Back up for Ayr – #CycleForNature Leg 3

#CycleForNature Leg 3 was a relatively short journey for Francesca, completed over just three days. However, she still managed to cycle 150 miles, visit three SNH offices, take in two National Nature Reserves and catch up with a range of partners. There was one particularly deflating incident on the way to the Otter Pool, but otherwise, Francesca sums up Leg 3 as “another amazing experience”.

Leg three of #CycleForNature started with a sunny ride from Craigie in East Ayrshire to the SNH Ayr office. SNH has recently ‎moved premises in Ayr and is now co-located with SEPA, which benefits both organisations.

After a discussion with colleagues, we set off to Belleisle Park to meet Emily and Rory from the Ayrshire Active Travel Hub. The Hub works across Ayrshire to promote active travel, including working with businesses and providing skills and confidence courses for the public. We had an enjoyable hour cycling round Belleisle and Rozelle Parks seeing Ayr at its scenic best, chatting about the benefits of active travel as we went.

It was then off to Newton Stewart, via a very picturesque route through the Galloway Forest Park. I was joined by Paul Sutherland from the Newton Stewart office for part of the route. Paul was an excellent guide and witnessed the first #cyclefornature puncture as we headed for the Otter Pool. It was the day before World Otter Day, which was fitting, but we were a bit early in the evening to see any otters at the pool.

Wednesday was another lovely sunny day. After a meeting with colleagues in the Newton Stewart office, also shared with SEPA, Paul and I, joined by Bruce McCleary from SEPA, set off to the Cairnsmore of Fleet National Nature Reserve. Lunch was outside in the beautiful surroundings of the NNR as we discussed promotion of NNRs and the involvement of the local community.

Next stop was the red kite feeding station at Laurieston, part of the Galloway Kite Trail. The kites were there in abundance and we had a pleasant half hour watching them and chatting with Ann, the owner of Bellymack Hill Farm, about how it had all come about and her plans for the future.

It was then a (mostly) downhill roll to New Galloway for a meeting with Jamie Ribbens of the Galloway Fisheries Trust, and McNabb Laurie of the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership, about work that they’re doing with SNH to enhance local access to nature. We also discussed the major economic benefits that fishing provides to the area and how to capitalise on that.

It was an unexpectedly damp start when Stuart Graham from the Dumfries office and I set out from New Galloway to Dumfries. On the way we passed the Milton Loch SSSI and Stuart pointed out notable features of the area. After a meeting in the Dumfries office (also co-located, this time with Forestry Commission Scotland), reserve officer Adam Murphy and I set off to cycle to the Caerlaverock NNR. Much of the route was on off road paths and it wasn’t long before we were out of town into the countryside. And very soon in the NNR: Caerlaverock is a very accessible NNR with upwards of 30,000 visitors per year.

By now it was warm and dry, and almost sunny. ‎Adam and I were joined by reserve manager, Suzanne McIntyre. Adam and Suzanne pointed out the notable features of the merse (mudflats and saltmarsh), an important habitat for wintering and breeding birds. It was beautifully tranquil and I could have stayed all day listening to the birds and watching the water. But all to soon it was time to head back to Dumfries, the third leg of #CycleForNature complete.

Posted in Access, active travel, Community engagement, country park, Cycle for Nature, cycling, National Nature Reserves, National Walking and Cycling Network, Natural Health Service, SNH, Staff profile, Uncategorized, World Wildlife Day | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Orcas, Warships and Seasearch

Today we have a further insight into the contribution volunteer citizen scientists make to marine conservation in Scotland. Our guest post today comes from Natalie Hirst, a coordinator for Seasearch Scotland. Seasearch is a project for volunteer sports divers who have an interest in what they’re seeing under water, want to learn more and want to 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.

This year Seasearch is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and its been a record year so far running courses to introduce divers to underwater recording with Seasearch.


Arran Seasearch Course

Over the last weekend of April, 12 of us gathered for an Observer course in COAST’s shiny new office building in Lamslash Bay.  The weather was too gloriously sunny to be in doors and to make things worse a pod of Orcas, or killer whales, had been sighted in the Clyde. All credit to the participants though, they ignored the sunshine, looked at the social media pictures of Orca chasing ferries only occasionally and settled down to listen to Dawn,  Rob and myself enthusiastically describing what is probably the largest citizen science marine recording project in the world.

It was a mixed group, with some people from Arran and others who had traveled up from England specifically for the course. There were experienced divers with thousands of dives, and snorkelers with no intention of taking up SCUBA diving. A few made their living taking out sports divers, while others just loved diving and the sea and wanted to know more.

scary tutor in action

Seasearch tutor in action

The course followed the usual format, beginning with an overview of some of the major marine conservation challenges we face today, then leading on to the role of Seasearch in providing data for effective marine management.

Mid morning and early afternoon were occupied with describing different types of seabed and trying to bring some sense of order to the often overwhelming diversity of life seen on a dive.  After lunch I showed the group videos of actual dives and they all had a go at filling in a recording form whilst sitting in a nice warm room. All too soon it was 5pm and after covering a lot of material everyone was looking a little shell shocked but looking forward to diving the next day.


I want to say that the next day dawned bright and sunny, but it didn’t. It was cold, grey and damp. Undeterred, the group met up and prepared to enter the water. We were diving on the edge of the Arran no take zone in very shallow water but it was an area rich in life. The first boulder I came to hosted seven different types of seaweed,  along with anemones, crabs and shrimps. There was so much to look at that most pairs of divers didn’t stray very far from the start point.


A boulder can host a range of life (C) SNH/Ben James

After 30 minutes we all emerged, changed and headed back to the COAST building for hot drinks and form filling. In the afternoon we did the same again: this time one of the divers surfaced asking if anyone else had heard the Orcas!  I had heard something underwater but I suspect the sounds were more to do with a warship, part of a large naval exercise which entered the bay as we were diving.


Dead man’s fingers and anemones (C) SNH/George Stoyle

Back at the base a second recording form was completed and the group prepared to depart, some rushing for the ferry, others on a RIB and the lucky Arran folk on foot. It was a great weekend and as usual I felt privileged to have helped such an enthusiastic group open their eyes to the wonderful diversity of marine life on our doorstep.

A massive thank you to Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) for providing the training venue. Please visit the websites for more information on the work of Seasearch and COAST.

Posted in citizen science, coastal, Community engagement, conservation, mapping, Marine, Marine Protected Areas, MPA, MPAs, Priority Marine Features, sea life, SNH, survey, Uncategorized, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , ,

The harbour seals of Loch Fleet NNR

As part of our ‘Marine’ themed month, a collaborative blog has been written by Adam Rose (SNH Operations Officer, Sutherland) and Becky Hewitt (University of Aberdeen). They tell us about Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve, with a particular emphasis on the upcoming pupping season, the harbour seals and current research into seal movements and behaviour.

Loch Fleet NNR is an extensive tidal basin fringed by coastal habitats and native Scots pine forest © Lorne Gill/SNH

Loch Fleet NNR is an extensive tidal basin fringed by coastal habitats and native Scots pine forest © Lorne Gill/SNH

Pupping season for Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve’s resident harbour seal population is fast approaching and runs from the end of May through to the beginning of August. The University of Aberdeen’s Lighthouse Field Station have a long-term harbour seal study at Loch Fleet, which is now entering its thirteenth year. Daily photo-identification surveys are undertaken by a dedicated team throughout the pupping season. In 2017, 51 pups were seen with their well-known mums at Loch Fleet.

A group of harbour seals on the sand flats at Loch Fleet NNR © University of Aberdeen

A group of harbour seals on the sand flats at Loch Fleet NNR © University of Aberdeen

To track seal movements and identify possible foraging areas and contribute to their conservation, the University of Aberdeen in collaboration with the Sea Mammal Research Group (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews GPS tagged seals at Loch Fleet. Four of the more adventurous seals travelled as far as the Kyle of Tongue and Orkney.  From photographs we know these seals have returned to Loch Fleet, making impressive return journeys of over 300km. View the Field Stations’ blog  for regular updates from Loch Fleet and their other marine mammal research.

GPS tracks from 25 harbour seals tagged at Loch Fleet NNR in 2014 & 2015 © University of Aberdeen.

GPS tracks from 25 harbour seals tagged at Loch Fleet NNR in 2014 & 2015 © University of Aberdeen.

At low tide, Loch Fleet NNR’s harbour seals are one of the many visitor highlights.  The seal watch-point, on the south side of the loch with its purpose built extended layby and interpretative information, can be enjoyed at any time and affords visitors with panoramic views across Loch Fleet.  It provides one of the most accessible and best views of seals in Sutherland.

The seal watch-point at Loch Fleet NNR provides both engaging information about harbour seals, and spectacular views of the reserve © SNH.

The seal watch-point at Loch Fleet NNR provides both engaging information about harbour seals, and spectacular views of the reserve © SNH.

Extra care should be taken during the sensitive pupping season as they can be easily disturbed by people or free-running dogs on the foreshore. When visiting Loch Fleet or anywhere in the Scotland’s wider marine environment, please remember to follow the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code. Animals will decide how close they want you to be: seals raising their heads, looking around and actively moving towards the water in response to you or your dog’s presence are the first signs of disturbance – please move away promptly. This also applies to drone operators – we ask that you remain mindful of any possible disturbance to wildlife and other visitors to the reserve.

Mother-pup pair at Loch Fleet NNR © University of Aberdeen.

Mother-pup pair at Loch Fleet NNR © University of Aberdeen.

During the summer months, Loch Fleet is also home to flocks of Eider and Shelduck using the Fleet basin for feeding and raising young. Ospreys, another of the wildlife highlights on the reserve, regularly use Loch Fleet’s extensive tidal basin for foraging and can be seen swooping down to catch fish in the channel of the River Fleet.

 Find out more by checking out the blog; Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve, and plan your visit.

Posted in Marine, National Nature Reserves, sea life, seals, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , ,

The wonders of Clyde Valley Woodlands NNR – 6 year transformation

For the past six years the stunning Clyde Valley Woodlands National Nature Reserve has been transformed.  Martin Twiss, Operations Officer based at our Hamilton Office explains how the area has benefited enormously from the activities and energy of the Clyde and Avon Valleys Landscape Partnership (CAVLP).

CAVLP - walking

This Landscape Partnership, funded via Heritage Lottery Fund, has enabled a huge amount of ecologically important and imaginative 70+ access projects  to be undertaken across this National Nature Reserve (NNR)

This NNR is unique in its somewhat unusual structure, being comprised of six separate gorge woodlands that stretch from the dramatic Falls of Clyde at New Lanark to the extensive woodlands at Chatelherault. These ancient woodlands are managed in partnership by South Lanarkshire Council, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and SNH. This is an example of a true ‘living landscape’, the individual woodlands being intimately wrapped around and linking the towns and villages of the mid Clyde Valley.

CAVLP - map

The geographical and organisational scope of CAVLP has allowed for a collaborative approach to managing these internationally important ash–oak woodlands.

Supported projects

  • Perhaps the most eye catching individual project was the long sought after removal of 25 hectares of conifers at Chatelherault, a popular visitor destination at the gateway to the Clyde Valley. Here, long since hidden dramatic river gorge landscapes have been opened up by the removal of the conifers, which had obscured the views and suppressed the natural vegetation. For a Landscape Partnership there can be few things more rewarding than the large scale re-awakening of an almost forgotten landscape and the newly opened vistas at Chatelherault are as breath-taking as they are surprising.
  • In addition, much needed management plans have been produced to guide the future management of the NNR woodlands.
  • With CAVLP’s help, The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) has implemented access improvements and interpretation at the NNR sites of the Falls of Clyde and Nethan Gorge.
  • Through our funding, we have improved 1.6km of path at Cleghorn Glen and Cartland Craigs to make these steep woodlands more accessible to walkers and more resilient to adverse weather.
  • At Mauldslie Woods, South Lanarkshire Council has been able to carry out extensive woodland management and is planning to improve and coordinate access for a range of user groups.
  • Throughout the valley, CAVLP has contributed to the upgrading of over 20km of path, providing people with enhanced access to their local natural heritage.

The mid Clyde Valley is a distinctive, diverse and dramatic landscape, but perhaps less heralded than it should be? Over the past six years the endeavours of the CAVLP team have greatly added to the ecological and cultural strengths of this region, leaving a quality of landscape that speaks for itself. Nonetheless, CAVLP has created a legacy through which the importance and the profile of the NNR and its surrounds will continue to be lauded.



Hidden panoramas revealed at Chatelherault Country Park – check out the Drone footage  capturing the extent of a multi-phase plantation conifer removal project in one of Scotland’s oldest and greatest designed landscapes.


The Legacy

CAVLP has resulted in a significant legacy for the landscape, people and communities of the area and has recently secured a suite of proposals to help ensure that the investment of time, money and skills will build on these achievements. The proposals include building local capacity to drive forward community improvement projects, volunteering, outdoor play,  websites and digital archives, CAVLP touring exhibition, active travel, further work on graveyards and designed landscapes, managing the historic environment and work with schools.

CAVLP - Forest SchoolsCAVLP - launch

In particular, Community Action Lanarkshire (CAL) is a two year, Leader funded project that will support groups, organisations and individuals to come together with a common purpose of improving towns and villages in rural North and South Lanarkshire. The project team will support local people to take the lead in developing a community action plan where there is none, and driving forward action to improve communities for years to come.

Led by local people and supported by the project team, CAL activities will help develop, fund and deliver projects to improve lives. Taking part in CAL activities will encourage more people to take part in community life, tackle inequality, keep money in the local economy, improve the environment and create new opportunities for learning, jobs and play.

Follow this project via Twitter  and Facebook



Posted in Access, citizen science, conservation, National Nature Reserves, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

Set sail to protect Scotland’s whales and dolphins

Volunteer citizen scientists make an important contribution to marine conservation in Scotland. One organisation that works with volunteers and which we are pleased to support is the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust. As our focus is on marine work this month we asked HWDT Director, Alison Lomax, to tell us about their research vessel, the Silurian

The HWDT team on board Silurian in Tobermory Bay, August 2017

The HWDT team on board Silurian in Tobermory Bay, August 2017

At the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust we think the Hebrides are a pretty special place. This unique archipelago of islands contains a huge diversity of species and habitats. The area is a global hotspot for harbour porpoise and home to internationally protected species including minke whales, bottlenose dolphins and killer whales.

Minke whales photographed from the crow’s nest on Silurian in the Sea of the Hebrides, 04.07.2017

Minke whales photographed from the crow’s nest on Silurian in the Sea of the Hebrides, 04.07.2017

From our headquarters on the Isle of Mull, HWDT carries out dedicated cetacean monitoring surveys from a specialist research vessel, named Silurian. Thanks to support from Scottish Natural Heritage this vital long-term data collection project is now in its 16th year. The data collected is used to inform conservation measures and protected areas – including the designation of Europe’s second largest protected area for harbour porpoise in the Inner Hebrides and the Minch.

Silurian surveys the whole west coast of Scotland, aiming not to repeat the same route twice, in order to provide a wide scale assessment of cetacean distribution and population size. By surveying across a wide variety of fine scale environmental variables, (i.e. sea temperature, slope, depth, tidal flow, salinity, etc.) both visually and acoustically, we are able to answer questions of habitat preference, site usage, and through our photo identification work, animal behaviour.

Silurian survey track lines from 2003 – 2015

Silurian survey track lines from 2003 – 2015

On board Silurian it is trained volunteers who collect the data. Collectively HWDT volunteers have created one of the largest datasets available for Scottish waters, consisting of 6,000 hours (250 continuous days) of underwater sound recordings, and over 30,000 animal records.

2017 marked a significant milestone for the project when Silurian surpassed 100,000 km of monitoring effort in the Hebrides – the equivalent of sailing two and a half times round the world in search of cetaceans. It was also a record breaking year for common dolphin sightings, with an amazing 24% more sightings of these dolphins recorded, against the previous year’s already record-breaking figures.

This summer is set to be just as exciting as we embark on expeditions to study the health of whales in the Hebrides using pioneering laser photography. The technique will measure the length of the animals – helping to determine numbers of young whales – assess body conditions for parasites such as sea lice, and classify marks and scars from interactions with marine plastic and fishing gear.


Minke whale investigating Silurian in the Sea of the Hebrides, 04.07.2017

Silurian surveys run for periods of one to two weeks from between April and October, and depart from the Isle of Mull, Isle of Skye and Ullapool. Find out how to get on board here or contact us on or 01688 302620.


Posted in Uncategorized

Nature for future Generations – where next?

Cath Denholm,  our Deputy Chair, shares reflections on this week’s British Ecological Society/UK Government Conservation Agencies’ Conference on nature for future generations.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was invited to attend the Nature for Future Generations conference (as the new SNH representative for the JNCC): But I enjoyed it greatly and came away with a lot of impressions. Here are some of them:

The range of speakers and topics – but particularly the range of angles that they came from – was very varied. There was only one information overload – but I’d challenge even the most dedicated ecologist to fully digest 11 x 3 min presentations in rapid succession before lunch.


The workshop I attended on Nature, Health and Wellbeing was a little disappointing. A colleague had given me an article to read on the way (Lang & Raynor: Ecological Public Health: The 21st Century’s Big Idea). It’s a great read and I was looking forward to developing the theme of how human health ultimately depends on the health of ecosystems.  In the end the workshop lead (who wasn’t SNH) offered little more than the individual health benefits of accessing nature. Important yes, but not the whole story, and limited in vision.

And it’s a shame because, actually, the need to understand and be able to work right across complex systems – whether those are nature or health sustaining or both – was a significant call to action from many of the main speakers. Jacob Ellis from the Future Generations Commission in Wales (should we get one of those for Scotland, by the way?) was particularly good on this. Also Baroness Barbara Young, who challenged us at the end to think in terms of the whole ecosystem, not just habitat and species, was superb.


14 yr old Dara McAnulty preparing to stand up for young people with his speech at #N4FG18, courtesy of @RoisinMcanulty

Another big theme was engagement. This came up in different ways from Seafish, from Juliette Young (‘different perspectives are a resource, not a problem’), from Louise MacDonald, Young Scot (who promoted SNH’s work with ReRoute very effectively), and from Helena Craig, mother of  @BirdGirlUK, who couldn’t attend as she had school exams! Her messages on how to engage with young BAME people were powerful, but just as relevant to engagement with any group who isn’t accessing nature in the way we expect/want them to. However, no one matched Dara McAnulty (age 14) with the simplicity of his message that the next generation ‘Is not lost, you just haven’t found us yet.’ The other point he made which made all the parents in the room sit up was ‘you can like gaming and nature’ and ‘its actually through digital connection that young people like him made contact with other nature lovers.’

Courtesy of @RuthWaters

Courtesy of @RuthWaters

Two final highlights: SNH got lots of positive name checks for the contribution and leadership we are showing in many areas and for the boldness and clarity of our corporate plan and web name change.

And, while we didn’t get quite 50/50 female/male presenters, the 9 women who did present or chair main sessions all spoke from the pinnacles of their varied professions and experience and were brilliant – #WomeninLeadership.  Check out the great twitter coverage #N4FG18

Posted in biodiversity, Community engagement, conference, conservation, Ecology, Natural Capital, Natural Health Service, SNH, Uncategorized, Year of Young People, Young people | Tagged , , ,

Faclan Gàidhlig agus a’ mhuir / Gaelic words and the sea

’S e Ceit Langhorne a sgrìobh am bloga againn an-diugh. Tha i na Neach-taic Corpais aig Dachaigh airson Stòras na Gàidhlig (DASG) aig Oilthigh Ghlaschu. ’S e tasgladh digiteach a th’ ann an DASG ’s e stèidhichte air cruinneachadh de sgrìobhaidhean Gàidhlig agus fiosrachadh a chaidh a chruinneachadh bho choimhearsnachdan air a’ Ghàidhealtachd ’s sna h-Eileanan, agus ann an Alba Nuadh eadar 1960an – 1980an.

Guest blogger, Kate Langhorne, is a corpus assistant at Digital Archive for Scottish Gaelic (DASG) at Glasgow University. DASG is a digital archive based on a collection of Gaelic texts and information gathered from communities in the Highlands and Islands and Nova Scotia between the 1960s – 1980s. Today Kate tells us about some interesting and poetic Gaelic words linked with the sea. An English translation follows below.



Tha tasglann ‘Faclan bhon t-Sluagh’ na chruinneachadh de dh’fhaclan Gàidhlig. Bha na faclan air an trusadh mar phàirt de phròiseact Faclair Eachdraidheil na Gàidhlig a thòisich Oll. Ruairidh MacThòmais aig Oilthigh Ghlaschu ann an 1966.

Bidh am bloga seo a’ coimhead air cuid de na faclan iongantach co-cheangailte ris a’ mhuir.


Chan eil a’ mhuir cho garbh neo cho tarraingeach na shealladh, ’s a bhios i bhon chladach. Seasaidh sibh air mol agus cluinnidh sibh sachdadh na mara. Tha ceangal aig sachdadh ri sac, an tinneas a dh’adhbhraicheas duilgheadasan le bhith a’tarraing anail. Bidh sùradh-bàn a’giùlan na gainmhiche is morghain nuair a bhios e a’ bualadh ri traigh is a’ srùthadh air ais agus air aghaidh.


Air latha teth as t-samhradh, bidh glubaichean uaireannan rim faicinn am measg nan creagan air a’ chladach,’s iad air fàs cho blàth, fionnar fon ghrèin. Chuireadh sibh cas a-staigh annta nam biodh màirteanan, neo màrtan, driuchcainn oirbh bho bhith a’coiseachd air a’ghainmhich.

Thèid seathan nan tonn a ruith chun a’ chladaich; tron tanalach. Bidh iad a’ sluaisreadh air an traigh. Bidh frioghan a’cireasail mur casan. Bidh loinneir air a’ mhuir nuair a bhios i ciùin is boillsgeadh grèine oirre.


Ma bhios sgeir ann an rathad nan tonn a’ ruith chun a’ chladaich agus bidh i ga bhrìseadh, bidh corghlaich na mara ri chluinntinn. Cluinnidh sibh ròcail is glumaradh aig beul na h-uamha. Tha an dà fhacail seo cho coltach ris na fuaimean fhèin.’S e ròc a th’ ann an gairm losgann. Ann am Mac-Talla Vol II., tha an t-seanfhacal seo ann:

“Tha ròcail nan gilleacha – cràigean agus nan losgunn — sgreuchail na peucaige , lìonmhorachd nan damhan – alluidh a’ streap ris na ballachan , na daolan , ’s na durragan a’ teachd a mach as am frògaibh ’na ’n comharraidhean gu ’bheil an t – uisge dlùth.” 

Nach toir sibh sùil, a chàirdean, air Facal bhon t-Sluagh, is chì sibh gu bheil iomadach ciall air cùlaibh sheathan. Chan eil e buileach cho socair ris an fhuaim sin. ’S e plosgadh, air neo a bhith gun anail, as ciall dha ann an Srath Ghlais agus ann an Gleann Urachadan. Tha ciall eile ann, san Eilean Sgitheanach, agus ’s e sin smùgaid a thilgeas cat neo sionnach nuair a bhios e feargach neo fo eagal. Ma ’s e is gu bheil na dùr-thuinn a’ bualadh ri tìr, agus tha miann oirbh a dhol gu muir, thoiribh an aire! Tha sad na mara a’guidhe droch fhortan dhuibh!


Giggling waves

Our fieldwork archive, Faclan bhon t-Sluagh (‘Words from the People’), is based on the Historical Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic which was started at Glasgow University by Professor Derek Thomson in 1966.

This blog will look at some fascinating Gaelic words linked with the sea.


The sea is never as wild in its appearance, nor draws you in so strongly, as it does from the shore. Stand on a shingle and you will hear sachdadh na mara: the wheezing of the sea. The verb sachdadh is connected to sac, which is asthma. A sùradh-bàn carries sand and shingle and throws it up onto the shore, pulling it back on a backwash.


On a hot summer’s day, glubaichean, or sea pools, are sometimes seen among the rocks; cool and warm under the sun. Put your feet in when they are chaffed on the heels and between the toes from walking on the sand. This aligment from walking barefooted is known as màirteanan, or màrtan, driuchcainn.

Waves roll gently, the action known as seathan, through the shallow water near the shore, or the tanalach. The sound of calm waves breaking on the shore is sluaisreadh. Wee choppy waves, frioghan, will giggle (cireasail) around you feet. There may be a loinneir, a gleam, on a calm sea.


If there is a skerry breaking the waves before they reach the shore, the sound has been described as corghlaich, a confused, noisy washing. You will hear ròcail and glumaradh at the mouth of a cave: two wonderfully onomatopoeic words. Ròc is the noise that the toad makes, and the noise of the whelks was described in this proverb from Mac-Talla Vol II:

Tha ròcail nan gilleacha – cràigean agus nan losgunn — sgreuchail na peucaige , lìonmhorachd nan damhan – alluidh astreap ris na ballachan , na daolan ,s na durragan ateachd a mach as am frògaibh nan comharraidhean gubheil an t-uisge dlùth. 

“The croaking of the whelks, the toads and the frogs – the shriek of the peacock, the numerous spiders climbing the walls … all the signs that rain is not far away.”


Have a look at the Fieldwork Archive to find out that there are many meanings behind the word seathan. It’s not necessarily as calm or as peaceful a word as is described for waves. In fact, it means panting in Strathglass and Glen Urquhart. In Skye, it describes the spitting of a wildcat or fox when it is angry.

If the waves are indeed crashing onto the shore, and you still want to sail off onto a wild sea, look out! Sad na mara, the venom of the sea, is wishing you an ill-fated journey!

All photos ((C) SNH/Lorne Gill.

Posted in beach, beaches, coastal, Gaelic, Marine, sea life, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

St Cyrus’ most wild and rare

Simon Ritchie is the newly appointed Seasonal Reserve Assistant based at the SNH St Cyrus National Nature Reserve (NNR), north of Montrose. Growing up in the area, Simon has developed a wealth of experience, and knowledge of the reserve. As part of the SNH marine-themed month, he gives us a little insight into one of his particular passions – flowers, and flower identification.

Thankfully, I spent the majority of my childhood on the reserve. This subliminally led me into an interest in natural history which became a passion of mine when I was around 15/16 years old; this is when I first started to become interested in plants. Fortunately, assisting the St Cyrus NNR staff with the botanical surveying on the reserve helped me to understand the types of plants that occur at St Cyrus NNR and the ‘art’ of identification.


St Cyrus NNR © Lorne Gill/SNH

St Cyrus NNR is an excellent reserve for botanical interest. Firstly, the conditions at St Cyrus NNR are ideal for supporting a really interesting array of species.  We are sheltered amongst south-east facing cliffs which create a micro-climate; this means that St Cyrus NNR is relatively warmer than the surrounding areas. The combination of a warm, sheltered habitat and a good source of nutrients washing from the coastal cliffs encourage growth of abundant wildflowers. Many of the plants at St Cyrus NNR are at their northern limit or uncharacteristic of the area. Some of the habitat is very similar to limestone habitats 500 miles further south. As a result, St Cyrus NNR offers species that are often much more suited for habitats in southern and eastern England.

The 3 most iconic and locally scarce or rare species of St Cyrus NNR and how to identify them are as follows:


Maiden Pink (© Lorne Gill/SNH)

Maiden Pink (Dianthus deltoides) is a very charismatic flower that covers the dune grassland in a wash of pink. It is around 10-20cm in height and the leaves and flowers are around 15mm. The flowers are rose red/pinkish with toothed petals. These flowers are nearing their northern range at St Cyrus NNR and are so locally important that the St Cyrus village primary school used to have Maiden Pink as there school uniform emblem!

Clustered Bellflower at St Cyrus - Lorne Gill-SNH

Clustered Bellflower at St Cyrus (© Lorne Gill/SNH)

Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata) is a stunning plant that flowers between June and September. When Clustered Bellflower emerges on the dune grasslands, it truly transforms the grassland into a purple haven. A scarce species in Scotland but hard to misidentify; it is around 30-50cm in height with long stalked basal leaves and bright purplish blue flowers with large lobes. As you can see from the photos, you can see why it is called ‘Clustered’ Bellflower as all the flowers are bunched up into a tight bundle.

Nottingham Catchfly - Lorne Gill-SNH

Nottingham Catchfly (Lorne Gill/SNH)

Nottingham Catchfly (Silene nutans) is a very rare plant in Scotland. St Cyrus NNR is one of only a few places where this plant occurs north of the border.  It flowers between May and July and is very distinguishable. It is rather large at around 80cm in height, with drooping white flowers around 18mm that emerge from a purplish calyx (where the flowers emerge) with vein like markings. Look out for this plant on the cliff faces when scanning for birds!

See if you can spot these interesting flowers during your next visit to the St Cyrus NNR, or elsewhere along our coast. You can learn more about Simon’s experience at St Cyrus by reading his previous contribution here.

Posted in beach, beaches, biodiversity, coastal, Flowers, Marine, National Nature Reserves, plants, SNH, St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, Staff profile, Uncategorized, Volunteering, wild flowers, Year of Young People, Young people | Tagged , , ,

Loch Leven Special Protection Area named a finalist for 2018 Natura 2000 Awards

Scottish Natural Heritage and partners were recently shortlisted for a prestigious Natura 2000 award. Karen Mitchell, Operations Officer based in our Battleby office has just returned from the award ceremony in Brussels. Here’s the low down of the prestigious event.

Natura 2000 Award_Signature mail_FINALIST (A2555843)Natura 2000 is a network of 27 000 Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas across Europe.  The winners of the 2018 Natura Award were announced at a ceremony in the European Commission Headquarters in Brussels on the 17 May.  Karen  attended to represent SNH, along with Dr Linda May from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).


k mitchell loch leven naturaSadly, we didn’t win (but see here for those who did). Loch Leven was short-listed from 75 submissions to 25, and was one of 4 finalists in the socio-economic category so a great achievement to be even shortlisted.   Thanks to all who voted for us in the public vote category, the Citizens Award. A massive thanks also to our 2017 Graduate Placement, Kirsty Fisher, who pulled the award application together during her year with SNH and is currently travelling in Australia and New Zealand.

Loch Leven visitors - SNH Image library (A2565064)

This week also saw #Natura2000day, celebrating Europe’s network of Protected Areas and everything it has achieved for #connectingpeopleandnature.

For the latest at Loch Leven please follow their blog.

Full rewards results are listed online.


Posted in Awards, National Nature Reserves, Natural Capital, Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Great skua behaviour and Fair Isle’s lifeline

Fair Isle is Britain’s most remote inhabited island, 38 km from the next nearest island and 125 km from the northernmost tip of the UK mainland. A boat runs from the island but most visitors and most of the 60 or so island residents (including school children) travel mainly by light aircraft. The scheduled air service of Britten Norton Islander planes, a twin engine 8 seat prop plane, flies from Shetland Mainland, and in the summer months there is also a link to the Orkney Islands. Glen Tyler from our Shetland office and Aberdeen University student, Bethaney Stonier, tell us about a project they’re working on which aims to ensure that this lifeline to the island can continue to operate safely with minimal effect on the islands’ wildlife.

AirTask's BN Islander on Fair Isle airstrip (Photo David Parnaby)

AirTask’s BN Islander on the Fair Isle airstrip (Photo David Parnaby)

As well as being the most remote inhabited island in Britain, Fair Isle is also famous for birds. Not only for rare ‘off course’ vagrants but also for the huge colonies of seabirds that nest on the island and its towering cliffs. One of the most important seabird populations is that of the great skua, or ‘bonxie’ as it is known in Shetland. Up to 500 pairs of the large, gull-like predators nest on the moorland which covers much of the northern end of Fair Isle. Their numbers have been increasing on the island for nearly 100 years since they colonised in 1921. Approximately half the world population of this species breeds in the UK. Consequently great skua is a strongly protected species, and the internationally important Fair Isle Special Protection Area has them as one of its qualifying interests.

Great skua on moorland at sunrise (photo - Glen Tyler)

Great skua on moorland at sunrise (photo – Glen Tyler)

Bonxies are disturbed by the light aircraft flights though, and in response to the approach of the plane will fly up and circle around. As the number of birds has increased over the years more and more nest close to the airstrip and the number of these birds flying up to greet the plane arriving has recently caused pilots to voice safety fears.

To understand more on this issue, we are undertaking a study of the bonxies’ breeding distribution around the Fair Isle airstrip and their behaviour in relation to flight arrivals and departures.

Beth Stonier (Aberdeen Uni) scanning for great skua settlement sites near Fair Isle Airstrip (Photo Glen Tyler)

Beth Stonier (Aberdeen Uni) scanning for great skua settlement sites near Fair Isle Airstrip (Photo Glen Tyler)

Bonxies arrive in April and lay eggs in May, and we wanted to investigate the relationship between the early season settlement positions of birds and their eventual nest site selection. For this investigation we used rangefinder binoculars combined with a compass bearing to accurately and rapidly plot the position of a stationary bonxie from a remote or concealed position. This was important as we did not wish to influence where the birds were settled.

As well as determining the relationship between settlement and nest location we are also interested in the distance at which great skuas react to various stimuli, be that approach by a human, vehicle or plane. To do this we are also using the rangefinders taking a reading of any birds seen taking flight while we are moving about the island. These opportunistically sampled readings give us an idea of how the birds might respond when a plane approaches.

Great skua or bonxie in flight (Photo – Glen Tyler)

Besides these elements we are also looking at the behaviour of ‘club’ birds. Some bonxies do not have a nest, either because they are young and waiting for an available territory, or they are skipping a breeding season (sabbaticals as they are termed). When in this state birds gather in groups or ‘clubs’ and it is quite possible that these birds may behave differently with respect to the approaching plane compared to the birds with nests and young.

The first phase of data gathering for this work is now completed, although the data analysis is only just started. In June a second period of field study will take place, and we are hopeful that some answers to questions of how birds react to the plane, and how birds breeding distribution is affected by their settlement pattern will be clearer. The aim of this study is to keep the life-line airlink to Fair Isle operating as safe as possible and at the same time protect the population of breeding skuas.

Posted in Access, biodiversity, Birds, coastal, conservation, graduate placement, gulls, Marine Protected Areas, MPA, MPAs, Protected Areas, SNH, survey, sustainable travel, Uncategorized, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , ,