Giving to nature and getting back

To mark the start of this year’s Volunteers’ Week, Steven Neish, who has volunteered for seven years at our Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve, explains the quid pro quo of helping nature.

Every week, at NatureScot National Nature Reserves the length and breadth of the country, volunteers offer their time and energy for the betterment of natural habitats, their animal denizens and human visitors. This week is the 39th annual Volunteers’ Week, the theme is Celebrate And Inspire and it’s a chance to give back to those already giving back – and to perhaps encourage others to do the same.

Hide and seek: NatureScot volunteer Steven Neish says it’s far from all work and no play, with lots of opportunities for socialising and befriending.

There is always something to be done on a dynamic and ever-evolving nature reserve, and only so much that can be attended to without some help – despite the best efforts of dedicated teams of permanent and seasonal staff. Every new tide, strong wind and mating seal makes its mark on the landscape and has the potential to do untold damage to beaches, forests and infrastructure in the process – not to mention the impact of people on the environment, too.

Feeding stations need replenishing, litter needs picked and paths need maintained, but tasks differ by day and by location. The reserves are as distant as they are diverse, and a shift at Forvie NNR is going to be very different to a season on the Isle of May. At almost every location, however, there is going to be something for everyone to contribute; some way to improve access and accessibility to nature. The great thing about volunteering is that it’s voluntary – you can only do what you can do, and it’s all appreciated.

As invaluable as these altruistic contributions might be, though, the truth is that volunteering is very much quid pro quo. Whether it’s the sense of belonging that comes from being part of a team or the purpose and accomplishment derived from having tasks and completing them, the rewards are great. Volunteers learn new skills, master unfamiliar equipment and open themselves up to novel experiences. These might inform other roles or help with employability, but they may just as importantly ignite new passions or simply build confidence.

Bee kind: There’s always maintenance and management tasks to be carried out on nature reserves, as they are evolving natural spaces.

Then there is the boon to physical and mental health. Sweeping out hides, replacing fence posts and wading into water all use vastly different muscle groups – encouraging exercise and building strength. Being outdoors can also work wonders for mental health, not just immersing oneself in natural beauty but also in a supportive, inclusive and appreciative environment. It’s little wonder the NHS prescribes volunteering as a therapeutic, noting its positive impact on wellbeing – linked in part to increases in socialisation.

Arguably the greatest bonus of all is meeting people and making friends with shared interests and a common goal. Especially in times of remote work, social isolation and lonesomeness. Not only can loneliness lead to anxiety and depression, but it can also increase a person’s susceptibility to everything from heart disease to dementia – a risk to health comparable with smoking and obesity. Conversely, befriending boosts mood, builds self-esteem and improves quality of life.

After all, volunteering is far from all work and no play. On occasion, it can involve hosting events or school excursion, visiting sister sites and meeting other teams, as well as Christmas gatherings and other celebrations. Not to mention the simple pleasure of sitting down for a well-earned tea break, a slice of homemade cake and a bit of a chat after a satisfying morning’s work. If you’re lucky, there might even be a barbecue – the perfect encouragement and recompense on a cold winter’s day.

Natural talent: The staff and volunteers at Tentsmuir NNR look after a site spanning coastline to woodland.

This has certainly been my experience. Over seven years at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve, I’ve counted dragonflies and cleared up after storms; visited St Cyrus, Muir of Dinnet and St Abb’s Head and welcomed some of their teams to Tentsmuir; encountered and photographed amazing animals, from red squirrels and kingfishers to common seals and roe deer; and I’ve both pushed myself and tested my limits, almost always surprising myself in the process.

I’ve also eaten and talked and laughed. I’ve made friends, played games and tried a lot of specialty teas. I’ve fallen in love with the history, geography and character of Tentsmuir Forest, Tentsmuir Beach and Morton Lochs, and even left a mark of my own, in new fences, saplings and bird boxes. I’ve given my time and energy to support others – plant, animal and human – but nobody has got more out of it than me.

Take a look at what’s happening near you for Volunteers’ Week, and find out more about the wide range of organisations offering opportunities for volunteering.

Steven Neish’s nature and travel blogging can be followed on Twitter.

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Tamborine Mountain: An Australian lesson for Scotland?

Roddy Maclean argues that the botanical knowledge and heritage of the Gaels should be more widely celebrated in Scotland’s botanic gardens.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig / Read in Gaelic

I have a long-standing relationship with Australia, and a particular interest in its native flora, so whenever I am in the country, I seek to visit a national park or botanic gardens to top up my appreciation of that floristically unique part of the world. This year, I spent some time in the Lamington National Park in south-east Queensland, walking through its magnificent sub-tropical rainforests whose unique species owe their origins to a time when Australia was further south, cooler, better watered and part of the great southern super-continent of Gondwana. Under the dark, dense rainforest canopy, the harsh Australian sun was filtered out and I walked in glorious coolness.

With regard to the country’s indigenous heritage, there has been a general improvement over the last couple of decades in terms of the respect shown to the relationship the Aboriginal people had, and have, with nature and environment. This has extended, in some national parks, for example, to including the local indigenous interpretation of nature in signage and literature – taking in names of species, place-names and even creation legends. Lamington National Park is in a stage of transition, with a commitment to more engagement with the Aboriginal community, and I expect to see improvements in the years ahead. Hopefully, the sign at the entrance to the park that refers to it as originally being unmapped ‘wilderness’ (before the coming of Europeans) will be replaced. The park has many places, which were known, named and mapped (orally) by the local people who knew the area intimately. In a similar way, we should resist the use of the word ‘wilderness’ as is sometimes applied to the Scottish Highlands.

When I left the national park to visit the Tamborine Mountain Regional Botanic Gardens, a short distance away (in Australian terms), I was not really expecting very much. However, I was blown away by the place. The collection of trees and shrubs, both local and international, is stunning. The gardens are well designed and beautifully maintained. And, crucially, the indigenous heritage is given due regard – to the pleasure and edification of visitors. Not for the first time, it made me question why it is that similar places in Scotland rarely highlight the Gaelic heritage connected to plants and nature.  There are stories to tell, and we should tell them.

Tamborine Mountain Regional Botanic Gardens in south-eastern Queensland. The name Tamborine is thought to derive from a local Aboriginal word, meaning a tree species known in English as a ‘wild lime’. Picture: © R. Maclean

There are information panels throughout the Mount Tamborine gardens and many of them refer to the Aboriginal people and their heritage. They tell of the traditional uses for many of the plant species – in construction of dwellings and weaving of baskets, for food and medicines, for stunning fish and polishing wooden implements. They even refer to the assistance given to the incoming Europeans who learned much from the indigenous people. It places Aboriginality in the position of being the senior partner in terms of knowledge and ability to live in a balance with the land, at least in those early days of colonisation. Unfortunately, the respect that some settlers would have had for the indigenous people was not universal, and the process of colonisation was, for most of them, painful at best, murderous at worst.

The Wanggeriburra of the Tamborine area are a ‘clan’ within the Yugambeh people. Around a thousand words of their unique dialect were recorded, along with their cultural practices connecting them to the local rainforest. Only around two hundred people now speak the broader Yugambeh language. Picture: © R. Maclean 
Picture: © R. Maclean

Names do not appear to have been recorded for all species. Alpinia caerulea is a member of the Zingiberaceae (the ginger family) and is known in English as ‘native ginger’. It occurs in Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. Despite the lack of an Aboriginal name, at least at Tamborine Mountain, the panels in the gardens do tell us that the Aboriginal people ate the fruit and roots of this species (although such basic knowledge of an unfamiliar species can be dangerous as very often the indigenous people prepared foods to remove toxins). So, I did not pop one of its beautiful blue fruit in my mouth!

Alpinia caerulea or ‘native ginger’. The shoots and roots can be used as a ‘ginger substitute’, and it is said that the flesh of the fruits is edible if rather sour (although the author’s natural caution meant that he cannot confirm this!)
Picture: © R. Maclean

A particular feature of the native flora of Tamborine Mountain is the abundance of palm trees. A notable example is the Bangalow palm, also known as the Piccabeen palm, both names boasting an Aboriginal origin. There are wonderful groves of this beautiful tree in the gardens, and many of them show off their aerial roots which are an adaptation to growth in swampy conditions. These trees were used by the local people to make dishes and string (see pictures below).

So, what of Scotland? With regard to Gaelic, we surely have some advantages over many Aboriginal groups. We have only one language to deal with, we boast as many speakers as all the Australian languages added together, and many people can read at least some Gaelic (with a million learning on Duolingo), so we can actually do some interpretation in Gaelic. The same applies to the Scots language.

But, more than that, there is, as in the world of indigenous Australia, a Gaelic narrative of nature – unique animal and plant names, place-names connected to nature, traditional stories, literature and heritage – which can be told in English or any other language, and which we should make much more of in our interpretation in gardens, heritage sites and national parks. Which are our protective plants? Which act to stop blood-flow? Which have ‘supernatural’ powers? Which are connected in Gaelic tradition to historical or mythical characters? Which of them were traditionally eaten or used to make drinks, and which can be used to dye various colours?

Detail from an information board about the blackwood tree (Acacia melanoxylon) which grows down the eastern seaboard of Australia as far south as Tasmania. The information provided about the species for visitors includes traditional uses by indigenous people. Such an inclusive approach, and respect for indigenous heritage, is gradually becoming more common in Australia, but has a long journey ahead with regard to Gaelic in Scotland. Picture: © R. Maclean

It was interesting to note that a likely majority of the visitors on the day I was at Mount Tamborine were of eastern Asian ancestry (there is a Japanese garden as part of the display which might explain that to some degree). As in Scotland, the visitors to public spaces are of diverse origin. But regardless of where visitors hail from, there is only one indigenous language and heritage, and only one narrative of that, regardless of whether it is told in English or Japanese. That is the attitude we need to take in Scotland, particularly in the Gàidhealtachd. The Gaels have stories to tell, and they should be told with pride.

There is one final comment that needs to be made. Many Scottish gardens do not showcase our native flora in any meaningful way, preferring to display species that originate overseas. Perhaps more of our garden managers need to be encouraged to see the beauty in the local and indigenous, in addition to the exotic. And that might apply to language, as well as plants.

This blog was written by Inverness-based writer, broadcaster and storyteller Roddy (Ruairidh) Maclean, whose work highlights the connections between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment.

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Tamborine Mountain: Leasan do dh’Alba ann an Astràilia?

Tha Ruairidh MacIlleathain ag ràdh gum bu chòir barrachd aire a thoirt do dh’eòlas nan Gàidheal air lusan ann an gàrraidhean poblach na h-Alba.

Leugh ann am Beurla / Read in English

Tha dlùth-cheangal agam do dh’Astràilia, agus ùidh nach beag agam anns na lusan anns an dùthaich sin. Mar sin, gach turas a bhios mi a’ tadhal air Astràilia, bidh mi a’ dol gu pàirc nàiseanta no gàrradh luibheach airson m’ eòlas air nàdar ùrachadh. Am-bliadhna, chuir mi seachad ùine ann am Pàirc Nàiseanta Lamington ann an ceann an earra-dheas Tìr na Banrigh, a’ coiseachd tro a coilltean-uisge fo-thropaigeach a tha air leth brèagha. Dh’èirich cuid de na lusan ann nuair a bha Astràilia na b’ fhaide gu deas, na bu fhionnaire, na bu fhliche agus mar phàirt de mhòr-thìr Ghondwana. Fon duilleach dhorch, dhùmhail, bha mi air mo dhìon an aghaidh solas  cruaidh na grèine, agus ʼs e a bha tlachdmhor!

A thaobh dualchas dùthchasach na dùthcha, tha piseach air tighinn air an spèis a thathar a’ sealltainn do na tùsanaich agus don cheangal a th’ aca do nàdar agus don àrainneachd. Tha sin a’ gabhail a-steach an dualchas sin a thaisbeanadh ann an soidhnichean agus fiosrachadh sgrìobhte, a’ gabhail a-steach ainmean lusan, ainmean àiteachan agus eadhon mòr-sgeulan nan daoine. Tha Pàirc Nàiseanta Lamington ann an suidheachadh sealadach, agus ùghdarras na pàirce a’ gealltainn tuilleadh cheanglaichean a thogail le coimhearsnachd nan tùsanach anns na bliadhnaichean romhainn. Bhithinn an dòchas gun ùraich iad an soidhne aig geata na pàirce a tha ag innse dhuinn nach robh anns an àite mus tàinig na h-Eòrpaich ach fàsach neo-mhapaichte. Gu dearbh, tha àiteachan anns a’ phàirc air am biodh na tùsanaich a’ tadhal gu cunbhalach. Bha na ‘mapaichean’ nan claignean! Mar an ceudna, air a’ Ghàidhealtachd againne, bu chòir dhuinn cur an aghaidh an fhacail ‘fàsach’ mar thuairisgeul air ar dùthaich ghràdhaichte.

Nuair a dh’fhàg mi a’ phàirc nàiseanta airson tadhal air Leas Luibheach Sgìreil Tamborine Mountain, pìos beag air falbh (air slat-tomhais Astràilianach), cha robh mi an dùil gum biodh cus ann a bha togarrach no tarraingeach. Ach is mi a bha ceàrr! Tha na craobhan is preasan ann, an dà chuid feadhainn Astràilianach agus feadhainn à thall-thairis, dìreach àlainn. Tha cumadh snog air an leas agus tha e ann am fìor dheagh òrdugh. Gu sònraichte thathar a’ toirt spèis, agus prìomhachas, do dhualchas nan tùsanach – rud a tha tlachdmhor do luchd-turais. Chuir mi a’ cheist orm fhìn – carson a tha a’ chuid as motha de dh’àiteachan de a leithid ann an Alba a’ seachnadh innse dhuinn mu dhualchas nan Gàidheal co-cheangailte ri lusan agus nàdar. Tha rudan ri aithris nach eilear a’ cluinntinn.

Leas Luibheach Sgìreil Tamborine Mountain ann an ceann an earra-dheas Tìr na Banrigh. Thathar a’ dèanamh dheth gu tàinig ‘Tamborine’ bho fhacal aig na tùsanaich a’ ciallachadh craobh air a bheil ‘wild lime’ ann am Beurla.
Dealbh: © R. Maclean

Tha panailean fiosrachaidh timcheall Leas Mount Tamborine agus tha gu leòr dhiubh ag innse dhuinn mu na daoine dùthchasach agus an dualchas. Tha iad ag innse mar a bhathar a’ cleachdadh cuid de na lusan – leithid airson bothain a thogail agus basgaidean a shnìomh, airson biadh agus leigheasan, airson èisg a chur gun mhothachadh agus airson innealan fiodha a lìomhadh. Tha iad eadhon ag innse dhuinn mun taic a thug na tùsanaich don luchd-tuineachaidh Eòrpach le eòlas air na lusan a ghabhadh cleachdadh. Tha e a’ toirt prìomhachas do na tùsanaich aig an robh sàr-chomas fuireach beò anns an tìr sin, le cothromachadh eadar iad fhèin agus an àrainneachd. ʼS iongantach mura robh spèis gu leòr aig cuid de na h-Eòrpaich air na tùsanaich aig an àm sin ach cha do mhair an suidheachadh fàbharach sin. Anns an fharsaingeachd, dh’fhuiling na tùsanaich gu mòr fo bhuaidh nan Eòrpach.

ʼS iad na Wanggeriburra ann an sgìre Thamborine ‘cinneadh’ ann an sluagh nan Yugambeh. Chaidh mu mhìle facal dhen dualchainnt àraidh aca a chlàradh, maille ris na cleachdaidhean aca co-cheangailte ris a’ choille-uisge ionadail. Chan eil ann an-diugh ach mu dhà cheud duine aig a bheil cànan nan Yugambeh. Dealbh: © R. Maclean
Dealbh: © R. Maclean

Tha e coltach nach robh ainmean air an clàradh airson a h-uile gnè-lusa. Tha Alpinia caerulea na bhall dhen teaglach Zingiberaceae (na dinnsearan) agus tha e aithnichte ann am Beurla mar ‘native ginger’. Tha e ri lorg ann an Tìr na Banrigh, Cuimrigh Nuadh a Deas agus an Tìr mu Thuath. Ged nach eil ainm tùsanach ann, co-dhiù aig Tamborine Mountain, tha na panailean anns an leas ag innse dhuinn gum biodh na tùsanaich ag ithe nam measan agus nam freumhaichean aig an lus àraidh seo. Ge-tà, cha robh mi deònach gin de a mheasan bòidheach a chur nam bheul oir gu tric bhiodh na tùsanach a’ deasachadh na leithid ann an dòigh shònraichte nam biodh iad aithnichte mar phuinnseanta no cronail.

Alpinia caerulea no ‘native ginger’. Tha na gasan òga agus na freumhaichean so-ithe, agus thathar ag ràdh gun gabh glaodhan nam measan brèagha liatha ithe ged a tha e rudeigin searbh. Ach bha an t-ùghdar gu math faiceallach agus cha do dh’fheuch e e! Dealbh: © R. Maclean

’S iad na craobhan as motha a tha a’ comharrachadh sgìre Thamborine na craobhan-pailm, gu sònraichte a’ phailm Bangalow no Piccabeen, agus an dà ainm ag èirigh à tùsan dùthchasach. Tha doireachan àlainn dhen chraoibh àird, dhìrich anns na gàrraidhean seo, agus feadhainn dhiubh a’ taisbeanadh an cuid fhreumhaichean ‘adharail’ a chumas beò iad ann an suidheachaidhean air leth fliuch. Bha na craobhan seo air an cleachdadh le muinntir an àite airson truinnsearan agus sreang a dhèanamh (faicibh na dealbhan gu h-ìosal).

Ma-thà, dè mu dheidhinn Alba? A thaobh na Gàidhlig, tha sinn ann an suidheachadh làidir an coimeas ri gu leòr de bhuidhnean thùsanach Astràilianach. Chan eil againn ach aon chànan, tha an aon uiread ann dhinn ʼs a bhruidhneas cànanan tùsanach Astràilia air fad, agus tha gu leòr ann a leughas co-dhiù beagan dhen Ghàidhlig (le millean duine ga h-ionnsachadh air Duolingo). Mar sin, faodaidh sinn ar cànan fhèin a chleachdadh ann an taisbeanaidhean de nàdar. Tha an aon rud fìor mu Albais.

Ach a bharrachd air sin, tha sgeul Gàidhlig againn mu nàdar, dìreach mar a th’ aig tùsanaich Astràilia. Tha gu leòr ainmean lusan is ainmean ainmhidhean againn a tha sònraichte. Tha ainmean-àite co-cheangailte ri nàdar, stòiridhean traidiseanta, litreachas agus dualchas a ghabhas aithris ann am Beurla no cànan sam bith agus a bu chòir nochdadh barrachd ann an gàrraidhean poblach, làraichean dualchais agus pàircean nàiseanta. Dè na lusan a tha gar dìon? Cò an fheadhainn a chuireas casg air sruthadh fala? Cò an fheadhainn aig a bheil cumhachd ‘os-nàdarrach’? Dè na lusan a tha co-cheangailte, ann an sealladh nan Gàidheal, ri caractaran eachdraidheil no mac-meanmnach? Cò an fheadhainn a bh’ air an ithe no a bh’ air an cleachdadh airson deochan a dhèanamh agus cò an fheadhainn a ghabhas cleachdadh airson dathadh?

Fiosrachadh air panail mun ‘blackwood’ (Acacia melanoxylon) a tha a’ fàs air taobh sear Astràilia cho fada deas ri Tasmania. Tha am fiosrachadh a’ gabhail a-steach mar a bhiodh na seann tùsanaich ga cleachdadh. Tha a leithid seo, far a bheilear a’ taisbeanadh spèis do dhùthchasaich Astràilia, a’ fàs nas cumanta ann an àiteachan poblach. Ma tha Alba gu bhith a’ leantainn an aon rathaid, bu chòir tòiseachadh cho luath ʼs a ghabhas! Dealbh: © R. Maclean

Bha e inntinneach faicinn na bh’ ann de luchd-tadhail ann am Mount Tamborine le sinnsearachd à taobh sear Àisia (tha gàrradh Iapanach ann agus math dh’fhaodte gu bheil sin mar phàirt dhen adhbhar). Mar ann an Alba, buinidh luchd-tadhail do chaochladh dhùthchannan. Ach, a dh’aindeoin sin, chan eil ann ach aon chànan agus dualchas a bhuineas don sgìre, co-dhiù tha sin air a thaisbeanadh ann am Beurla no Iapanais. ʼS e sin an seasamh a tha a dhìth oirnne ann an Alba, gu h-àraidh air a’ Ghàidhealtachd. Tha sgeulachdan aig na Gàidheil ri innse, agus bu choir an innse le moit.

Dh’fhaodainn aon rud eile a ràdh. Tha gu leòr de leasan luibheach ann an Alba nach eil a’ taisbeanadh ar lusan dùthchasach, ged a tha iad fìor dhèidheil air feadhainn a thàinig o thall thairis. Bhiodh e laghach nam biodh an stiùirichean air am brosnachadh gus bòidhchead fhaicinn anns na rudan a bhuineas dhuinn fhìn, a bharrachd air an fheadhainn a thig à dùthchannan cèin. Tha sin fìor mu chànan, a bharrachd air lusan.

Bha am bloga seo air a sgrìobhadh le Ruairidh MacIlleathain, a tha na sgrìobhadair, craoladair, eòlaiche-nàdair is sgeulaiche, stèidhichte ann an Inbhir Nis.

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Water Saving Tips for Your Garden

Sue Marrs, NatureScot’s Freshwater Policy Manager, shares some easy tips for using less water in your garden.

It’s UK Water Saving Week. In Scotland we do have a lot of water, but it is not always in the right place and at the right time, so water saving is relevant here too. In addition, every drop of water delivered to our homes is so clean that we can drink it and that takes a lot of effort. So much effort that the UK water industry accounts for 1% of our total national carbon emissions through chemical treatments and transportation. So, although we are one of the most water rich countries in the world, it doesn’t make sense to pour drinking water over our gardens.

Here are a few tips:

For lovely grass, less is more

Society sets unattainable and undesirable ‘beauty’ standards for lawns, with images of smooth striped expanses of a single shade of green. A mixed sward, neatly cut if you must, is so much prettier.

Raise the cut height on your mower. This will encourage stronger, more resilient, plants that will compete with moss and seek out water during dry spells. Many lawns struggle as the grass is too short and does not have enough leaf area to capture light for energy.

Wiggling your toes in soft fresh grass is one of life’s simple pleasures.

During dry spells, cut your grass less. Watering discourages deep root growth and if the lawn does go brown, it will grow back when the rain returns.

If you are struggling with moss, try removing cores of earth to improve drainage before reaching for the chemicals, which just treat the symptoms rather than solving the problem. Coring also helps if soil is hard (compacted) and so allows water to penetrate for the plants to use later.

It’s in the soil

Plants use water that is in the spaces between soil particles. Adding organic matter to any soil will improve its ability to hold water.

Lovely home compost ready to add to soil.

The more we cover our soil over the more water runs off into storm sewers and the less water soaks into the soil to be available in dry weather. So try to have as few hard surfaces in your garden as possible.

Watering leaves can encourage fungal growth in warm weather, especially for water stressed plants. So in dry spells, target watering at the roots using water spikes or a watering can rather than spraying with a hose.

Established shrubs very rarely need watering as their roots run deep. Protect new plants with a layer of mulch until the roots develop. If you get autumn leaves in your garden, leaf mulch is free and keeps weeds down too. Step away from the leaf vacuum and pile them in a corner to rot down a wee bit before use.  

Natural is best

Water from a butt is better for the plants and in warmer weather will not ‘cold shock’ plants in the same way mains water can. Harvesting water can also help prevent flooding from overstretched storm sewers. If you don’t have an outside tap, a water butt is a very handy and cheap alternative. This water can also be used for washing the car, external bins or anything else that doesn’t need drinking water levels of hygiene.

Collecting rainwater – in a water butt, buckets or watering cans – to use in your garden is an easy way of saving mains water.

It’s best to water early in the morning or in the evening, although slugs enjoy the evening water too. Never water at midday as you will lose more by evaporation.

Being waterwise in your garden is good for the planet, it is also good for you and your garden. Don’t just take our word for it, find out more from the people who really know gardens at the Royal Horticultural Society: or waterwise:

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Connecting the nature dots: the path to 2030

Christian Christodoulou-Davies, NatureScot’s Project Manager for 30×30 and Nature Networks explains why this year is an important marker for Scotland on the road towards its 2030 goal.

The year 2030 will arrive not so much unannounced but at an unnerving speed. In 2023, you might wonder why that matters, but work on two of NatureScot’s key projects – Nature Networks and 30×30 – is motivated on a daily basis by the ambition to reach the global target to effectively safeguard 30% of the planet’s land and water for nature by 2030.

Known as 30×30, nearly 200 countries have now signed up to contribute to this commitment through domestic action, increasing the coverage of their effectively managed protected and conserved areas. 

Conservation volunteers at a Bioblitz day at Wester Moss SSSI near Stirling. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Scotland’s existing protected areas encompass some of our most important locations for biodiversity, including the rare and vulnerable. They also include diverse, and complex ecosystems which provide a range of services that benefit everyone, helping us mitigate and adapt to climate change. 30×30 looks to improve further on these sites, creating more of them and making sure they are better integrated into the wider landscape so that they can act as the beating, nature-rich heart of Scotland’s Nature Networks.

The vision is also for Scotland to have an evolving, flexible and resilient portfolio of these Nature Networks, connecting nature-rich areas, including all those in 30×30, allowing wildlife and natural processes to move and adapt to land use and climate change pressures. The networks will also help build people’s connection to nature, providing biodiversity-rich spaces that deliver local benefits, close to home.

This heatmap shows existing protected areas that will contribute towards
Scotland’s 30×30 target and where such designations overlap.

Background on these projects, and the story so far, can be found on our website and includes information from all previous NatureScot workshops on the subject, as well as recordings of some of our webinars.

Neither project is at a standing start. Already, 18% of Scotland is protected for nature and so the challenge ahead is both finding an additional 12% but also ensuring that the protected area types we already have are effective and delivering for biodiversity. Likewise ongoing projects under the Central Scotland Green Network as well as eNGO initiatives (see BugLife’s B-Lines) or National Park/Local Authority led work (see Cairngorms Connect or Scottish Wildlife Trust/City of Edinburgh Council’s Nature Network) as well as numerous landowner/manager and community led (see Yearn Stane project) projects are pushing forward with better connections in our landscapes for biodiversity and ecosystem service gain (such as cleaning our air or preventing flooding).

Finding an extra 12% – just shy of a million hectares – and making sure this is well connected across our landscapes is no small feat and can be tricky to wrap your head around. The figures below give a snapshot of how land is used in Scotland – if you’re after an even more visual breakdown of land use then you can check out this video from Friends of the Earth that takes you on a tour of land use in the UK in 100 seconds.

Modified from the Scottish Government’s Land Use and Rural Policy: Subject
Profile publication with greenhouse gas emissions data updated.

What’s clear from looking at the breakdowns is the number of different land use groups, stakeholders and communities who need to be involved  in order to ensure both projects deliver not just for biodiversity but also the people and businesses of Scotland. Again, it’s no small challenge but such a great opportunity to support others to be the champions of nature and biodiversity within their own areas.

The two frameworks for these projects, built from the co-design workshops in 2022, will be put out for consultation later this year alongside the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. While it’s possible there will be changes needed on the back of this consultation, it will be an opportunity to focus on some of the key aspects of implementation that will be required. For Nature Networks this will see NatureScot working much more closely with local authorities to understand the tools, support and resources they will need to bring projects to life on the ground.

Alongside the Scottish Wildlife Trust, we’re currently working on a CivTech challenge with AECOM to develop a tool that not only helps map opportunities for connectivity but also for investment in projects that will bring it about , as well as a platform for community engagement and development of such projects. A robust governance structure will also be developed.

For 30×30 we will be continuing to gather baseline information on habitats and species to help identify those areas in Scotland that are important for a broad diversity of nature yet currently outside the list of protected areas.

The typical component of a terrestrial ecological network. Source: Lawton et al., 2010.

Through participation with bodies such as the IUCN and various sectors within Scotland, such as public bodies, private landowners, organisations and environmental NGOs, we will be working to more clearly understand and demonstrate what form other effective area based conservation measures (OECMs) – a different way of safeguarding important areas for biodiversity that will complement our protected areas – will take in Scotland.

This year’s public consultation on the 30×30 and Nature Networks frameworks will provide more information and a formal means to provide comment on both of these areas of work. If, in the meantime, you have a query about either project, get in touch using the following email addresses: 30× /

Posted in biodiversity, climate change, conservation, Ecology, nature networks, Protected Areas, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Places where the Stags Roar

Roddy Maclean looks at places on our maps named for the bellowing of stags during the rut.

Leugh ann an Gàidhlig / Read in Gaelic

There is a wonderful Gaelic word, which has a hint of the onomatopoeia about it, that tells of a fantastic, wild sound to be heard, at a certain time of year, in the Scottish hills. The word, which appears surprisingly frequently on maps of the Highlands, is bùirich (pronounced approximately ‘BOOR-ich’ with a long ‘OO’) and here are its foremost meanings according to Dwelly’s Gaelic-English dictionary: ‘roaring as a bull, bellowing; wailing; growling; loud lament; low murmur’. In nature, the word can represent the roar of wind, the sea or a waterfall, the sound of thunder or the call of the mythical characters known as ùruisgean (urisks) near the streams that are their abode.

Why should such a word appear in place-names? Is it simply a descriptor of the howling of the wind in that location? Well, perhaps occasionally, but in most cases, I would submit that bùirich in the landscape represents the sixth meaning in Dwelly’s tome: ‘bellowing of deer in the rutting season’. Is there a finer sound to be heard in a remote upland location?!

A variant of bùirich is bùireadh, with the genitive form bùiridh (‘BOOR-ee’), which means, not only the sound, but the act of rutting. Dwelly tells us that a poll-bùiridh is a ‘rutting-place of deer’ (poll refers to a place which is boggy or full of peat hags). Both words often appear in lenited form as bhùirich (‘VOOR-ich’) and bhùiridh (‘VOOR-ee’) – and they both speak to us of the wildness of the fiadh ‘the [red] deer’ and, in particular, the damh or stag.

A number of years ago, I was attending the National Mòd – Gaeldom’s largest festival of music and culture – in Dunoon. The Mòd is held in October, the name of which month in Gaelic is An Dàmhair ‘the deer rut’ so, on my way home, as I approached Glencoe, I stopped by a lochan to see (or hear) if the stags were making their presence felt. And indeed, they were – I was almost assailed by a series of loud, challenging, primeval-sounding bellows coming across the moors and water from a hill known as Meall a’ Bhùiridh ‘the rounded hill of the roaring’ (or, as the Ordnance Survey [O.S.] Name Book prefers, ‘hill of the rutting’). It was one of those occasions (and they are not infrequent in the Highlands) when the toponymy and the current reality were in perfect consonance, and I arrived home a happy man!

Meall a’ Bhùiridh ‘the hill of the bellowing’ is at right across Lochan na h-Achlaise on Rannoch Moor. The author can attest to the wonderful sound of roaring stags that can be heard from the hill during the rut. ©R Maclean

Another hill of the same name is to be found in Glen Etive in Argyll, and the O.S. give its meaning as ‘the rutting hill’, but there is an adjacent hill-name that adds intrigue in this case. It is Meall nan Tarbh ‘the rounded hill of the bulls’. Given that bùireadh/bùirich can also refer to the roaring of a bull, is there here some recollection of a bovine presence in this environment? Did the heroine Deirdre, reputed to have lived in Glen Etive back in the days when time and events were more than misty, hear the roaring of bulls there? In those distant times, there were many more cattle to be found in Scotland’s hills, under the watchful eye of herdsmen, than is the case today. With regard to Deirdre, I pose the question, but I cannot provide the answer.

Beinn a’ Bhùiridh ‘the mountain of the bellowing’ is also the name of another hill in Argyll, in this case above Loch Awe. And, in the north-eastern Highlands, west of the ski resort at the Lecht, are two hills named for the behaviour of stags in the rut – Druim Bhùirich ‘ridge of roaring’ and Tolm Bùirich ‘hillock of roaring’. Nearby are Allt nan Aighean ‘the burn of the hinds’ and Allt nan Cabar, which might mean ‘the burn of the antlers’. Deer form a significant part of the toponymic landscape in this area.

Beinn a’ Bhùiridh ‘the mountain of the bellowing’ is adjacent to Ben Cruachan (Cruachan Bheann) in Argyll. Since this map was drawn, Allt Cruachan has been dammed for a hydro-electric scheme, forming the Cruachan Reservoir high in the hills. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

As might be expected, it is not only mountains that carry the element bùireadh. Corries are great places to hear the echoing of a stag’s roaring and we have Coire a’ Bhùiridh ‘the corrie of the bellowing’ near Loch Ailort in Lochaber; Allt a’ Bhùiridh ‘the burn of the bellowing’ issues from it. Close by is Meall Damh ‘rounded hill of stags’ which reinforces the connection with the animal. There is another corrie known as Coire a’ Bhùiridh in Ardgour; it is adjacent to Sàil a’ Bhùiridh ‘the mountain [literally “heel”] of the roaring’.

There is also Coire a’ Bhùirich (with the bùirich element being employed) in Glen Quoich in Lochaber, at the base of which there is a wood called Coille a’ Bhùirich. On the opposite side of the glen is Coire na Fèinne, one of a knot of place-names there that recall the legendary warriors known as the Fianna, who hunted the deer avidly and no doubt revelled in the bùirich they would hear at the time of the rut. Further east in Lochaber, south of Na Coireachan Liatha (The Grey Corries), is Meall a’ Bhùirich. There are at least four other hills known as Meall a’ Bhùirich in the North-West Highlands, between Ross-shire and Sutherland. In Assynt, there is also a pass called Bealach a’ Bhùirich.

In the Corrieyairack Forest, east of Loch Oich in the Great Glen, there is a hill known as Sròn a’ Bhùirich ‘the spur [or literally “nose”] of the roaring’. On its southern side is Leac nan Aighean ‘the slope of the hinds’. Another Sròn Bhùirich holds a commanding position in the Gaick Forest in Badenoch, a location that celebrates in its names and traditions the ancient legends of the Fianna and their chasing of the deer.

Sròn [a’] Bhùirich ‘the nose of [the] bellowing’ in Gaick Forest in the wild borderlands between Badenoch and Atholl. Sròn refers to a spur on a large hill or mountain (as to the north of the summit above) – and the name of the spur is then often given to the entire mountain. This area has been the site of deer hunts since time immemorial.
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

If I have given a picture of the words bùirich and bùiridh as referring solely to the roaring of stags in the rut, there is a final rider to put on that, and it is a fascinating one for anybody interested in the wildlife heritage of the Highlands. In a paper entitled ‘Sketches of the Early History of Strathardle’, delivered to the Gaelic Society of Inverness in 1889, Charles Fergusson writes about a folk memory of wolves in and around Strathardle (east of Pitlochry) in Perthshire. He sets the scene by saying that ‘so numerous and destructive were the wolves in Strathardle, Glenshee and Glenisla, that all tenants were bound by their leases to keep a pair of hounds for hunting the wolf and fox’.

Fergusson mentions places named for wolves in the strath and then comes to the ‘wolves of Ben Bhuirich [Ben Vuirich O.S.] [that] were reckoned the largest and most ferocious of all.’ Beinn Bhùirich, to give it its correct Gaelic name, is near Glen Fernate (Gleann Feàrnach) just to the north of Strathardle. Fergusson informs us that ‘Colonel Robertson in his “Historical Proofs of the Highlanders” says that that mountain took its name from the roaring of its wolves.’ Fergusson then quotes a poem from Atholl known as Òran nam Beann:

Chì mi Beinn a’ Ghlò nan eag,

Beinn Bheag is Airgead Bheann,

Beinn Bhùirich nam Madadh Mòr,

Is Allt Nead an Eòin ri a taobh.

I can see Beinn Ghlò of the notches

Beinn Bheag and Airgead Bheann

Ben Vuirich of the great wolves,

And Allt Nead an Eòin beside it.

There are other Gaelic words that one might expect to recall the howling of wolves – such as donnalaich, nuallanaich and ulfhartaich. But this blogger cannot rule out the possibility that bùirich in Perthshire (and perhaps elsewhere?) refers to the haunting howl of the wolf. And just to back up that possibility, the corrie to the immediate east of Ben Vuirich – three centuries after the demise of the species in Scotland – is given on maps as Coire nam Madadh ‘the corrie of the wolves’.

This blog was written by Inverness-based writer, broadcaster and storyteller Roddy (Ruairidh) Maclean, whose work highlights the connections between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment.

Posted in autumn, deer, Folklore, Gaelic, NatureScot, Placenames | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Far an Cluinnear an Damh Donn

Tha Ruairidh MacIlleathain a’ toirt sùil air ainmean-àite anns a bheil na h-eileamaidean bùireadh agus bùirich.

Leugh ann am Beurla / Read in English

Tha am facal bùirich a’ nochdadh gu tric air mapaichean na Gàidhealtachd, ach dè dìreach a tha e a’ riochdachadh? Ann an co-cheangal ri nàdar, faodaidh bùirich a bhith a’ riochdachadh fuaim na gaoithe, na mara no easa, fuaim an tàirneanaich sna speuran no gairm nan ùruisgean a tha a’ fuireach faisg air uillt ann an ceàrnaidhean dhen Ghàidhealtachd. Ach dè tha am facal a’ riochdachadh ann an ainmean-àite? Fuaim na gaoithe, math dh’fhaodte? Uill, math dh’fhaodte, ach tha faclair Dwelly a’ toirt na leanas dhuinn mar chiallan: ‘roaring as a bull, bellowing; wailing; growling; loud lament; low murmur; bellowing of deer in the rutting season’. Saoilidh mise gur e a’ chiall mu dheireadh a dh’fhàgas am facal air ar mapaichean.

Chithear an dà chuid bùirich agus bùireadh ann, agus tha an dàrna fear a’ ciallachadh fuaim co-cheangailte ri dàireadh nan damh, ach cuideachd an dàireadh fhèin. Tha Dwelly a’ toirt dhuinn poll-bùiridh airson àite far am biodh dàireadh a’ tachairt; fhuair e sin bho Raibeart Armstrong, fear à Siorrachd Pheairt a chuir faclair Gàidhlig ri chèile ann an 1825.

Ann an 2012 bha mi aig a’ Mhòd Nàiseanta ann an Dùn Omhain. Air an rathad dhachaigh, stad mi goirid air Gleanna Comhann ri taobh lochan ris an canar Lochan na h-Achlaise. Bha mi airson faighinn a-mach, leis gur e an Dàmhair a bh’ ann, an robh na daimh a’ bùirich. Agus, gu dearbh, ʼs iad a bha! Pìos air falbh bhuam, bha Meall a’ Bhùiridh, beinn a tha os cionn an raoin-sgithidh ann an Gleanna Comhann, agus abair am fuaim de bhùirich a bha a’ tighinn thugam thar mòinteach is uisge. Nuair a chì no a chluinneas sinn rud a th’ air aithris air na mapaichean, tha e gam thoileachadh gu mòr!

ʼS e Meall a’ Bhùiridh a’ bheinn as fhaide deas anns an dealbh, air taobh thall Lochan na h-Achlaise air Mòinteach Raineach. Tha ainm na beinne air leth freagarrach, mar a fhuair an t-ùghdar a-mach air latha foghair, agus e a’ tilleadh dhachaigh bhon Mhòd. ©R MacIlleathain

Tha beinn dhen aon ainm ann an Gleann Èite ann an Earra-Ghàidheal, agus tha an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais a’ mìneachadh an ainm mar ‘beinn an dàiridh’. Tha mullach eile faisg air làimh a chuireas ri sin oir ʼs e Meall nan Tarbh a th’ air. Tha bùireadh agus bùirich cuideachd a’ ciallachadh fuaim aig tarbh (no ʼs dòcha am fuaim a nì bò nuair a bhreitheas i laogh) – mar sin, a bheil, mar gum biodh, cuimhne anns na h-ainmean-àite air mar a bha crodh uaireigin pailt ann am monaidhean na Gàidhealtachd? Am biodh Deirdre fhèin (oir nach robh i a’ fuireach ann an Gleann Èite?) eòlach air bùirich nan tarbh an sin? Tha mi a’ cur na ceist, ach chan eil freagairt agam!

ʼS e Beinn a’ Bhùiridh ainm beinne eile ann an Earra-Ghàidheal, taobh Loch Obha. Agus air Gàidhealtachd an ear-thuath, siar air na goireasan sgithidh air Leac a’ Ghobhainn tha dà bheinn a tha ainmichte airson giùlan nan damh anns an Dàmhair – Druim Bhùirich agus Tolm Bùirich. Làimh ri sin tha Allt nan Aighean agus Allt nan Cabar, agus am fear mu dheireadh math dh’fhaodte a’ dèanamh tuairisgeul air cròicean fèidh. Tha eileamaidean co-cheangailte ri fèidh a’ nochdadh gu tric air aghaidh na tìre anns an sgìre sin.

Tha Beinn a’ Bhùiridh gu h-àrd ri taobh Cruachan Bheann ann an Earra-Ghàidheal. On a chaidh am mapa fhoillseachadh, chaidh dàm a thogail gu h-àrd air Allt Cruachan airson sgeama dealain-uisge. Le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba

Agus, mar a bhiodh dùil, chan e beanntan a-mhàin a ghiùlaineas an eileamaid bùireadh. ʼS ann sna coireachan as fheàrr a chluinnear mac-talla bùirich nan damh, agus tha coire air a bheil Coire a’ Bhùiridh faisg air Loch Ailleart ann an Loch Abar. Tha Allt a’ Bhùiridh a’ sruthadh às a’ choire. Faisg air làimh, tha Meall Damh, a tha a’ neartachadh nan ceanglaichean eadar beathach agus àite. Tha coire eile ann an Àird Ghobhar air a bheil Coire a’ Bhùiridh; tha e ri taobh beinn ris an canar Sàil a’ Bhùiridh.

Tha cuideachd Coire a’ Bhùirich ann an Gleann Cuaich ann an Loch Abar, le coille fodha air a bheil Coille a’ Bhùirich mar ainm. Air taobh thall a’ ghlinne, tha Coire na Fèinne, a tha a’ cuimhneachadh nam Fianna, a bhiodh a’ sealg nan damh agus a chluinneadh a’ bhùirich aca gu tric. Nas fhaide sear ann an Loch Abar, deas air Na Coireachan Liatha, tha Meall a’ Bhùirich. Tha co-dhiù ceithir beanntan eile air a bheil Meall a’ Bhùirich air taobh an iar-thuath na Gàidhealtachd, eadar Siorrachdan Rois is Chataibh. Ann an Asainte, tha bealach ann air a bheil Bealach a’ Bhùirich.

Ann am Frìth Choire Ghearraig, sear air Loch Omhaich anns a’ Ghleann Mhòr, tha beinn air a bheil Sròn a’ Bhùirich. Air an taobh a deas dhith, tha Leac nan Aighean. Tha Sròn Bhùirich eile ann am Frìth Ghadhaig ann am Bàideanach, àite anns a bheil dualchas nam Fianna làidir. Is iongantach mura cuala Fionn fhèin na daimh a’ bùirich anns an sgìre sin!

Sròn [a’] Bhùirich ann am Frìth Ghadhaig anns a’ mhonadh eadar Bàideanach agus Athall. Tha daoine air a bhith a’ sealg nam fiadh an seo o chian nan cian. Le cead Leabharlann Nàiseanta na h-Alba

Ma tha mi air dealbh a dhèanamh de na faclan bùirich agus bùireadh a’ buntainn a-mhàin ri fuaim nan damh anns an Dàmhair, tha cumha co-cheangailte ri sin, agus tha e gu math inntinneach do dhuine sam bith aig a bheil ùidh ann an dualchas nàdair na Gàidhealtachd. Ann am pàipear air a bheil ‘Sketches of the Early History of Strathardle’, a chaidh a lìbhrigeadh air beulaibh Chomunn Gàidhlig Inbhir Nis ann an 1889, tha Teàrlach MacFhearghais a’ sgrìobhadh mu chuimhne an t-sluaigh air madaidhean-allaidh ann an Srath Àrdail, sear air Baile Chloichridh ann an Siorrachd Pheairt. Tha e a’ tòiseachadh le bhith ag innse dhuinn gun robh na madaidhean cianail fhèin pailt, agus cronail, ann an Srath Àrdail, Gleann Sìth agus Gleann Ìle.

Tha e ag innse dhuinn mu àiteachan ainmichte airson mhadaidhean-allaidh anns an t-srath agus, an uair sin, tha e ag ainmeachadh ‘madaidhean-allaidh Beinn a’ Bhùirich [Ben Vuirich air mapaichean na Suirbhidh Òrdanais]’ agus a’ toirt dhuinn beachd gum b’ iadsan na madaidhean a bu mhotha agus a b’ fhiadhaiche a bh’ ann. Tha Beinn Bhùirich ri taobh Gleann Feàrnach dìreach gu tuath air Srath Àrdail.

Tha MacFhearghais ag innse dhuinn gu bheil ‘An Coirneal MacDhonnchaidh ann an “Historical Proofs of the Highlanders” ag ràdh gun d’ fhuair a’ bheinn a h-ainm bho bhùirich a madaidhean-allaidh’. Tha MacFhearghais an uair sin a’ toirt dhuinn ceathramh à seann dàn Athallach air a bheil ‘Òran nam Beann’:

Chì mi Beinn a’ Ghlò nan eag,

Beinn Bheag is Airgead Bheann,

Beinn Bhùirich nam Madadh Mòr,

Is Allt Nead an Eòin ri a taobh.

Tha faclan eile ann airson an fhuaim a nì madadh-allaidh, leithid donnalaich, nuallanaich agus ulfhartaich. Ach chan urrainn don bhlogair seo dearbhadh nach robhar a’ gabhail bùirich air a leithid ann an Siorrachd Pheairt (agus math dh’fhaodte ann an àiteachan eile?). Agus aon rud a chuireas taic ri sin – ʼs e an t-ainm a th’ air a’ choire air taobh an ear Beinn a’ Bhùirich – Coire nam Madadh.

Bha am bloga seo air a sgrìobhadh le Ruairidh MacIlleathain, a tha na sgrìobhadair, craoladair, eòlaiche-nàdair is sgeulaiche, stèidhichte ann an Inbhir Nis.

Posted in autumn, deer, Folklore, Gaelic, NatureScot, Placenames | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Curlew Day 2023: working together to make a difference

To mark World Curlew Day (21 April) in today’s blog our Ornithology Adviser Dave Parish takes a closer look at the plight of the species in Scotland and what is being done about it.

A curlew taking flight ©Olivia Stubbington

The Eurasian curlew is a familiar bird of open country, often found nesting on upland farmland and moorland, usually where there is a bit of rough cover to hide nests. Its striking appearance and the musical display flight of the males during spring and summer make the curlew a highly evocative bird that is, unsurprisingly, much-loved. Outside of the breeding season, curlew retreat mostly to coastal areas where they are able to access their preferred invertebrate prey in the wet mud exposed as the tides recede – indeed, UK curlews are joined by breeders from other countries and the total number here more than doubles. But, like so many of our breeding farmland birds, the curlew is in trouble.

A curlew in Orkney ©Kim McEwen

Since 1995, curlew numbers have fallen by 60% in Scotland. This trend shows no sign of slowing as numbers fell by 18% between 2010 and 2020. The story is similar in Wales and, to a lesser extent, in England, though both these countries hold fewer birds than Scotland, and the change in the number of curlews corresponds to a notable contraction in the species’ range across the UK. This is made even more significant because the UK hosts around 25% of the global population of curlew, so what happens here will have a significant global impact.

Curlew in Orkney ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

So what is causing their populations to fall? Much has changed in the curlew’s traditional breeding habitats, many of which have been lost (to forestry for example) or changed. On farmland, for example, many areas of rough grassland have been improved, often by resowing with fewer species of faster-growing grasses, which are then subject to more intensive practices like silage production or increased stock densities. Many wet areas too have been drained to again facilitate more intensive uses. Such changes have been happening over a long period of time as pressures on farmers to increase food production have mounted, but the findings from recent research suggest that the most pressing threat curlew face now is from egg and chick predators. Most breeding curlew in the UK simply aren’t producing enough young each year to maintain the population because predator numbers, like foxes and crows, are relatively high, and perhaps because modern breeding habitats are simpler and nests within them are easier to find.

Curlew in long grass. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

But let’s not lose hope! Conservationists have been aware of the curlew’s perilous status for some time and have begun developing and implementing plans to help them, and NatureScot is heavily involved in that. In 2015, conservationists declared the curlew to be the UK’s highest priority bird species for conservation action. Many readers will be familiar with environmentalist Mary Colwell’s sterling efforts in raising the profile of the curlew and indeed World Curlew Day was launched on the back of that. It is such efforts that focus the minds of many folk who can make a difference on the ground. Researchers and conservationists from countries throughout the curlew’s range now come together to share their findings and target resources where they are most needed.

Here in Scotland, the Working for Waders initiative is a partnership of like-minded organisations that promotes curlew conservation and supports projects on the ground to increase numbers and improve breeding success. With the right support and encouragement for farmers and others to maintain and create suitable habitat, and perhaps find ways of reducing predation pressure, there is hope for the curlew yet.

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Ponies, coastlines and rugged mountains – a pathway into deer management on Rum

Deer are an iconic species but in high numbers and with no natural predators, they can have a negative impact on biodiversity. Sustainable deer management not only benefits nature but is also an important part of the rural economy. In today’s blog, we hear from Beth Lamont about her unconventional route into the sector and her experiences as a NatureScot Wildlife Management Practical Placement on our Rum National Nature Reserve (NNR).

This hind season marks the last I’ll carry out as a Wildlife Management Practical Placement on Rum NNR, with my time here drawing to a close in July. Deer stalking fits into that satisfying category of physical work where you can measure the effort spent on a day out by the aches and pains of your body at the end of it. Almost two months have passed since the end of the season; my aches and pains from the long days out have faded away, but the skills learned and time spent in the hills doing a job I love will stay with me that little bit longer. 

My route into deer management perhaps wasn’t the most conventional. I came into deer stalking as a complete novice, without cultural or family ties to an industry so famously steeped in tradition. Through my time at university I learned the ecological theory behind the negative impacts of unsustainable deer populations on the Scottish landscape, and left feeling as though I had a decent grasp on the foundations that underpin deer management. In hindsight, I was totally naive to the complex social, cultural and political challenges that are interwoven within the subject and I’ve enjoyed delving deeper into this during my placement.

Deer management first appealed to me as a way in which I could combine work with my love of being outdoors in remote and challenging environments. I see it as a tool in maintaining and restoring healthy, functioning habitats as well as deer populations, getting that balance a little more in tune with the wider ecosystem than we have in the past. I also believe it is an opportunity to connect people with sustainable, locally-sourced food produce – a key theme which we must explore and drive forward in the current climate and biodiversity crises. 

When it comes to deer management in practice here on Rum, every day is different, but the unique landscape makes even the shortest day out an incredible experience. One of my favourite stalking routes on the island is traversing the back wall of Atlantic Corrie below Rum’s highest peaks, before crossing Bealach an Oir and dropping down into the vastness of Glen Dibidil. The steep sides of the glen frame the view towards Eigg, Muck and Ardnamurchan beautifully. Although one of the most stunning spots on the island, Glen Dibidil is also one of the most challenging places to stalk. The terrain on the south side of the island is not conducive to easy access, meaning ATV use is out the window and instead deer extraction is done either by boat or by one of the island’s well known residents – the Rum Highland Ponies. 

Working with the Highland Ponies out on the hill has been a real highlight of my time on Rum. These hardy wee horses are bursting with character, and seeing them carry out the job they’ve been bred to do is an absolute joy, especially with it being a traditional practice that has a low impact on the habitat. They also come in very handy during the winter months when the cold means you inevitably lose feeling in your hands; cuddling the warm spot beneath the ponies’ manes does just the trick in heating you back up!

The Wildlife Management Placement on Rum has been an invaluable stepping stone into the complex world of deer management in Scotland. I hope to pursue this further within the organisation, perhaps by exploring the policy that underpins the action we carry out on the ground, but most importantly by continuing to get out on the hill with lots of people in a range of locations. 

I’ve had the pleasure of spending the past two years being introduced to deer stalking by some incredibly skilled folk and having (hopefully!) learned a thing or two, I’ll be leaving Rum with my Deer Stalking Certificate Level 1 and with my Level 2 in the process of certification. I’ll also be leaving with a passion for deer management that I’ll pursue for the rest of my life, as I continue to spend my time in the upland landscapes of Scotland.

Find out more about Rum National Nature Reserve and sustainable deer management.

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Update from Orkney Native Wildlife Project

This week, we feature a guest blog from Adam Robertson, the Communications Officer for the Orkney Native Wildlife Project , which focuses on the important work of conserving voles on Orkney.

It was looking like an early spring. Late February and the lapwings were dancing, the skies were clearing, and the wind had dropped. If the unseasonable weather had you fooled, you weren’t alone. The crocuses spent their first few weeks peeking out from beneath a blanket of snow. Despite the recent blast of Arctic air, spring is working its way north, and for us at the Orkney Native Wildlife Project, springtime means monitoring.

March marks the start of the breeding season for the Orkney vole, which is found nowhere else in the world. After spending most of the winter in the cosy confines of its tunnel network, the vole goes forth at the start of spring to mate and reproduce. Accordingly, our monitoring team must also go forth! By surveying vole holes, nibbled grass and its by-product; vole poo, they assess how the species is getting on.

Last spring, our staff and volunteers recorded the highest number of voles since the start of the project. This is great news, as the voles are not only part of Orkney’s unique heritage, but an important cog in the food chain. Short-eared owls depend on the vole for survival, and the increase in voles has coincided with an increase in owl nests recorded by the Raptor Study Group.

While voles can sit out the worst of the winter underground, others are not so lucky. Wading birds overwinter in fields and begin nesting in March. From this point onwards, our Monitoring Officer, Sophie, has her work cut out, despite the assistance of her intrepid volunteers. Throughout spring, the team surveys our key species; lapwings, curlews, and oystercatchers, as well as our less common redshank, snipe, and ringed plover.

nest finding south Ron

Unlike voles, who are obligingly indiscreet in their nesting habits, waders are wily creatures. The monitoring team must spot and record nests, eggs, and chicks, to get an accurate picture of population change. Curlews in particular have no interest in making this easy, choosing to land away from their nests and then sneak through the vegetation to their brood. This habit, combined with their dappled brown plumage, can result in some long and frustrating days spent monitoring. The number of successful curlew nests has increased significantly since 2019, and we’re hoping to see this trend continue into 2023.

In contrast to the stealth tactics employed by the curlew, oystercatchers take a more strident approach. The ultimate helicopter parent, oystercatchers will make their discontent known to anything that they think is too close to their young. Last spring, our monitoring team recorded an astonishing 82% success rate across 97 nests!

To find out whether these positive developments are set to continue, our team will be monitoring at 12 sites across Papay, Sanday, Egilsay, the Orkney Mainland and the Linked Isles. In rain and wind – but hopefully no more snow – they will be out collecting this vital information. In doing so, they help the project to continue protecting Orkney’s native wildlife.

You can keep up to date with the project’s progress via our Facebook page and blog, the Stoat Snippet, where we publish all our trapping statistics. Or check out our website!

The Orkney Native Wildlife Project aims to safeguard the unique and internationally important native wildlife of Orkney. It is a partnership between RSPB Scotland, NatureScot and Orkney Islands Council with generous support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and EU LIFE, as well as in kind and financial contributions from partners.


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