During the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, we’ve been joining SNH staff working along our shorelines and waterways to gain an insight into the varied work they do. Inevitably the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected much of the normal day-to-day activity at SNH. This month Catriona Reid, manager for the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve (NNR), reflects on a very different spring.
Our nature reserve staff, like everyone else, are all currently in lockdown and so our work at the moment is very different to a typical day at this time of year. Not that there is such thing as a ‘typical day’, with 50,000 visitors a year and over 1000 hectares of nature to manage!
Muir of Dinnet is a mixture of woodland, wetland and moorland and provides a huge range of habitats for birds, animals, plants and insects. We are also a popular visitor destination as everyone comes to see the Burn o’ Vat, a giant glacial pothole, carved by water and ice thousands of years ago. While we’re celebrating the Year of Coasts and Waters this year, it’s easy to forget so much of Scotland was shaped by water over the millennia.
At this time of year we’d usually be busy with activities such as monitoring our breeding birds, maintaining paths for visitors and leading school groups. May and June are the peak months for school visits, something nice in the outdoors for the end-of-term. We often work with the Cairngorms National Park Junior Rangers in May, doing some bushcraft and biodiversity….and hopefully having some fun too!
Normally, by this time of year, all the migrant birds have arrived and we can assess what we have on the reserve. More often than not, this is by listening rather than looking – the dawn chorus in the birch woods is a thing of beauty. It’s a real treat to see birds like redstarts or this osprey enjoying a fish on a fencepost, or we might be looking to see how the lapwing have done. Trying to spot the chicks as they dash in and out of the nettles is a real challenge! We also spend a fair bit of the time cutting grass and strimming paths for our visitors, too. Everything grows like stink at his time of year and it’s a constant battle to keep the paths clear of grass.
However, 2020 has been far from a normal year. In lockdown our involvement with nature, usually our raison d’etre, has suddenly been confined to our daily exercise walks or what we see going to and from the shops. But we have been doing our best to try and continue to bring nature to people at home through social media and blogs. A nice picture can brighten someone’s day and trigger memories of happier times. I enjoy writing about nature and love sharing pictures of it. Check out our blog https://muirofdinnetnnr.wordpress.com/ for more!
Personally, I’m really lucky as I live right on the coast and have fantastic wildlife within a short walk of my house. I’m probably one of the few people in the country who can have puffin on their ‘lockdown list’….my list of birds and wildlife seen during lockdown.
With being at home, you really see the passage of the seasons on the coast, with the birds pouring through on the great sky roads to the north or south. I often miss this, working inland, and it has been a real joy to see the wader passage, as curlew, golden plover, ringed plover and dunlin work their way north. They’ve been remarkably chilled-out this year (probably because there are fewer people and better-controlled dogs going about), and have hung around on the beach, taking a well-earned rest on their migration.
I’ve also noticed the terns coming back. They breed a few miles to the south of us but fish all up and down the coast. My favourites are the Arctic terns, easily (in my opinion) the most elegant of the sea-swallows and probably the greatest traveller in the natural world. Their annual migration can take them from Scotland to the Southern Ocean and back, via New Zealand, and they can fly the equivalent of to the moon and back in their lifetime. While I don’t aspire to go quite that far, I am very much looking forward to normality returning, not having to queue for the supermarket and being allowed to travel back to the reserve. Fingers crossed it will happen soon but in the meantime, stay safe, stay sane and enjoy the wildlife on your doorstep!