the chance to see a sea eagle. The RSPB had placed an advert that equally speaks of yesteryear as it noted that it needed new members if it was to expand on its suite of just eight reserves.

Scottish Birds – 1967 vintage – is a great read, but don’t take my word for it. Visit https://www.the-soc.org.uk/about-us/scottish-birds-soc-s-journal/past-issues and indulge in a little nostalgia.







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