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 , , , , , , , ,

Great VIBES at Environment Business Awards

This year was the 20th Anniversary of the Scottish Environment Business Awards – the VIBES Awards – and for the first time SNH was a strategic partner. The Awards celebrate the efforts of businesses across Scotland, large and small, that are committed to improving environmental sustainability in their products, services and practices. Attended by over 350 people, the November Awards ceremony was the culmination of a three-stage judging process, which included a site visit from a judging panel to each of the finalists.

The Awards

The ‘Best of VIBES’ was awarded to Cumbernauld-based CMS Windows, a company at the forefront of innovative development within the building industry, creating energy efficient and environmentally friendly products and systems. Their windows, doors and walling contain high levels of recycled content and are fully recyclable. They were previous VIBES Awards winners in 2009 and 2015.

The Leadership Scotland Award is for organisations with the vision and systems to improve their contribution to sustainable development. With increasing awareness of the environmental impacts of throwaway fashion, it was won this year by ACS Clothing Ltd, for their circular ‘hire and re-use’ fashion system. They’ve developed an eco-friendly way to clean garments, reducing chemical use, and with 0% waste from the business going to landfill.


ACS CLothing’s fashion without the footprint

The Product Scotland Award went to Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES), a leading innovator in sustainable analytics for the built environment. They estimate that their software, which facilitates the energy efficient design and operation of buildings, has generated energy savings equivalent to the building of thirty 500MW power stations!

Vegware is a global specialist in plant-based, compostable, food and drink packaging. The Edinburgh-based company makes an extensive range of catering disposables from renewable, lower carbon or recycled materials and they have recently instituted a ‘close the loop’ service, collecting used containers from their clients, and established a Composting Collective for consumers. Vegware took home the Service Scotland Award.


Vegware products

Forres-based Biomatrix Water Ltd picked up the Adapting Scotland Award, for a proactive approach to managing climate change risk and helping society to adapt.  The company develops ecological water technology – from floating ecosystems to solar islands and constructed wetlands – deployed across the globe.  They offer nature-based solutions to water quality improvement and urban habitat creation.

Planting a floating ecosystem at the Biomatrix workshop

Planting a floating ecosystem at the Biomatrix workshop

The winner of the Innovating Scotland Award was agri-tech business Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS).  IGS is creating optimal conditions for commercially viable vertical farming.  By combining different technologies, they have created ‘total controlled environment agriculture’, which has significant water and energy savings compared to glasshouse production.

The Hydro Nation Scotland Award recognises businesses that maximise water resource benefits.  Winners, Diageo at Leven, have increased production by 10%, while reducing water consumption by a similar percentage. A newly-installed reverse osmosis plant at Leven has resulted in significant water savings and reduction in effluent.

Craigengelt windfarm

(C)Lorne Gill/SNH

Renewable Parts Ltd won the Circular Scotland Award.  The Argyll company refurbish used wind turbine parts, testing and certifying them for re-use within the wind industry. Within the last year they have reused 10 tonnes of material which would have otherwise been scrapped.

The Engaging Scotland Award recognises a ‘green team’ delivering sustainable changes within a business. The winner was Aberdeen Performing Arts who impressed judges with the way their green team is driving changes in the organisation.  The company has made changes including with their energy use, recycling, cleaning products, public transport promotion and, perhaps most significantly, programming of pieces, debates and conversations which address environmental issues, all within their core business.

Leon Gray from APA with the Engaging Scotland Award

Leon Gray from APA with the Engaging Scotland Award

Businesses whose environmental impact has reduced significantly as result of encouraging active travel and sustainable transport are recognised with the Moving Scotland Award. This year it was won by TechnipFMC, who provide technical solutions to the oil and gas sector.  The company has instituted sustainable transport initiatives, including the operation of a bus to save journeys to and from work in private cars; a cycle-to-work scheme; the introduction of walking meetings; and  the installation of electric car-charging points.

A multi-sector partnership behind the Outer Hebrides Local Energy Hub was the winner of the Partnership Scotland Award. The Scottish Salmon Company, Pure Energy Centre, Community Energy Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have joined forces to combine fish waste with household and garden waste to produce biogas.  The biogas fuels a Combined Heat and Power Plant, with some of the energy produced being used to make hydrogen and oxygen for the salmon hatchery.

The 2019 VIBES Awards winners

The 2019 VIBES Winners

The final award of the day was the Small Business Award, won by Findra, who were also finalists in the Product Scotland category.  This Innerleithen-based company produce a range of active lifestyle clothing made from Merino wool. Merino clothing needs less frequent washing than some fabrics and the production system used by Findra also generates less waste than traditional knitting processes.

Many other inspiring and innovative businesses were shortlisted for the finals and you can read more about some of them on the VIBES website.

Posted in Awards, climate change, Community engagement, Competition, industry, Recycling, Renewable Energy, science, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, sustainable farming, sustainable travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Flow Country projects ends on a high

The Flow Country is one of our last wild places, stretching across Caithness and Sutherland in the far north of Scotland. And it’s a crucial spot in the battle against climate change – on the best and biggest peatland of its type in the world.

FlowsTTF-D5855 - credit SNH-Lorne Gill

As the Peatland Partnership’s £10.6 million Flows to the Future Project draws to a close, we want to celebrate all that it’s achieved. Inappropriately planted forestry on deep peat had damaged this blanket bog over the decades, impeding the amazing capacity of peatland to capture carbon. But in the past five years, the project has cleared 837.4 hectares of non-native trees on deep peat, while helping neighbouring landowners receive funding for another 75,000 hectares.

Restoring peatland provides an important habitat for plants and wildlife, improves water quality, and mitigates flood risk. In Scotland, around 25% of the country is covered in peat soil. If all of the C02 from that peatland were released, it would be the equivalent of more than 120 years of Scotland’s emissions being produced at once.

FlowsTTF-D5917 credit SNH-Lorne Gill

As well as peatland restoration, the Flows to the Future project also had a strong community focus, with a huge amount of work going into education, visitor facilities, training and bolstering local business.

The project trained 270 volunteers; signposted five walking routes with four viewpoints which include information, seating and parking; constructed an amazing viewing tower; held almost 180 meetings; held over 200 school visits at the reserve or at schools; created a touring exhibition, seen by over 150,000 people, which travelled to 13 U.K. venues; and spent £4.3m with Caithness and Sutherland businesses.

FlowsTTF-D7234 - SNH-Lorne Gill

Fortunately, as one significant project comes to a close, another picks up momentum. The Partnership is looking to build on the legacy of the Flows to the Future Project with a bid to recognise the Flow Country as the best peatland of its type in the world, and be declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. If successful, this will be Scotland’s only purely natural World Heritage Site and the only site in the world acknowledged solely for its peatland habitat.

For more information on Flows to the Future, see www.theflowcountry.org.uk.

FlowsTTF-D7790 - credit SNH-Lorne Gill

The Peatlands Partnership includes Scottish Natural Heritage, Forest and Land Scotland, Scottish Forestry, The Highland Council, RSPB Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, The Highland Third Sector Interface, The Flow Country Rivers Trust, and The Environmental Research Institute.


Posted in biodiversity, citizen science, climate change, Community engagement, conservation, Land management, peatland restoration, The Flow Country, Uncategorized

Winter walks for International Mountain Day

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is encouraging people to celebrate International Mountain Day with a visit to one of Scotland’s stunning nature reserves.

Some of our finest mountains lie within these special areas, and while the high tops may be restricted to experienced mountaineers at this time of year, many reserves have accessible walks for all to get up close to and appreciate the grandeur of the snowy peaks in winter.

Here are five highlights from our National Nature Reserves(NNRs) to mark the day.

Beinn Eighe

Beinn Eighe and pinewoods in winter © John MacPhersonSNH

Beinn Eighe NNR and pinewoods in winter © John MacPherson/SNH

Beinn Eighe’s rugged peaks, ridges and scree-covered slopes make it among the finest of Scotland’s mountain massifs. It is also home to the UK’s first National Nature Reserve, covering a vast area of 48 square kilometres stretching from loch-side to mountain top. Winter is a wonderful time to visit the reserve to see the ancient Scots pinewood set against the background of spectacular snow-capped mountains. There are plenty of walks for all levels to enjoy at the reserve, with waymarked trails leading through the woodlands from the visitor centre just outside Kinlochewe or the Coille na Glas-Leitir car park on the shores of Loch Maree.

Coire Fee

A waterfall at Coire Fee National Nature Reserve ©Lorne GillSNH

A waterfall at Coire Fee NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The magnificent natural amphitheatre of Corrie Fee sits on the shoulder of the Cairngorms plateau at the head of Glen Clova in Angus in eastern Scotland. Close to the Munro peaks of Dreish and Mayar, it is one of the best glacial corries in the British Isles, famed for its rare plants and stunning mountain views. In winter visitors can get a glimpse of the arctic and alpine environments as snow gathers and the waterfall freezes in dramatic icicles. Several trails start at the ranger base, including the Coire Fee Trail which leads up to the edge of Glen Doll forest for a spectacular view at the entrance to the corrie.

Creag Meagaidh

Native Birch woodland in winter Creag Meagaidh NNR ©Lorne Gill

Native Birch woodland in winter at Creag Meagaidh NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH 

Creag Meagaidh offers the complete mountain experience. From the Munro summits of the wild mountain plateau to woodland that’s slowly returning to life, it feels like the Highlands compressed into one reserve and is one of Scotland’s best areas for walking and climbing. There are three waymarked trails on the lower ground where visitors can explore the rich tapestry of regenerating woodland habitats and enjoy dramatic mountain views. Winter is a good time to spot black grouse among the birch trees, golden eagles circling overhead and red deer returning to the woods at lower levels.

Invereshie and Inshriach

Pines at Invereshie NNR ©Lorne Gill SNH

Pines at Invereshie and Inshriach NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Experience the wild side of the Cairngorms with a magical winter walk at Invereshie and Inshriach. Trails weave upwards through the peaceful ancient pinewood towards the high mountain plateau and the summits of Sgòr Gaoith and Carn Bàn Mòr beyond. Just a half hour walk on a well-surfaced path along the Allt Ruadh (the red burn) gives visitors a taste of the change from glen to open hill and superb views west over Glen Feshie to the Monadhliath hills beyond. Keep an eye out for the iconic red squirrel and, in snowy conditions, the tracks of pine marten and deer.

Knockan Crag

A temperature inversion at Knockan Crag NNR.©Lorne Gill/SNH

A temperature inversion at Knockan Crag NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The mountains of Coigach and Assynt are among the most dramatic in Scotland, and Knockan Crag NNR offers breathtaking views over favourites including Stac Pollaidh and Cul Mor. The location in the North West Highlands Geopark holds the key to an amazing story of colliding continents and scientific intrigue. The landscape reveals some of the world’s oldest rocks as well as evidence of the huge upheavals, collisions and pressures that have shaped Scotland. Wander the sculpture and poetry trails and take in the wonderful mountain views, with accessible options for all abilities.

Tips for safe winter walking:

  • Even at lower levels mountain conditions can change very rapidly – check the forecast and be prepared for sudden changes in the weather including sleet or snow between autumn and late spring. The Mountain Weather Information Service is a great resource for planning your walk.
  • Rough ground can sometimes be slippery or icy. Wear sturdy footwear such as walking boots or shoes with a good tread, warm and waterproof clothing, a hat and gloves and take plenty of food and a hot drink.
  • If you’re planning to explore beyond the marked trails, it’s recommended to have a map and compass, and experience of mountain walking.
  • Know your limits – if you encounter snow and ice and are not comfortable or don’t have the right equipment turn back.
Posted in National Nature Reserves | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Taking Cumbernauld’s Wild Ways Well to a European audience

Making more use of Scotland’s outdoors as Our Natural Health Service is an initiative being led by SNH. Paul Barclay from The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), is part of the Cumbernauld Living Landscape team and delivers an innovative green health programme, which brilliantly illustrates how connecting to nature can help people whose health would benefit the most …

Emerging from a forest onto a pristine white sand beach and watching the sun set over the sea is not my usual Tuesday routine as part of the Wild Ways Well mental well-being project in Cumbernauld.  On 24 September this year however, this natural outdoor space was exactly what I needed to recharge and de-stress having just presented at a workshop on green health and well-being, to the EUROPARC 2019 conference in Jurmala, Latvia.

2019 conference - workshop 3.1 WWW SNH blog - picture 1The EUROPARC Federation is the representative body for Europe’s Protected Areas, bringing together culture, heritage and nature, and highlighting the importance of conservation and the environment to the fabric of society. Their conference this year was called ‘Nature on your Mind: understanding our values’ and included an inspiring keynote from UK-based Dr William Bird, who invented health walks and Green Gyms.

Jurmala lies about 30km west of the Latvian capital Riga and is a famous Baltic health resort, specialising in using nature as a therapy. It was once the secret getaway destination of Soviet leaders, who would come here to relax and attend to their well-being.  We were lucky enough to visit a Sanitorium surrounded by dense woodland, which is still owned by Vladimir Putin and is where Russian citizens can be prescribed a therapeutic holiday among the trees. It is so dedicated to the woods that, despite being on the coast, it has no windows facing the sea!


2019 conference - workshop 3.1 WWW SNH blog - picture 4

It was obvious from my brief visit that the people of Latvia value nature and its health-giving effects in a very different way to ourselves in Scotland. Walking through the town it seems that trees have priority over buildings, with developers and owners having to work with, and live with, the mature trees on a site, rather than simply cutting them down. Travelling through the centre of this busy urban area I was amazed at one point to suddenly find myself in a mature woodland, full of well-maintained paths, a basketball court, cycle and hoverboard trails, leisure, retail and relaxation areas, all built in harmony with the woodland – imagine that in George Square!

I had a chance to get into real wild places too. I took my shoes off and walked a 2km long ‘barefoot’ trail designed to help you focus on your senses while walking over a variety of natural surfaces (including knee deep in a river!). I was fascinated to discover that parks across Latvia have a network of colour coded walking routes through them, designed so that doctors can prescribe standardised walks to their patients – a blue walk once per week for someone with a mild heart condition perhaps, or a yellow walk every day for someone recovering from illness.

2019 conference - workshop 3.1 WWW SNH blog - picture 3#2.JPG

It was wonderful to see so many people at the conference itself – and heartening that a good few were from the UK. Our hosts described us all collectively as the ‘green tribe’, working to put nature and conservation at the heart of European life and it did feel like a vast melting point of ideas and viewpoints. I was there to provide a case study as part of the ‘Nature on your doorstep’ workshop being run by Pete Rawcliffe from SNH, who also chairs the EUROPARC Commission on Health & Protected Areas. Our workshop had attendees from right across Europe, as well the United States and even Brazil, and my job was to show what we are doing in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust in Cumbernauld. It was exciting also to realise that the work we are doing to re-connect folk facing poor mental health and social isolation with people, place and purpose using their local greenspaces, is right on the cutting edge of green health and that others are keen to learn from us.

The programme noted that my presentation would be made in English so my first job on standing was to tell everyone that it would actually be in Scottish – which is like English but much faster! I did my best to slow my speech down, so much so that I felt like I was moving in slow motion, so hopefully everyone got the gist of what I was saying. Most of the laughs were in the right places, so that was encouraging at least!

Following me was a case study from Finland about establishing National Urban Parks as a way to deliver a range of policy areas including biodiversity, cultural heritage and human health – providing places for physical activity, mental refreshment and social contact. Afterwards we workshopped some of the themes from the presentations to see how they could be made relevant to parks and green spaces everywhere. It was wonderful to see that the power of nature as a tool for healing and therapy is gaining so much attention and really moving to the forefront of environmental and health agendas.

2019 conference - workshop 3.1 WWW SNH blog - picture 2The conference culminated in the presentation of the Jurmala Communiqué which announced the EUROPARC Federation’s plan to develop a ‘Healthy Parks Healthy People’ Europe programme. The HPHP approach began in Australia, promoted by Parks Victoria, and aims to influence policy, practice and partnerships to fully realise the potential of parks and protected areas to help deliver public health priorities.

It was a privilege to be invited to attend and speak and to present the work of TCV and Cumbernauld Living Landscape to such a wide audience.  I arrived home at midnight on the Friday tired but re-energised – which was lucky as I spent that Saturday and Sunday attending events in Cumbernauld, delivering green health and not just talking about it!

2019 conference - workshop 3.1 WWW SNH blog - picture logo

Follow the links to find out more about Wild Ways Well; the 2019 EUROPARC conference (including the keynote Nature on Your Mind – in Health, the Jurmala Communiqué and access to all of the thematic workshop presentations including Paul’s case study); and TCV.

Posted in active travel, gardens, green health, Green infrastructure, paths, Planning, Projects, Scotland's Protected Places, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, Uncategorized, urban nature, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Celebrating National Nature Reserves at the Scottish Parliament

Late last month, our National Nature Reserve (NNR) staff gathered for an evening reception in Scottish Parliament’s Garden Lobby to celebrate Scotland’s amazing array of nature reserves and the many benefits they provide to us all. 

We were joined by a enthusiastic group of young people from Lochgilphead High School in Argyll. These youngsters have taken part in the wonderful Snapberry project, taking pictures on our beautiful Taynish reserve.

Snapberry-D7205 - Taynish NNR

We showcased eleven of our reserves, highlighting how they connect to the communities around them and how we manage nature in these special places to make sure it thrives. Reserves are brilliant for so many things: volunteering, outdoor learning, skills development, research, health and well-being.

But let’s hear about the evening from the group who joined us from Lochgilphead High School! Here is their account of the evening, which they shared with their school on their return:

For 11 years, our school has been working with Scottish Natural Heritage on a photography project, Snapberry.  This takes place every May and gives pupils the opportunity to get out and about with cameras, supported by teachers and staff from SNH. In recent years, we have been at Taynish National Nature Reserve (NNR) and wandered down to the old mill and shore enjoying the various installations that are part of Art Map.  In August, the photos we take are displayed in the old mill and form a dramatic and unusual gallery of pupil work for visitors to enjoy.

Snapberry-D7198_jpg_JPEG Image Height 720px_m35517.jpg

We were delighted this year to be asked to go to the Scottish Parliament on the 19th of November for an evening event showcasing the work of the various NNRs managed by SNH around Scotland.  We knew we were going to Edinburgh, we knew we were going to the Scottish Parliament and we knew we were staying over but we did not realise how good the whole experience would be.

We left Lochgilphead on the bus and travelled by train to Edinburgh before checking into our apartments in the city’s west end. After a short wander through the town for pizza, we were off to the Scottish Parliament.

We were greeted by Mike Russell, MSP and Cabinet Secretary, where Craig took the necessary selfie. There were speeches and opportunities to hear about the work going on across Scotland and the whole event had the backdrop of our photos playing on a slideshow. 

The parliament building is stunning and it was really good to see our work so prominently displayed and to hear all the positive comments people had to make about our project and to be able to answer their questions.

Snapberry team 4

After a walk around to see other groups and their projects, we were given a tour of the Debating Chamber by Brian Whittle, MSP, who explained some of the procedures and how the Parliament works.  We got to sit in the seats where MSPs debate and vote and asked questions to Mr Whittle.  He was very patient with us and seemed to find our questions interesting. Our pupils took the chance to ask what he really thought of the First Minister and he was very diplomatic even when pushed.  This was Craig’s highlight as he says, ‘We see this place on the telly and it is good to see what it is really like.’

When we walked back to the apartments, we went through Princes Gardens which were all lit up with the Christmas Market. It was nice to have the place quite quiet, as some of us had been before and the crowds can make it difficult to really enjoy sometimes.

On the Wednesday, we had a great cooked breakfast made by Mr Povey and the boys and then set off to see some of the sights before heading back to the train.  The castle was obviously on our list and we really enjoyed seeing this part of Edinburgh. Walking down the Royal Mile, we were struck by just how many shops there are selling nothing but tartan!!  To get away from that, we thought we best head back to the market for waffles.

And then it was time to head home.  However when we got to Haymarket we could not resist an impromptu Jingle Bells on the piano which entertained some passers by.

Snapberry team 6

We had a really great couple of days. We would like to thank Mrs Donald, Mr Povey and Frances Drewery for all the organization and for making it such good fun. Thanks also to Caroline, Heather, Gordon and Stuart at SNH for everything  – especially all the patience over the years.  

Well done to Iris Bevan, Nicola Knight, Taylor McKibbin, Mark Newlands and Craig O’Meara for representing their project and Taynish National Nature Reserve so well. We look forward to seeing some more excellent Snapberry photography next year and hearing about the new things you have learnt about nature at the same time.

Posted in Argyll National Nature Reserves, National Nature Reserves, Taynish NNR, Young people | Tagged , , , , ,

Forvie’s Purple sandpipers

Our post this morning comes from Ron Macdonald, who is becoming well known on social media these days for his fantastic bird photographs. Today he talks about one of his favourite waders…

This morning I’m off to photograph purple sandpipers on Forvie’s wild eastern shore,  where the North Sea pounds against the high cliffs.  Here on the rocky shore below the cliffs I find 16 purple sandpipers foraging among the rock pools, gradually being pushed higher and higher as the tide comes in.  Soon they’ll call it a day and head for their high tide roost on a nearby islet.

ron 1

©Ron Macdonald

I’ve always been drawn to Purple sandpipers.  Compared to other waders they’re much more confiding, usually allowing me to get within 3-4 metres before they edge away keeping that minimum distance between us. They are slightly larger and dumpier than a dunlin with an overall grey looking plumage with yellowish legs and beak.  On the face of it you would think their grey plumage might make them, err, grey and uninteresting but the grey set against the yellow orange bill and legs results in one smart looking bird.  This morning I’m lucky enough to come across a bird with the last vestige of its purple summer plumage, which adds to its beauty.

The Purple sandpipers that winter on Forvie probably breed in Canada. Research on birds trapped and ringed in Eastern Britain (Kincardineshire to Yorkshire) are mainly short-billed and come from the Norway breeding population.  North of this and on Scotland’s west coast, long-billed (almost certainly Canadian breeders) dominate. Northeast Scotland has populations of both and there appears to be no clear boundary line between the two populations –  rather the percentage of small billed birds decreases as you go north.


©Ron Macdonald

Purple Sandpipers have fared badly in the last while.  Research* in the Moray Firth found that from from the mid 1980’s, the total population fell from 400-600 birds to 200-300 in the late 90’s, which represents over half the population. The decline in the Moray Firth has been replicated elsewhere in Britain with a similar 50% drop in the purple sandpiper population.  In the Lothians the decline has even been greater. Nowadays the UK wintering population is around 10000 birds.


©Ron Macdonald

What has caused the decline?   Research* has shown that the recruitment of young birds has been insufficient to maintain the numbers.   Exactly why this should be the case is open to question but climate change has been put forward as a possible reason with birds preferring a colder winter climate.  Increasingly, young birds are choosing to remain in Iceland, rather than migrate as far as UK. Adults are very site faithful so they keep coming to traditional wintering areas. As they die off numbers will drop – hence the decline.


©Ron Macdonald

Another reason responsible for the decline is the improvement in sewage treatment and the relocation of outfalls into deeper water which in turn reduces the amount of invertebrates found in rocky pools close to settlements.

It’s now nearing high tide and the birds have stopped feeding. The occasional squabbling between feeding birds stops and most tuck their heads under their wings.  Suddenly, as if on cue, a large wave breaks on the shore and they flit across to their high tide roost.

Ron Macdonald

My thanks to Bob Swann, Robert Rae and Raymond Duncan for providing information and advice on the origin of wintering Purple sandpipers in the North East of Scotland.

Local and global influences on population declines of coastal waders: Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima numbers in the Moray Firth, Scotland by Ron W. Summers, Simon Foster, Bob Swann & Brian Etheridge in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 102-103 (2012).

You can follow Ron’s amazing photography on Twitter – @ronpon_ron

Posted in Birds, coastal, conservation, National Nature Reserves, Nature in art, photography, sea life, SNH, Uncategorized, wild land | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘Stop soil erosion, Save our future’

Today is World Soil Day and it gives us a chance to celebrate soils and raise awareness of the importance of sustaining healthy soils. The message of the Day, Stop soil erosion, Save our future’, clearly demonstrates the vital benefits that soils bring, both for human well-being and in sustaining healthy ecosystems in which our habitats and species can thrive.


Soil is far more than just the dirt on our shoes or the mud on our boots. It is one of Scotland’s greatest assets and is a vital natural resource that has evolved over thousands of years. Healthy soils are fundamental to life and human well-being – it forms the basic foundation for sustaining our natural habitats in which species live and thrive, while humans rely on good quality soils for food growth and healthy grazing land for livestock.

Did you know that our soils bring additional hidden benefits too? Carbon storage, water purification, flood prevention and pollution control are all ways in which soils contribute further to a healthy environment. Soils perform an important role in slowing the flow of water through catchments, increasing infiltration and reducing catchment run-off. Only when our soils are healthy can they perform these functions and prevent pollution of watercourses with organic matter and fine sediments. Clean and healthy waters are the lifeblood of Scotland’s rivers, streams, lochs and ponds. In turn, these habitats sustain our important freshwater species, from the smaller insects, amphibians and plants through to many of our iconic species such as freshwater pearl mussels and Atlantic salmon.

Scotland’s soils hold more water than all of our freshwater lochs combined, and the healthier they are (with higher quantities of organic matter) the more water they can store. This enormous capacity for water storage means that soils act as a ‘reservoir’, helping to maintain our watercourses in times of drought. This has become increasingly valuable as we adapt to the more chaotic weather patterns of recent times.

Healthy soils also store vast quantities of carbon which helps to slow the pace of climate change. However, the degradation and erosion of soils has become a major global problem, threatening the sustainability of all the benefits that soils give to us and the environment. Soil erosion is a natural process, but inappropriate land management can trigger accelerated rates of erosion leading to severely detrimental effects. Bare soils, compacted soils or recently ploughed or seeded land are left more vulnerable to erosion by intense or prolonged rainfall events.

Soil erosion in a cultivated gley soil - Lorne Gill, SNH.

Soil erosion in a cultivated gley soil © Lorne Gill, SNH.

Not only is valuable soil and carbon lost from the fields during erosion; the sediment is then rapidly transported into watercourses. This in turn leads to polluted waters with reduced quantities of oxygen and high levels of suspended sediments, and sensitive habitats and species are smothered, damaged or lost to scouring.



Preventing soil erosion and increasing carbon storage are vital in our battles to control climate changes and sustain a nature-rich future. We can all take action to help. Land managers can adopt sustainable soil management practices such as planting cover crops, rotating crops, limiting tillage and building terraces or planting shelter belts to protect our soils from erosion. Scientists can continue their pursuit of innovative techniques and solutions to assist in the control and prevention of soil loss. Scotland’s Peatland ACTION projects are working to restore vast areas of our natural peatland ecosystem. And everyone can plant vegetation to provide ground cover to protect the soil – grasses, shrubs and trees are all valuable, from planted gardens in the smallest urban green space through to larger-scale planting in the countryside. Even the smallest of positive actions will contribute to stopping soil erosion and saving our soils (and their benefits) for future generations.

The World Soils Day web-page offers you more information and resources to help your celebrate, understand and promote the special value of soils. Please visit Scotland’s Soils website for more information and fascinating facts about soils. This includes a Soil Erosion Risk Map covering most of Scotland’s cultivated agricultural land area which highlights areas at risk from soil erosion.



Posted in biodiversity, Farming, science, SNH, Soil, sustainable farming, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Building with Nature – Greener Social Housing by Design

Scotland’s urban green spaces provide many benefits for people and nature – from opportunities to exercise; spaces to grow food; refuges for wildlife; and valuable services, such as managing flood water and mitigating the effects of air and noise pollution. But there are still many places in Scotland, often associated with areas of disadvantage, where green infrastructure is not fulfilling its potential in terms of the number of benefits it could provide.

SNH and the Scottish Government are working with Architecture & Design Scotland and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, to support place-design that maximizes the benefits of green infrastructure in social housing. Our Social Housing and Green Infrastructure project will provide financial support to three new projects that will provide lessons for the housing sector and lead to more opportunities for people to connect with nature close to where they live.

Meadowbank Green Roof Viability Study

This study is based on a mixed development of new housing and local amenities surrounding Meadowbank Sports Centre, in Edinburgh. The viability study will explore:

  • How blue/green roofs might enhance the ecological value of the site
  • How blue/green roofs might contribute to an environmental and ecologically sensitive water management strategy
  • How blue/green roofs compare to traditional roofing systems, drainage and associated maintenance.
  • The costs of different roof solutions, and the implications for the efficient use of the rest of the site to deliver a range of functions and benefits

This project is coordinated by Collective Architecture and Ian White Associates on behalf of the City of Edinburgh Council. The project has benefited from the input of Dusty Gedge, the UK’s leading expert on green roofs.


Meadowbank Regeneration Site, Edinburgh

North Maryhill

In Glasgow, Maryhill Housing Association is preparing an indicative masterplan for a new neighbourhood within the North Maryhill Transformational Regeneration Area. The neighbourhood will be a distinct place, focused around green infrastructure that functions at both a local and city scale. The project is being coordinated by ERZ Landscape Architects on behalf of Glasgow City Council.

SNH is supporting an additional study here to learn lessons that are transferable to the wider social housing sector. The research will explore in detail opportunities to deliver multifunctional green infrastructure, integrated with a mixed tenure neighbourhood at the heart of the site, and explore the costs and benefits of doing so.

Couple working in their allotment, Maryhill Glasgow

Couple working in their allotment, Maryhill Glasgow

Queensland Court

We are working with Southside Housing Association to explore the maintenance costs associated with a new retrofitted sustainable urban drainage scheme, and new play opportunities in the grounds of one of their properties – Queensland Court, in Cardonald, Glasgow. The capital works are funded by the Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention.

Presenting Southside Housing Association with Green Infrastructure Fund Award

Presenting Southside Housing Association with Green Infrastructure Fund Award

Building with Nature

At all three sites, SNH and the Scottish Government are providing financial support to enable the projects to be assessed against Building with Nature Standards. This has included support for City of Glasgow Council to enable two of their planners to be trained as Building with Nature assessors.

Together, these projects will provide valuable lessons and case studies for the social housing sector, on how to achieve multiple benefits from green infrastructure, in a way that delivers successful nature-rich places that are resilient to climate change.


Posted in biodiversity, climate change, Community engagement, Flood management, Flooding, Flowers, gardens, green health, Green infrastructure, Natural Health Service, Planning, Projects, Research, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, Sustainable Drainage Systems, Uncategorized, urban nature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

A’ Ghaoth agus an Aimsir / Wind and Weather

Faodaidh atharrachadh na gaoithe a rèir na combaist innse dhuinn mun aimsir a tha romhainn / The direction of the wind can help us predict the weather, according to traditional lore.

Àirde na gaoithe agus ro-innse na h-aimsir

Tha seanfhacal againn Cha do shèid gaoth riamh nach robh an seòl cuideigin ach, ma tha sinn gu bhith onarach, tha a’ mhòr-chuid de sheanfhaclan Gàidhlig a-mach air droch bhuaidh na h-aimsire, seach an caochladh – le deagh adhbhar ann an dùthaich mar Alba! Tha uiread de dhualchas co-cheangailte ri ro-innse na h-aimsir ann an coimhearsnachdan ar cladaichean, ’s gu bheil facal sònraichte againn airson neach a dh’innseas mar a bhios an t-sìde a rèir na chì iad anns an adhar – màirnealach.

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Seo feadhainn de na h-abairtean a th’ againn, cuid mhath dhiubh às na h-Eileanan Siar – carson nach tomhais sibh fhèin cho ceart ’s a tha iad? Gaoth an iar an dèidh uisge reamhar an dèidh uisge trom a bhith ann, gu math tric bidh a’ ghaoth a’ tighinn on àird an iar. Gaoth an iar gun fhras, bidh i ’g iarraidh gu deas bidh i a’ dol tuathal no an aghaidh gluasad na grèine. A’ ghaoth ag atharrachadh leis a’ ghrèin nuair a bhios a’ ghaoth ag atharrachadh gu deiseil, ’s e comharra de dh’aimsir a tha a’ fàs nas fheàrr. Calg-dhìreach an aghaidh sin tha A’ ghaoth ag atharrachadh an aghaidh na grèine – a tha na chomharra de dh’aimsir a tha a’ dol am miosad. Tha na dhà mu dheireadh ’s dòcha a’ buntainn ri gluasad deiseil is tuathal na gaoithe ann an co-cheangal ri siostaman bruthadh-àrd is bruthadh-ìosal anns an Leth-chruinne mu Thuath, gnothach a tha aithnichte do dh’eòlaichean aimsir.

’S e a’ ghaoth tuath as motha a chuireas dragh air daoine a tha ri obair no cur-seachadan a-muigh. Ge-tà, chan eil i uile-gu-lèir droch-fhàbharach dhuinn. Bhiodh ar sinnsirean ag ràdh: ’S i a’ ghaoth tuath a sgaoileas ceò  agus Gaoth tuath am beul na h-oidhche, cha robh i riamh buan.

Stormy skies over Loch Indaal, Islay. ©Lorne Gill

Tha rann againn a bheir comhairle do luchd-siubhail air bàtaichean-aiseig an taoibh an iar (saoil a bheil sgiobairean ChalMac eòlach air?!) Tha e a-mach air na làithean as fheàrr airson a bhith a’ siubhal aig muir, a rèir àirde na combaist agus cho fad ’s a tha a’ ghaoth a’ sèideadh:

A’ chiad latha dhen ghaoith a deas,

An treas latha dhen ghaoith a tuath,

An dàrna latha dhen ghaoith an iar

’S a’ ghaoth an ear gach ial ’s gach uair

Mura h-e seòladair math a th’ annad, agus tu a’ ceannach tiogaid aiseig aig a’ mhionaid mu dheireadh, ’s dòcha gum bi a’ chomhairle sin gu math feumail dhut!

Wind direction and weather forecasts

There is a Gaelic proverb Cha do shèid gaoth riamh nach robh an seòl cuideigin ‘no wind ever blew that did not fill someone’s sails’, but in the pantheon of Gaelic expressions concerning the wind, it is one of a minority that present a positive outlook – most concern the challenges of living in such a windy and changeable climate as Scotland boasts! The tradition of weather-watching and weather-prediction among the maritime community of Gaelic Scotland is so strong that we have a special word for a person with these skills – màirnealach, ‘a pilot who foretells the state of the weather from the appearance of the sky or from a certain arrangement or modification of clouds’.

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Here are some of the sayings we have, most of them from the Western Isles – why not test them against your own observations or knowledge! Gaoth an iar an dèidh uisge reamhar ‘west wind after heavy rain’ – after substantial rain, the wind often comes from the west. Gaoth an iar gun fhras, bidh i ’g iarraidh gu deas ‘a west wind without showers will be seeking the south ie backing’. A’ ghaoth ag atharrachadh leis a’ ghrèin ‘the wind veering, or moving in the same direction as the sun’ – a mark of improving weather. The opposite, A’ ghaoth ag atharrachadh an aghaidh na grèine ‘the wind backing, ie moving against the movement of the sun’ can predict deteriorating weather. The last two may be related to the clockwise and anticlockwise movement of wind within a high-pressure and low-pressure system respectively (in the Northern Hemisphere).

The north wind is the least favoured by users of the outdoors, but it is not entirely without merit. Traditional wisdom tells us: ’S i a’ ghaoth tuath a sgaoileas ceò ‘it’s the north wind that dissipates mist’ and Gaoth tuath am beul na h-oidhche, cha robh i riamh buan ‘a north wind at nightfall never lasted long’.

An approaching rain shower on a wet day and a peatland lochan at the Flows NNR Lorne GillSNH2020VISION

A Gaelic rhyme, which might be of use to modern ferry travellers, concerns the duration of the wind from each major compass point, and how this affects sea conditions. The best (least rough) days to make the journey are as follows:

A’ chiad latha dhen ghaoith a deas,

An treas latha dhen ghaoith a tuath,

An dàrna latha dhen ghaoith an iar

’S a’ ghaoth an ear gach ial ’s gach uair

‘the first day of the south wind, the third day of the north wind, the second day of the west wind, and the east wind at all times.’

If you’re not a good sailor, you might want to consider this advice if making a last-minute booking for a sea-crossing to the islands!

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All images ©Lorne Gill/SNH 



Posted in coastal, Folklore, Gaelic, History, Marine, sea life, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,