SNH celebrates International Day of Women & Girls in Science

Today is International Day of Women & Girls in Science – a day declared by the UN to bring attention to the fact that less than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women. Biases and gender stereotypes are still steering many girls away from careers in science. But here are at Scottish Natural Heritage, we’re bursting with wonderful role models – and we’d like to introduce you to some of them and tell you what inspires them and what they love about their jobs.

lucy and penguins. photo by Sian tarrant

Lucy has studied birds from the Antarctica to the tropics. Photo by John Dickens

Dr Lucy Quinn
As a marine ornithologist, I have travelled the world studying seabirds from the bleak Arctic Circle in Iceland down to the icy cold sub-Antarctica, to the humid tropics, and various places in-between. I’m now so excited to be working back in Scotland, which has some of the best seabird colonies in the world.

My first seabird job was working on the Isle of May for the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Being immersed in a seabird colony, living alongside nature, was a real privilege. In the midst of seabirds continues to be where I feel most happy. To try to understand the natural world around us, you really do need to get out there and live in the midst of it!

What I love about my job with SNH is that the work aims to make a positive difference for marine birds in Scotland, and I get to work alongside other dedicated scientists. I would encourage future scientists to get the most out of sharing ideas and collaborate with others where possible. And when it comes to thinking about what you want to do, remember there are no limitations in the jobs you can go for. Surround yourself with positive people and never stop learning. It’s also important to have good mentors around for advice. Above all, it’s about never giving up when you want to achieve something and keeping continued passion for your subject, even though at times it can seem tough. Remember that, as individuals, our own small actions can collectively make a huge difference.

Catriona Reid - high res

Catriona has worked as a nature reserve manager for about 20 years.

Catriona Reid
I’m the manager for Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve. Birds were what got me interested in nature in the first place. From there, it’s only a short hop to doing science; science can explain or tell you more about so many of the things I was interested in.

The world is so complex, so infinitely varied and beautiful, it still leaves me breathless. I knew from a fairly young age I wanted to work outdoors in nature conservation (it was that or astronaut, but they need you to be better with numbers than I am, in case you miss the moon), and I am lucky that I have been able to do that for most of the past 20 years.

Managing a nature reserve is a very varied job and, nowadays, I’m as likely to be found with a chainsaw as a clipboard. But science underpins all of our work here. While we might spend a lot of our time carrying out practical management, it’s the science that informs it: what species do we have? Are the declining? If they are, what’s causing it? What can we do to reverse this? Only through good, sound science can we make informed decisions on managing the reserve – or, on a wider scale, the planet.

Karen Rentoul 1

Karen Rentoul is an operations officer in the beautiful Scottish Borders.

Karen Rentoul
For me, it all started as a small child going on family camping, cycling and walking holidays fuelled by Creamola Foam, darting about the countryside and becoming interested in nature.  This led to joining the RSPB Young Ornithologist Club, helping the neighbouring sheep farmer herd and manage sheep in the pens, and walking up Ben Nevis at age nine. All of this inspired me to be interested in the natural world and how it works.  After school, I went to university focussing on environmental biology, with my Honours degree (BSc (Hons)) looking at the genetics of giant hogweed in different river catchments. I then went on to do a Master’s degree (MSc) in environmental protection and management.

My work for SNH is as an operations officer based in the Scottish Borders. My job involves helping farmers apply for environmental funding, and advising on managing and monitoring of designated sites, among other things. But the best part of my job is being on the board of the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, a partnership aiming to reinforce the population of golden eagles in Southern Scotland. It is a wonderful project to be a part of: the most exciting a day for me was at the release site, where we were adding to the food supplies left out on the hill for recently released birds, while they are practicing their hunting techniques. We saw two of the birds in the distance: after a while they took off and passed us, giving us the most spectacular view. I don’t think I will ever forget that experience.

Lesley Watt - shearwater monitoring

Lesley with volunteers on the Isle of Rum.

Lesley Watt
My job is Reserve Manager for Rum National Nature Reserve where I’m responsible for the day-to-day running of the NNR.

One of the best things about my job is working close to nature and the outdoors. I lead on a whole range of tasks from monitoring and research of important species to habitat management and planning and overseeing work on paths.

I love that there is great variety and problem solving in my job and that I get to work with many talented people who I’m constantly learning from. I also love a challenge which definitely helps when you live on a small Scottish island!

I wanted to work in ecology and conservation for as long as I can remember, and it’s thanks to a particularly passionate high school biology teacher that I pursued this. She inspired and encouraged me to achieve a career in an area I love and for that I will always be grateful.

Abi Gardner

Abi in a beautiful landscape!

Abi Gardner
My fascination for learning how landscapes are formed led me to study geography, and later, ecosystem services. However, as time goes on, it’s a growing sense of duty and responsibility that has steered me to working on how human impacts affect the natural world.

Counting monkeys in the Costa Rican jungle, recording deer grazing while climbing Scotland’s Munros, and holding workshops with coastal residents are just some of the work I’ve experienced in my career so far.

With the climate emergency and biodiversity loss taking centre stage politically, it’s more important than ever that scientific research done is effectively and accurately communicated. I’m now part of SNH’s placemaking team, and I work to encourage planners and developers to include more nature-based solutions in their developments, ensuring we design more resilient places for people and nature.

Posted in biodiversity, Diversity, International Year of Girls and Women in Science, Marine, Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, National Nature Reserves, Rum NNR, SNH, STEM, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , ,

Outdoor learning and a life caring for the natural world.

Chris Mackie is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education and Sport.  His research – the first to be funded through Scottish Natural Heritage’s Magnus Magnusson studentship – asks whether outdoor learning can foster a desire to care for the natural environment. Here he shares some of his experiences from recent fieldwork with two schools, using their school grounds and local greenspaces for outdoor learning.


Field border, ©Chris Mackie

In higher education, you’re often told that as your journey progresses, your field of inquiry goes from ’broad and shallow’ to ’narrow and deep’, like a nice neat funnel, pointing in a single direction. At the start of a PhD, it’s tempting to feel that you’re already at the start of the narrowing, and should just be able to follow your nose to the end of it.

Maybe some folk do have this experience, but my education has never felt like that. Instead, I’ve been lucky enough to spend years following tangents and ideas across a few different disciplines and settings – more like grasping at threads blowing in the wind, rather than drilling down in one place.

Thanks to the support of SNH, through the Magnus Magnusson Studentship, I’ve been able to spend the last two years following some of those threads back to their sources, and now I’m in a position to start pulling them all together and weaving something.

My research is looking at what happens when young children go outside at school, mainly with their teachers. I’m interested in this because lots of research and professional experience suggests that outdoor environments provide different opportunities for learning and teaching, as well as a range of outcomes related to health, well-being and connection to nature.


Mud digging, ©Chris Mackie

Researchers use a range of tools to learn about these different elements, but I think it’s hard to unpick such complexity into subjective human experiences, or statistical generalisations. Instead, I am specifically interested in how spending time in natural environments at school might allow children and teachers to develop the skills and desire to care for the world around them.

To do this, I’m observing the intra-actions between humans, nature and social practices during outdoor learning at school, to form a detailed account of some of the processes that emerge. I use a small video camera, audio recorder and bright orange notebook to try and capture moments where the different parts of this system that we call ‘outdoor learning’ come into relation with each other.

For example, some of the questions I ask when reviewing my observations might include:

  • How do teachers and children talk about, or come to know the natural environments that they are in?
  • Do the play or learning activities represent exploitative, conservationist or other relationships with nature?
  • What elements of these outdoor places are children drawn to?
  • How does this affect the non-human beings that live here, and how does that link to the educational goals of the activity?

This is different from some other research in the field, much of which focuses either on specific ways of teaching and learning outdoors, or measuring outcomes (such as connection to nature or physical activity) in ways that can be scaled up and applied in other situations.


Hill climb, ©Chris Mackie

Over the last sixth months, I have been visiting two schools regularly and spending time with several primary one and two classes (children aged between 4 and 7). One school is in a village with access to a garden and big old oak trees just over the wall, while the other is a large school in a recently constructed suburban housing development on the edge of a big town. They have quite contrasting approaches to primary one and the environments that are available to them, but it’s been fascinating seeing some of the commonalities in how the children play in their school’s outdoor spaces, particularly in terms of physical activity and movement.


Digging, ©Chris Mackie

I have over 100GB of materials that I’m now thinking my way through, before going back to see how the spring-summer term affects things. I’m looking forward to beginning to share stories about where I think ethics of care for the natural world could be nurtured during the first years of school.

At this early stage in the analysis, I’m starting by following three key strands. The first is about relationalities, and how children come to understand themselves in relation to the world around them: whether that be other living beings, like plants or minibeasts; processes such as photosynthesis; or even physical materials such as plastic. The nature of these relational entanglements form the basis of how we act ethically in the world. Seeing how they develop in early childhood may help inform practice and make links to other research on environmental identity.


Tree Club, ©Chris Mackie

My second strand looks at how the environments (physical, social and policy) of school-based early childhood education might nurture or hinder the type of relationality that leads to care. Where, when and how (or not) do children come into contact with other living beings, for example? Linked to this are considerations of how much agency both children and teachers have within these environments, and thinking in particular about play-based learning.

The final strand is how children’s direct experiences outdoors (e.g. of nature, or litter) relate to the cultural representations that they engage with in school and other contexts. For example, do the activities, places, digital media, books, stories and games that they come into contact with at school and home support or hinder the development of care for the world? What types of futures do they see represented? As young children spend more time in formal education and care settings, and the ecological crisis becomes increasingly urgent, taking a holistic view of this becomes more important, but is ethically and practically complex in itself.


Garden bed, ©Chris Mackie

These are big issues of critical importance to understanding how we may shape teaching policy and practice, to enable stronger learning for sustainability. By starting with two specific settings and the privilege of being able to pay attention to small interactions that maybe get missed in the flow of learning and play, I will be able to craft research outputs that can be put to work for a range of users.

I’d better get writing!

See our website for further information on outdoor learning, including facts, activities and inspiration to help you bring Scotland’s nature and landscapes to life for learners.​

All photos are courtesy of and ©Chris Mackie.

Posted in conservation, Natural Health Service, Outdoor learning, Research, science, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, Uncategorized, urban nature, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Forvie NNR – the first 60 years

Forvie has long been a special place. Back when people started to settle near the mouth of the river Ythan at the end of the ice age, it was a place rich in wildlife – or food as it would have been considered in those days. For the past 60 years now Forvie has been a National Nature Reserve.  David Pickett, the reserve’s manager, takes a look back at what Forvie NNR has achieved in that time and how it has contributed to conservation across Scotland.


When the series of National Nature Reserves was being set-up in post-war Britain, with Beinn Eighe the first in 1951, Forvie was one of the sites identified as being special, for its vegetation and especially its tern colony.

Even before its declaration as an NNR in 1959, Forvie’s wildlife had attracted naturalists and researchers. One such researcher, Alistair Smith, was already busy during the 1950s furthering our knowledge of terns, through monitoring and ringing at Forvie. Now in his 90’s, Alistair visited the ternary at Forvie just 18 months ago, to see how it was doing and give some pointers to the Grampian Ringing Group who have taken on his trail-blazing work.

The long-term ringing project on the NNR has established that the Forvie ternary is one of the most important breeding sites for arctic and sandwich terns, as well as being a vital stopover for terns across the North Sea in spring and autumn. Monitoring work continues now with a plastic ring attached to the tern’s leg, each with a unique code and colour combination.  Each year sightings of Forvie birds up and down the Atlantic bring new stories to light and give little insights into the lives of these iconic birds.

The development of the NNR, around the same time as the University of Aberdeen Culterty Field Station at Newburgh, led to Forvie becoming a huge outdoor laboratory extension to the teaching and study facilities of the university. Looking back through the annual reports there is a staggering list of research projects that have been carried out across the reserve. From Honours projects to PhD’s and postdocs, it seems that every aspect of Forvie’ s abundant natural history has been looked at, and much that we understand of estuaries, eiders, grouse moors and dunes has come from research carried out at Forvie. This means vast numbers of students have cut their teeth on Forvie. When meeting people through the environment sector it is amazing how many have spent some of their formative years working or studying at Forvie and they all have a life-long affection for the site.

When the Nature Conservancy (as SNH was at that time) first declared Forvie as an NNR, Mike Matthews was the first full time member of staff to look after it. The fact that he also managed St Cyrus and Muir of Dinnet and still managed to have a guiding influence over all 3 embryonic reserves is a measure of his energy and dynamism. In the late 1970’s, the legendary Bob Davis became the warden at Forvie. As long-standing warden through the 80’s and into the 90’s he was a pioneer in developing a love of the natural world in young people, and he built-up a trail-blazing education programme at Forvie, working with schools across the North-East of Scotland.

During the evolution of nature reserves Forvie has been at the forefront of developing ways in which nature reserves are linked to the surrounding communities. In the 1970’s the Forvie panel was set up with representatives from nearby villages, user groups such as wildfowlers, and other conservation organisations. One of the first examples in the country, the panel enabled local people to be at the heart of guiding the management of the reserve in a way that makes the reserve relevant to local people. This is a model applied across the country now.

And what for the next 60 years? In an over-crowded world that has a changing climate, declining biodiversity and rising seas, we hope that Forvie can continue to be home to a successful tern colony; be a safe haven for resting seals; a nature reserve loved by local people and visitors; and somewhere that enlightens people, inspiring them to positive action.

Grey seal haul-out at Forvie National Nature Reserve, ©Lorne Gill/SNH

You can follow life at Forvie NNR via the reserve’s 60th Anniversary blog.

For further info about Forve, including information for visitors, see www.Nature.Scot.

All photos ©SNH.

Posted in coastal, conservation, Forvie NNR, National Nature Reserves, Outdoor learning, Research, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, Uncategorized, Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

#YCW2020 A Day in the Life – Nature Reserve Officer Adam Murphy

During the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, we’ll be joining SNH staff across Scotland who work in a huge variety of roles along our shorelines and waterways to gain an insight into the important and varied work they do for the benefit of people and nature. This month we meet Nature Reserve Officer Adam Murphy at Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve(NNR), on the Solway Firth.

This year I’ve just returned to a permanent role as a Nature Reserve Officer following a secondment. I’m currently based in SNH’s Dumfries Office, where we work to ensure a balance between the maintenance and monitoring of habitat and wildlife on Dumfries and Galloway’s NNRs while encouraging people to enjoy and engage with these unique places.

As you can imagine with such dynamic sites, there’s no such thing as a typical day at the office! A quick look at my calendar shows I’m booked up with tasks as varied as meeting a farmer to discuss salt marsh management and creating new natterjack toad breeding pools to planning a volunteer work party for woodland path maintenance and catching up with peatland restoration work at Kirkconnell Flow.

Mudflats and saltmarsh at Caerlaverock NNR © Lorne Gill SNH

Mudflats and saltmarsh at Caerlaverock NNR © Lorne Gill/SNH

Today I’m at our flagship reserve, Caerlaverock NNR, where together with my colleague Andy, work placement student Malcolm and volunteer Stephen, we are heading out to do the Wetland Bird Survey, a national survey of waterbirds co-ordinated by the British Trust for Ornithology. Today’s survey is part of what is called core counts, which are undertaken once a month at high tides, following the full moon.

We focus our resources on autumn to spring as numbers of wildfowl and waders visits peak from August to April when Caerlaverock and the wider Solway turns into a real avian airport, with more than 100,000 duck, geese and waders either spending the entire winter here or using it as a pit stop, roosting and re-fuelling on their long flight to warm winter climbs in the south or heading back north to artic breeding grounds.

The section we are covering is 6km of saltmarsh (merse) and mud flats. We split into two teams, walking towards each other and counting birds at predetermined roosting spots along the route. If we are discreet and fleet of foot we can get in front of the birds and wait for them to come inland towards our hidden positons and count them as they settle down to rest on the edge of salt marsh, to wait out the hide tide.

The challenge today is that winds are persistently gusting at 50-60 mph plus – not uncommon on the reserve as there is very little shelter out on the exposed estuary. Wind burn is as much of a hazard for reserve staff in south-west Scotland as sunburn! The south-west wind makes a relatively straight-forward task a little bit more interesting, as it pushes the tide into the estuary quicker with more wave action, or “white horses”. For a task were stealth is important, we struggle to communicate with each other and lose count of the number of times the telescopes nearly blow over. See the video below for an idea of the conditions!

When we finally get a sheltered enough position to try and count the main wader roost unfortunately the birds won’t settle, flying repeatedly from the merse to an inland rain-flooded field halfway through each count and leading us a merry dance.  Eventually we manage to identify and count most of the usual suspects, but struggle with one exceptionally restless flock. Finally the birds settle briefly in the field long enough for us to confirm the species as the rather confusingly named Knot.

With the main identification work complete, I was just taking one final photo out to sea when I heard Stephen shouting excitedly “Kingfisher!” As we usually survey away from fresh water a kingfisher is extremely rare for us and I had missed it! However I often say to visitors that’s all part of the magic of wildlife watching – if you saw what you expected to see every time you stepped out into nature you would soon get bored. This surprise element of a walk in the wild is certainly part of what keeps me coming back for more, and makes my job such a privilege.

Find out more about SNH and the Year of Coasts and Waters.

Posted in Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Ardnamurchan’s unique day-flying moth

Each year in early summer, volunteers from various parts of Scotland travel west to survey a rare, striking and elusive day-flying moth – the New Forest burnet, at the only site it occurs in the UK.  Since becoming extinct in the New Forest in 1927, the New Forest burnet has survived on one small, coastal grassland site on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, where it is a protected species of Sunart Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Lorraine Servant, Operations Officer at our Fort William office, tells us more…

Over the past 20 years, SNH and Butterfly Conservation volunteers have carried out an annual survey. But the ecology of this endangered moth remains poorly understood, its numbers fluctuate each summer, and its isolation and small population size make it particularly vulnerable. So in 2019 we funded a more in-depth study to try to better understand its special requirements and help guide future conservation.


©Tom Prescott, Butterfly Conservation

The changeable weather and remote nature of the site make survey work challenging. But entomologist Dr Neil Ravenscroft managed to assess the numbers of adult moths using various techniques, including walking transects and also catching and marking the moths with a silver pen – the number of marked moths recaptured on different days helping to estimate the population. Neil also studied the species-rich grassland in locations where the moth’s caterpillars had been found. Meadow vetchling and bird’s-foot trefoil are particularly important food plants for the New Forest burnet caterpillars in the spring. The caterpillars then pupate and emerge as adult moths, flying in fine weather in early summer to feed on wild thyme and other nectar giving flowers.


The Ardnamurchan site, ©Neil Ravenscroft

In partnership with the landowner, Ardnamurchan Estate, various measures have been put in place to improve the outlook for the New Forest burnet. Sheep are currently excluded from the site; overall, the moth numbers have increased in response to this. But we know that some level of grazing is needed to prevent coarser grasses and taller plants, bracken and scrub from becoming dominant and overgrowing the shorter swards that the caterpillar food plants thrive in.


New Forest burnet (male & female) – ©Ilia Ustyantsev, Butterfly Conservation

Unfortunately, this year moth numbers were low. With unpredictable summer weather affecting emergence of the adults, possibly exacerbated by climate change, monitoring the caterpillars and their food plants may well be the key to understanding more about the particular requirements of this species.

New work using pheromone lures may also help – these lures mimic the female moth’s pheromones to attract males and are proving to be a useful tool for survey and monitoring some species. However, to formulate synthetic pheromones takes a long time as the blend of attractants is unique to each species and this is still to be perfected for the New Forest burnet. This research is ongoing and we hope that in the next few years, the ‘New Forest burnet love potion’ will help us to survey adjacent areas to check for their presence. If we don’t find the species anywhere else, we will consider whether there is suitable habitat nearby for us to encourage spread of the population.

This ongoing partnership between Ardnamurchan Estate, Scottish Natural Heritage, Butterfly Conservation and volunteers continues to improve our understanding of the challenges these unique moths face. This in turn allows us to do all we can to conserve this fragile and unique New Forest burnet population.


©Tom Prescott, Butterfly Conservation

There are over 1800 Protected Areas across Scotland, including Sunart SSSI. Most are accessible to the public to enjoy or visit and all are vital for Scotland’s wildlife. Scottish Natural Heritage is working locally with farmers and land managers to keep these places special and where necessary improve management, as part of our work to create a Nature-rich Scotland. You can find out what special sites are near you by visiting Sitelink.

Read more about Scotland’s (around) 34 species of butterfly and 1,300 species of moth on our website –

Posted in biodiversity, citizen science, climate change, conservation, Ecology, Flowers, Insects, Land management, moth, Projects, Protected Areas, Research, Scotland's Protected Places, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, Species Action Framework, SSSI, Uncategorized, wildlife management, woodlands | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Remarkable achievements at Ben and Glen Nevis

Over the last five years, the Nevis Landscape Partnership has achieved what it says on the side of its bus – carried out a programme of 19 projects, with tremendous volunteer support. This £3.4 million scheme has had a tangible and positive impact on key species and habitats, as well as on opportunities to enjoy, engage with and learn about this special landscape.


The level of success was not just down to the hard work of everyone involved, but also to fantastic co-operation and communication. Many of the individual projects were too large or complex for any one group to tackle, but by bringing together people from different backgrounds and skills, lasting partnerships have been forged. The resulting programme was much more than the sum of the individual projects, as highlighted by the facts, figures and photos below.

  • 24 climbers, geologists and botanists collaborated on the innovative North Face Survey, finding new records for rare species on Ben Nevis, confirming the outstanding variety of high mountain plants and transforming our understanding of the geology of Scotland’s highest mountain. Before the survey, we only knew about 50 populations of the target species on the North Face, mostly in more accessible areas. Now, more than 300 populations of these species have been recorded, including new sites for some of our rarest arctic-alpine plants, such as tufted saxifrage and wavy meadow-grass, and two species not found previously on the Ben, alpine saxifrage and curved woodrush. You can find out more about the survey in this beautiful pictorial in the Guardian.


  • 3,800 days of volunteer work, including litter picks, wildlife surveys, running events and repairing paths, with over 100 new volunteers recruited and more than 400 taking part regularly.
  • 5 km of Ben Nevis Path repaired, involving 1,100 helicopter lifts of stone and 3,500 volunteer hours to complement the professional contractors.
  • A new all-abilities bridge and riverside path to Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, which is now used by thousands of people each year.
  • New interpretation at Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, doubling of the number of visitors in summer 2018.
  • Over 12,000 native trees planted, covering 22 hectares, with involvement by 384 children from 15 schools and youth organisations.

Garry Innes stopped by to help plant the 10,000th tree.

  • 35 Trainee Volunteer Rangers (TVRs) trained with key skills in countryside management and public engagement with natural and cultural heritage, contributing the equivalent of eight employee-years of labour.


  • 4,468 people participated in 131 engagement events.
  • Over 20 publications, including journals, reports and articles in local and national news media (available on the website for individual projects, such as the North Face Survey)
  • 24 films watched over 156,000 times on YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and Twitter, as well as participation at the Fort William Mountain Festival.
  • 1,190 Facebook posts with 1.5million views, 54,000 engagements and 3,000 followers, with users from 70 countries.
  • £3.4 million funding from 18 different organisations, with 47% from Heritage Lottery Fund and SNH contributing £550,000. The total value was £3.8 million, including ‘in kind’ volunteer and partner contributions.

For more information, check out

The numbers are impressive, but the benefits go far beyond that. The scheme received wide support and participation from local people, drawing in people from all backgrounds and interests. Partnership working and problem solving at the local level has been strengthened significantly over the last five years, providing a solid platform for future action.

What next?

Nevis Landscape Partnership will continue to work with a range of organisations, landowners and stakeholders to build on the success of the last five years.  Their coordination role will become ever more important as we see increasing visitor numbers in this iconic, internationally important area for nature, landscape and recreation. In fact, the Nevis Strategy 2020-40  proposes a 100-year vision where the people, place and community are intrinsically linked to the health and well-being of all.

Posted in Access, citizen science, Community engagement, conservation, Diversity, Ecology, Flowers, Lichens, mosses, paths, plants, Projects, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, survey, Trail, Uncategorized, Visitor centre, Volunteering, wild flowers, wild land | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Iasgair nan Loch / The Fisher of the Lochs

Tha iasgair iteach air a chuimhneachadh ann an Loch an Iasgair / Loch an Iasgair means ‘loch of the fisher’ but it’s not the human variety.

‘Iasgair’ nan Loch

Anns an dùthaich mhonadail, gharbh air cùl Pholl Iù, tha loch ann air a bheil Loch an Iasgair. Tuigidh gu leòr de dhaoine an t-ainm le bhith a’ beachdachadh air daoine le slatan is maghairean a bhios a’ falbh air thòir nam breac a tha pailt ann. Gu dearbh, bha an t-Suirbhidh Òrdanais dhen bheachd gum b’ e sin ciall an ainm nuair a tharraing iad ri chèile a’ chiad mhapa aca. Ge-tà, bha iad ceàrr, oir tha an t-uachdaran Osgood MacCoinnich ag innse dhuinn anns an leabhar aige A Hundred Years in the Highlands, gu bheil e a’ ciallachadh ‘Loch na h-Iolair-uisge’.

Osprey in flight.©Lorne Gill

Fisher overhead, (C)LorneGill/SNH

B’ e sin dùthaich nan iolairean (bha an iolaire-mhara ann cuideachd), oir tha an t-uabhas de lochan ann, agus bha am Fionn Loch, beagan deas air Loch an Iasgair, gu math ainmeil airson cho pailt agus cho mòr ’s a bha na bric ann. Anns an Dàmhair agus san t-Samhain, bhiodh muinntir an àite a’ glacadh bhreac le sleaghan anns na h-uillt air an oidhche, agus iad a’ dèanamh solas le leusan de ghiuthas-blàir. Sin cho lìonmhor ’s a bha na h-èisg!


Loch an Iasgair, (C)Nigel Brown (Creative Commons)

Tha Osgood ag ràdh gur e ‘Ailean Iasgair’ a chante ris na h-eòin, agus gur e sin as coireach gur e Loch an Iasgair a th’ air mar ainm. Anns an leabhar, tha e ag innse dhuinn mu thachartas duilich (timcheall nan 1860s no 1870s), nuair a nochd dithis Shasannach à Suffolk ann an Taigh-seinnse Pholl Iù – am Morair Huntingfield agus companach aige. Nuair a chuala iad gu robh iolairean-uisge a’ neadachadh aig Loch an Iasgair, chaidh iad ann sa mhionaid. Lorg iad an nead, a bh’ air mullach staca cas aig an robh a bhonn san uisge. Shnàimh sgalag aca a-mach chun an àite, ghoid e an dà ugh às an nead agus shnàimh e air ais gu tìr, leis na h-uighean ann am bonaid air an do chùm e greim le fhiaclan. Aig an àm sin bha an iolair-uisge air a dhol à bith ann an Sasainn mu-thràth, agus cha robh fada aice ri dhol ann an Alba (thathar a’ smaoineachadh gun deach i à bith an seo ann an 1916). Gu fortanach tha sinn beò ann an linn nas fheàrr, agus tha an iolair-uisge air ais nar measg a-rithist. Ach co-dhiù tha i air tilleadh gu Loch an Iasgair, chan urrainn a ràdh.

The ‘Fisher’ of the Lochs

In the wild country to the north-east of Poolewe in Wester Ross, there is a body of water called Loch an Iasgair. Many people probably take a quick look at a Gaelic dictionary and translate it as ‘fisher’s loch’, reaching the same conclusion as the Ordnance Survey when they first mapped the area. If catching wild brown trout is not your thing, then the place might have minimal attraction. However, there is an interesting story behind the name, for it refers, not to anglers of the human kind, but to a famous bird for which fishing is its very means of existence – and what a paradise it would be for such a species, as the country is peppered with freshwater lochs. In particular, the nearby Fionn Loch was long recognised as having a very healthy population of large trout. The fish were so plentiful that locals at one time would spear them by bog-pine torchlight in the burns and rivers in the autumn.


Osprey, (C)NASA

The bird named in the loch is the osprey – known variously in Gaelic as iolair-iasgaich ‘fishing eagle’, iolair-uisge ‘water eagle’, iasgair-còirneach ‘hooded fisher’ and Ailean Iasgair ‘Allan the Fisher’. Loch an Iasgair is actually ‘the osprey’s loch’ – and we know this from Osgood Mackenzie’s account of the locality in his book A Hundred Years in the Highlands.


Loch an Iasgair, (C)Julian Paren (Creative Commons)

Mackenzie, who was an enthusiastic hunter of avian prey, relates an unfortunate story about the fate of ospreys living there in his day (probably around the 1860s – 1870s): ‘How well I remember the excitement over the arrival at Poolewe Inn of Lord Huntingfield and a Mr. Corrance – both, I think, from Suffolk – the first egg-collectors who ever came to this country. Hearing of the ospreys, they made at once for the loch, where the nest was built on top of a high stack of rock rising sheer out of the water. Their valet swam out and returned with the two eggs safely in his cap, which he held between his teeth’. The osprey was already extinct in England, and only had a few decades left in Scotland before it disappeared here also. Thankfully, we live today in more enlightened times, and this beautiful bird is back fishing in our lochs once more.


Posted in Birds, Folklore, Gaelic, History, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Sea-searchers recognised for 31-year contribution to marine conservation.

SNH has supported Seasearch in Scotland for many years now. The skills and enthusiasm of their union of marine life investigators has in turn supported our own research. Some of our marine team are Seasearch volunteers in their free time. So we were almost as pleased as they were to see the efforts of their citizen scientists recognised as Seasearch won the special Coasts and Waters prize at the recent Nature of Scotland Awards – a one-off award  to mark the Year of Coasts & Waters 2020.


Seasearch celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2018.

Seasearch is a project for volunteer sports divers and snorkelers who have an interest in what they’re seeing underwater, want to learn more about it and help protect the marine environment around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. The information collected by Seasearch divers is helping us to map out the variety of life found on Scotland’s seabed.

For example, during a week-long expedition along the far north coast, Seasearch divers found a live skate egg on a dive near Cape Wrath, which helped us understand how far north these secretive animals are breeding. Other volunteers alerted us to damage on a previously un-mapped flame shell bed in Loch Carron, which we could then protect to prevent further damage.

If you’re a qualified diver who would like to get involved, Seasearch organises a variety of training courses at locations throughout Scotland. Seasearch Observer is a one-day course aimed at giving divers and snorkelers new to the project and marine recording a basic grounding. At the end of the course you should be able to complete the Seasearch Observation Form and take part in Seasearch dives and snorkels on your own, with your club, or on dives organised by Seasearch partners. You can see what they have planned for the coming months on their website – and who knows, the Year of Coast and Waters 2020  could bring you a new connection with Scotland’s nature, and some new dive buddies too! As one course participant said: “I have been diving for 21 years and this is going to transform my diving.”

Natlie Hirrst, Seasearch Coordinator in Scotland, said: “Following the 30th anniversary of Seasearch and a record 500 forms from Scotland in 2018, we are delighted to see the commitment of our volunteers rewarded. We would like to thank our partners and sponsors, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Marine Conservation Society and everyone involved in the project over the years, who continue to make the project a success and contribute vitally important data towards marine conservation goals of the future.”

For further information see the Seasearch website. See for information about the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, including community funding opportunities.


Receiving the Coasts and Waters Award.

Posted in Awards, biodiversity, citizen science, coastal, Community engagement, conservation, mapping, Marine, Marine Protected Areas, MPA, MPAs, Priority Marine Features, Research, sea life, SNH, survey, Uncategorized, Volunteering, Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tis the Season to get out along the Firth of Forth!

The Edinburgh Shoreline project began in February 2018 – an initiative from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to encourage people to connect with the coastline in our capital city. In today’s guest blog, Project Manager Charlotte Johnson tells us why this is the perfect time of year to explore the area.

Redshank shoreline small

Redshank ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Through exhibitions, walks, talks, planting sessions and more, almost 50,000 people have learned a little bit more about how special a place this shoreline is for wildlife and for people. But did you know it’s just as fantastic to explore our coast in the winter as it is on a warm summer’s day? As well as crisp, clear days giving excellent views from our coastline, it’s an important time of year for our internationally important populations of wading birds. They spend their winters here with us in Scotland, and can be found making the most of the food found on our shoreline.

Anti tank blocks at Cramond on the Firth of Forth. March 2018. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Cramond ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Scottish Natural Heritage has made a grant to the project to continue community engagement work over winter 2019-2020, and we’ve already been up to lots of exciting things. Primary schools in Edinburgh have been given the opportunity to visit an RSPB reserve in the Inner Forth area to look at how the habitats along the Firth of Forth change from inland estuary out to sea. Pupils have had chance to explore and play, and learn more about why our wildlife chooses to make this landscape their home each winter.

A male Goldeneye duck.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Goldeneye ©Lorne Gill/SNH

We’ve also led walks for adults too, visiting the North Berwick coast to watch birds (and even a few seals!) as well as venturing out to Cramond Island with lichenologist Rebecca Yahr from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to identify the lichens that find refuge there from the air pollution of the city. In early 2020 we’ll be continuing our work with young people, and are looking forward to a boat trip on the Forth Princess to get up-close-and-personal with the landscape and the wildlife that calls it home.

Only a short bus ride or cycle from the city centre, the Edinburgh coastline is a great way to get away from the bustle of busy life. Taking in the views and sea air is a great way to unwind, de-stress and get some exercise. There’s plenty to see and do whilst there: from uncovering stories of the cities industrial past, to hunting for the plant life that colonises secluded spots.

Oystercatcher-D0595 small

Oystercatcher ©Lorne Gill/SNH

If you’re looking for inspiration of what to do with an afternoon over the Christmas and New Year break, or on a quiet January weekend, why not try an activity from our Edinburgh Shoreline activity pack? There’s lots of inspiration to be found inside, from going rock-pooling to conducting your own beach cleans. There are easy-to-follow instructions for each activity, which are suitable for families, individuals, clubs and school classes. Just make sure you wrap up warm! You can download a copy of our activity pack from or to receive a hard copy please contact our Project Manager Charlotte Johnson on

For more information on the work the project does please visit Click to read more about the Firth of Forth SSSI.

Our project is kindly supported by Scottish Natural Heritage.

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Leigheasann Tonn a’ Chladaich / Thrifty Gaelic Cures

Tha tonn a’ chladaich na leigheas airson dà thinneis, a rèir beul-aithris / Traditional lore identifies thrift as means of curing two ailments.

Leigheas airson Trom-inntinn is Ceann-daoraich

’S e tonn a’ chladaich (ris an can cuid neòinean a’ chladaich) luibh dhùthchasach cho iongantach ’s a th’ againn, agus e a’ fàs bho thaobh na mara, far am bi e air a chòmhdachadh le sàl aig amannan, gu ruige creachannan nam beann air a’ Ghàidhealtachd. Bidh a’ mhòr mhòr-chuid againn ga aithneachadh air na blàthan liath-dhearg aige a tha pailt agus brèagha eadar am Màrt is an t-Sultain.


Tha an lus aithnichte mar leigheas airson dà thinneas. Ann an Tiriodh, bhathar ga chleachdadh an aghaidh dìth-lùths agus trom-inntinn ann an clann, nuair a bhiodh iad air an adhbharachadh le clisgeadh no eagal. Bha na Tiristich eòlach air an tinneas mar bàrr a’ ceann (sic). Bhite a’ cruinneachadh còrr is trithead freumh de thonn a’ chladaich, gan glanadh is gan cunntadh. Bhiodh na ciad ochd freumhaichean air an gleidheadh, agus an naoidheamh fear air a shadail a-mach. Bhathar a’ dèanamh an aon rud dà thuras eile, gus an robh meall ann de cheithir freumhaichean air fhichead. Bha iad sin air am pronnadh gu mìn agus air an cur ann am poca beag a bhiodh air a chrochadh bho amhaich an leanaibh. Bhite a’ cruinneachadh nam freumhaichean air trì latha – Didòmhnaich, Diardaoin agus an ath Dhidòmhnaich, no Diardaoin, Didòmhnaich agus an ath Dhisathairne – agus bhiodh e ceart gu leòr an cur a-null thairis sa phost – cho fada ri Astràilia.

Tha leigheas eile an cois tonn a’ chladaich cuideachd – rudeigin a dh’fhaodadh a bhith feumail aig an àm seo dhen bhliadhna. Anns na 1930an, fhuaireadh fios bho sgiobair an MV Loch Mòr ann an Uibhist a Deas gun dèanadh na lusan sin leigheas air a’ cheann-daoraich. Bhiodh bad de na lusan, air an spìonadh leis na freumhaichean slàn, air a ghoil airson còrr is uair a thìde. An dèidh dha fionnarachadh, bhiodh duine a bh’ air a bhith ri deoch is daorach, ag òl an lionna gu slaodach. Bhiodh sin ga dheisealachadh airson oidhche mhòr eile air tìr.

A Maritime Cure for Melancholy and Hangover

Thrift, also known as Sea Pinks (Armeria maritima), is a native herb with an amazing distribution, being found in plenty from our salt-lashed shores to the very tops of our mountains. The most common Gaelic name for the species – tonn a’ chladaich ‘wave of the shore’ – reflects its abundance in our maritime environment. Indeed, what Scottish child has wandered our rocky shores in the summer months and not marvelled at its wonderful pink blooms?


What is perhaps less well known is the use of the species in Gaelic Scotland as a cure for ‘listlessness and melancholy [in children], usually resulting from a bad shock or fright’. At least, that was the tradition recorded in Tiree, where it was employed as a remedy for a mental affliction known locally as bàrr a’ ceann. Over thirty clean green roots of thrift were taken and counted. The first eight were retained, and the ninth discarded (nine being a special number in traditional Gaelic lore). This was repeated twice more until there was a heap of twenty-four roots. These were ground down to the consistency of sand and put into a small bag which was tied around the child’s neck (back or fore). The roots would be harvested on three days – a Sunday, Thursday and the following Sunday or, alternatively, on a Thursday, Sunday and Saturday – and could be posted to wherever they would be used, even being sent as far as Australia. The second and third days’ harvests would be added to the bag, without the previous materials being removed.


A second remedy connected to thrift might be considered useful by some at this ‘festive’ time of year. It is a cure for a hangover, and was collected in South Uist in the 1930s. A bunch of the plants, pulled out with their roots intact, would be boiled for an hour or more. Left to cool and then drunk slowly, the informant (the redoubtable skipper of the MV Lochmor, no less) claimed that the potion made the consumer ‘ready for the next night ashore.’

All photos (C)Lorne Gill/SNH


Posted in coastal, Flowers, Folklore, foraging, Gaelic, History, Natural Health Service, sea life, SNH, Uncategorized, wild flowers | Tagged , , , , , , , ,