#CycleForNature – The Northern Isles

Half way through the final leg of her epic active travel challenge, the end is almost in sight now for Francesca. Today in her penultimate #CycleForNature blog post she tells us about her visit to the Northern Isles.

I have been to Shetland before, but never by ferry. It was a remarkably good experience and I congratulated myself on finding my sea legs on the long crossing from Aberdeen to Lerwick (pride comes before a fall). Off the ferry and straight to the Lerwick office where some of the earlier starters were already busy at work.


Leaving the Shetland office on the final leg of . An amazing week ahead.

After a coffee and a chat, I hit the road with Colin Smith (Shetland Islands Council) and Gary Robinson (Chair, NHS Scotland). Our destination was the Hoswick Visitor Centre for a meeting with active travel partners organised by local operations officer, Juan Brown. It was a beautiful sunny, if blowy, ride and the Hoswick Visitor Centre is worth the trip: part gallery; craft shop; cafe; and community space. As well as the active travel discussion, we had a good explore of local paths and learned about improvement plans. In addition, we also heard about the ambitious plans for the Visitor Centre itself, recent recipient of a grant from the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund.


At Hoswick Visitor Centre

A lovely tailwind helped us back to Lerwick and I had a good discussion with Colin and Gary as we went about partnership working, particularly in relation to active travel. I was also able to chat to Gary about the benefits of “nature prescriptions” where the approach taken on Shetland was in the news recently.


There was time back at the office for a lively chat with colleagues about SNH’s work in Shetland and how we could engage more with local communities. It was then back on the ferry for the shorter journey to Kirkwall. Shorter, but very bouncy and I definitely wasn’t feeling smug about my sea legs anymore.


Tuesday morning dawned a little bit damp. First order of the day was a short walk to the BBC Radio Orkney studio for an interview about #CycleForNature and the physical and mental health benefits of enjoying nature (you can hear it here, from 24.50).

Then to the Kirkwall office, in sombre mood given the very sad new of Operations Manager Gail Churchill’s death after a long fight with cancer. Gail was a very dedicated colleague who continued to work until only a few days ago. She had worked as part of our Orkney team for many years, and her expertise and enthusiasm will be greatly missed. All our thoughts are with Gail’s family and friends.

After some time in the office, operations officers Donna Yule and Kim McEwan gave me a whistle stop tour of the area around the Scarpa Flow where we discussed assessing the cumulative impact of potential windfarm and fish farm developments. By the time we got back to the office, the skies had lifted and it was therefore a good time to get on the road.


With the Orkney team

Accompanied by demon cyclocrosser and operations manager Dan Brazier, we raced across Orkney to Stenness. We stopped on the way at one of the trial trapping sites for the Orkney Native Wildlife Project, which aims to eradicate non-native invasive stoats from the Orkney Islands. I had a go at re-setting a trap: more difficult than it looks but at least I still have all my fingers.

From Stenness we carried on to Stromness via the Lochs of Stenness and Harray. Once just a single loch, both are now important for the biodiversity that they support. The Loch of Stenness is unusual in that its varying salt content means it supports both fresh water and salt water species. We also had a quick visit to the important Neolithic site of the Ring of Brodgar, the most northern circle “henge” in the UK.


At the Ring of Brodgar

At Stromness I met our RSPB partners in the Orkney Native Wildlife Project and discussed the importance of engaging the local community in the project, as well as the sheer logistics and physicality of setting around 10,000 traps. Plenty of work to do but an exciting and energising project. I also met Macca the terrier!

With Macca the Terrier

With Macca the Terrier

Then another ferry for the relatively short journey to Scrabster. An all too brief visit to Shetland and Orkney, but plenty of reasons to come back.

Through #CycleForNature I am raising funds for the Scottish Association for Mental Health, via Just Giving.

Best wishes – Francesca

Posted in Access, active travel, coastal, Community engagement, Cycle for Nature, cycling, Dogs, paths, Projects, Shetland, SNH, Staff profile, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Go watch a salmon leap

Atlantic salmon, more than any other fish, occupy a prominent position in the cultural mythology of Scotland. The Picts knew this when they carved its image on stones; the Celts when they told tales of the Salmon of Wisdom. For this is a creature that links rivers and sea in its journeys, whose presence indicates the health of a river and can inspire awe in many who see it.

Detail of a Pictish stone carving showing a salmon, in the National Museum of Scotland. © Jessica Spengler, Creative Commons

Detail of a Pictish stone carving showing a salmon, from the National Museum of Scotland. © Jessica Spengler, Creative Commons

At a cascade where salmon gather, their jumping against the flow can seem little short of miraculous. Happily, Scotland is blessed with both many waterfalls and many salmon rivers. It is also unusual in having salmon that enter its inland waters most months of the year. This includes a sizeable ‘autumn run’ of fish, which often peaks in October.

Atlantic Salmon leaping up a waterfall on the River Almond. ©Lorne Gill/SNH/2020VISION

Atlantic Salmon leaping up a waterfall on the River Almond. ©Lorne Gill/SNH/2020VISION

To appreciate salmon in full autumn leap (and see video links from underwater cameras) try a visit to the Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre by the River Ettrick, near Selkirk. Or in the north, ogle the falls along the River Shin, between Bonar Bridge and Lairg.

You are most likely to spot leaping salmon in October and November in early morning and evening, especially following a spell of rain after a dry period.

By dint of the fact that these are falls and there is lots of spray around, they can be slippery at the best of times. Add to the fact that they are best seen in late autumn/early winter these areas may be more slippery than usual so take care at all times if you go to visit.

7 great places to watch salmon jumping

1. The Falls of Braan in Perthshire https://www.nts.org.uk/Visit/The-Hermitage

Waterfalls at Rumbling Brig on the River Braan, Dunkeld ©Lorne Gill/SNH.

Waterfalls at Rumbling Brig on the River Braan, Dunkeld ©Lorne Gill/SNH.

2. Linn of Tummel where the rivers Garry and Tummel meet https://www.nts.org.uk/Visit/Linn-Of-Tummel

3. The Falls of Shinhttp://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/falls-of-shin

Falls of Shin. © Lorne Gill/SNH

Falls of Shin. © Lorne Gill/SNH

4. Buchanty Spout, Easter Glenalmond near Crieff (To get to Buchanty Spout, take the road to Dunkeld from Crieff, then turn down the Glen Almond turnoff just before the Sma Glen. Buchanty is just a mile or two down this small road. There is an area to park the car on the junction, then a signposted path from the bridge takes you the 100m down to the spout.)

5. Philiphaugh Salmon Viewing Centre – you can see salmon on the Ettrick Water (a tributary of the Tweed where Philiphaugh is located). The safest place to look at fish gathering is below the falls – there is an underwater camera in the Centre which shows these fish gathering below the obstruction before they attempt to go through the fish pass. www.salmonviewingcentre.com

6. Pitlochry Dam and salmon ladder. There is a viewing room here that allows visitors to see salmon migrating through the fish pass on their way upstream.

Fish ladder and hydro electric dam on the river Tummel, Faskally, Pitlochry. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Fish ladder and hydro electric dam on the river Tummel, Faskally, Pitlochry. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

7. The River Dee. If you go at an appropriate time, and the river levels are suitable, visitors can also see salmon leaping on the  in various spots in at Glen Tanar Estate. Go to the Braeloine Visitor Centre www.glentanar.co.uk

Find out more about the life cycle and habits of the Atlantic salmon on our website.

Posted in biodiversity | Tagged , , , ,

A summer of learning and sharing as Scotland leads the way in offshore floating wind farms

This summer has been particularly busy for our marine energy team.  We’ve been out on site to view the construction of the Beatrice offshore wind farm as well as hosting a visit from Japanese officials and their advisers interested in learning from our experience of assessing and advising on offshore floating wind farms.

Construction of the Beatrice wind farm, approximately 13km off the Caithness coast, is the culmination of 10 years work, from site selection through pre-application discussions, the environmental impact assessment as well as post consent consideration and agreement of construction plans.

The Pacific Orca (the biggest vessel of this type in the world) can load the component parts of 5 wind turbines, sail to site and erect the turbines.

The Pacific Orca (the biggest vessel of this type in the world) can load the component parts of five wind turbines, sail to site and erect the turbines.

The scale of offshore windfarms is significantly larger than those onshore and so can produce greater amounts of energy for use in our homes and by industry.  The Beatrice wind farm will produce enough energy to power around 450,000 homes from approximately 588MW.  The completion date for full operation is spring 2019 however it’s already producing energy despite still being under construction.

Erecting the turbine towers and blades to their jackets. The beginning process of stabilising and lifting into position through the use of jack up legs.

Erecting the turbine towers and blades to their jackets. The beginning process of stabilising and lifting into position through the use of jack up legs.

Scotland is leading the way globally in developing floating offshore wind farms.  The Japanese Government are interested in floating wind technology because fixed wind development is not feasible due to their deeper waters.  In early September our Japanese visitors came to our offices at Battleby to learn about the approaches taken in Scotland for assessing impacts to birds from floating offshore wind farms.  Scotland now has two operational sites, one which is fully operational developed by HyWind off Peterhead, and the other slightly closer to shore off Stonehaven called Kincardine.  The delegation from Japan included officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, academics from Nagasaki University and the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry, as well as environmental consultants.

SNH hosted a visit from Japense delegates after being contacted by the Japanese Government.

SNH hosted a visit from Japanese delegates after being contacted by the Japanese Government.

Over the two days we had presentations from SNH, Marine Scotland, RSPB, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the Kincardine developers.  We discussed the importance of Scotland in an international context for breeding seabirds, the methods used to collect data on seabird behaviour and requirements, impact assessment methods including the complex models to predict collision and displacement impacts, as well as the increasing importance of tagging technology to improve our understanding of seabird life cycle requirements including seasonal movements.

Viewing the final stages of the landfall connection at the Kincardine site and discussing financing, construction and operation of floating wind turbines.

Sharing knowledge whilst viewing the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre turbines from land.

Our guests explained that in Japan collection of marine environmental data is only beginning to happen, so they were very grateful to have heard not just about our Scottish perspective, but to compare with what they had heard from visits to the Netherlands and Denmark.  What they hadn’t been able to see off the Danish and Dutch coasts were any floating wind turbines so on our second day we’d planned a road trip up the east coast of Scotland to view the HyWind and Kincardine floating turbines as well as the newly operational European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen Bay.

Discussions going on whilst viewing the floating wind turbines from land.

Viewing the final stages of the landfall connection at the Kincardine site and discussing financing, construction and operation of floating wind turbines.

The visit was extremely beneficial and we’ll continue to share knowledge and learning with our Japanese delegates.

We support a planned approach in which offshore wind development is guided towards the locations and technologies that have the least adverse impact on Scotland’s seascapes, species and habitats.  For further information on our approach go to: https://www.nature.scot/professional-advice/planning-and-development/renewable-energy-development/types-renewable-technologies/marine-renewables/offshore-wind-energy

Posted in Marine, Renewable Energy | Tagged , ,

Tree Coring: What it is and why we do it

We’ve published a new report about tree coring, called A review of the theory and practice of tree coring on live ancient and veteran trees. Here, our Woodlands Policy & Advice Officer Kate Holl tells us more about tree coring and the importance of ancient trees, and explains why we’ve done this research.

An ancient oak at Cadzow Park, Hamilton. (c) Kate Holl

An ancient oak at Cadzow Park, Hamilton. (c) Kate Holl

Ancient and veteran trees (AVTs) aren’t just beautiful and inspirational – they provide an essential link to historic land-use. They are especially important for the wide range of other associated plants and animals, which require the very special environment created in an old tree. Britain has one of the highest populations of veteran trees in Europe, and so we have an international responsibility to protect and manage these very special trees.

The pattern of distinct tree-rings that is visible in sawed wood has been observed at least since the 16th Century when Leonardo da Vinci remarked on the effects of weather and drought on the size of rings in sawed pine.

Annual rings of old trees are historical records in their own right, illustrating past climate changes or cutting treatments. The study of these rings is known as dendrochronology. Today, dendrochronological principles inform the study of a wide range of subjects from climate change to landscape history, archaeology, and even the frequency and impacts of avalanches!

Example of rings on a tree stump, providing information on the tree’s age and weather conditions throughout its lifetime (c) Kate Holl

Example of rings on a tree stump, providing information on the tree’s age and weather conditions throughout its lifetime. (c) Kate Holl

While many people think seeing a tree’s rings requires cutting the tree down, the tree ring pattern can be examined by coring the main trunk using a special tool to extract a pencil-thin core of wood from a tree for subsequent examination. The data collected from coring trees in the UK feeds in to a worldwide network that provides important data for a variety of scientific and practical applications.

However, tree coring unavoidably creates an injury to that tree. So the question arises, how serious and what are the implications of the injury, and how to balance this with any benefits from tree coring?  To investigate this question further, we partnered with Historic England and Natural England to commission research on the damage coring may have on ancient and veteran trees (AVTs).

Extracting a core of wood from an ancient tree for analysis

Extracting a core of wood from an ancient tree for analysis. (c)Rob Jarman

This report, published today, concludes that coring AVTs may be harmful to some of these trees. Given the considerable value of the AVT resource and its potential vulnerability, a general precautionary approach to coring is recommended. The report further recommends that there is a need to bring together professionals and practitioners with conservation, dendrochronology and arboricultural interests in tree coring to improve information sharing and to explore and develop common standards for coring practice and data recording.

Following the findings, SNH plans to embark on a project to develop Best Practice Guidance for coring AVTs in consultation with the professional community to obtain a workable and widely acceptable Best Practice document for coring AVTs. If you are interested in being involved in this work then do please get in touch by emailing Kate.Holl@nature.scot.

You can read the report in full on our website, here.

Posted in History, Research, trees, woodlands | Tagged , , , ,

Scottish Natural Heritage at EUROPARC 2018

Last week Scottish Natural Heritage was a key sponsor of EUROPARC 2018; the largest gathering of protected area professionals in Europe. This annual event brings together hundreds of  park authorities, nature reserve staff and conservation professionals from up 36 European countries to work together and share knowledge on many on the accomplishments and challenges facing our natural areas.  This year, Scotland was lucky enough to be the host nation and the beautiful Cairngorms National Park provided an ideal setting for the conference proceedings.

Tying in nicely with Scotland’s Year of Young People, this year’s EUROPARC theme, Inspired by the Next Generation, informed many of the talks, panels and workshops of the conference event but more importantly brought an open invitation to young people to come along and join the conversation with discounted rates to try and reduce the barriers to attend.

The Key Highlights of EUROPARC 2018

With whole host of speakers, activities and networking events EUROPARC 2018 took place over four days in the Highland town of Aviemore but here are just a few of the conference highlights for us at Scottish Natural Heritage.

Opening day activities

A noted first day speaker was Cassie Scott, a young individual who bravely spoke about challenges she faced in her personal life but how important time in nature had been at changing her life around. After being recommended by a mentor, Cassie joined an eight-day wilderness programme with Venture Trust where she not only learned nature based skills, she found her perspective and approach to many aspects of her life had changed and she had been inspired to help young people in similar circumstances.

Cassie Scott speaking onstage at EUROPARC 2018 ©Kirstin McEwan/Scottish Natural Heritage

Cassie Scott speaking onstage at EUROPARC 2018
©Kirstin McEwan/Scottish Natural Heritage

Hearing personal stories from young people who have made strong connections to nature who otherwise wouldn’t have found their inspiration is a great privilege and was certainly a perfect way to open the conference, highlighting how important outdoor experiences can be and how much they can mean to individuals.

Further speeches from Richard Louv, author of books such as Last Child in the Woods, Hendrikus van Hensbergen; Founder and Director of  Action for Conservation, and Karen Keenleyside a Science Advisor for Parks Canada but also Vice Chair for People and Parks with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) World Commission on Protected Areas, all added a fantastic perspective on our changing attitudes to nature and children’s relationship with natural spaces. Key messages from all these individuals focused on the importance of uniting children and young people with the natural world but not only teaching them about nature but allowing them to explore, connect and engage with their environment in their own way.

Richard Louv speaking at the EUROPARC 2018 Conference | ©Kirstin McEwan/Scottish Natural Heritage

Richard Louv spoke about the importance of connecting children to nature
©Kirstin McEwan/Scottish Natural Heritage

Perhaps one of the most interesting quotes of the opening day came from Richard Louv while speaking on the importance of how we engage young people and how we frame environmental discussions.

“What happens when a child cannot enjoy nature simply for nature’s sake? If all they are taught about is the end of the world, environmentally speaking? Ecophobia.”

Richard Louv, Author and Public Speaker

Richard gave a welcome reminder that, while talking about the environment and conservation topics, it is important not to overwhelm young people with negative predictions and allow connections with nature to take place.

The opening day’s afternoon session allowed delegate to split up in to various workshops to discuss a myriad of topics related to work in and with protected areas. Discussion and working groups covered everything from maintenance and restoration of peatlands to natural heritage and cultural identity. We also played a key role in a number of workshops with Scottish Natural Heritage staff discussing topics such as landscape reform and management, nature and health, access to protected areas and the development of youth nature skills.

Exploring the diversity of the Cairngorms National Park

While talks, discussions and workshops about nature and protected areas are vital to the work of our National Parks, Nature Reserves and greenspaces nothing beats experiencing these spaces first hand. As well as the conference proceedings, the EUROPARC delegates also embarked on a day trip to explore the Cairngorms National Park.

After the previous day’s Storm Ali, our delegates certainly lucked out with some beautiful sunshine for most of the trips around the park including those that visited our site at Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.

EUROPARC 2018 delegates standing in front of a Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve sign | ©Scottish Natural Heritage

EUROPARC 2018 delegates got to explore Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve with some of our Scottish Natural Heritage team
©Scottish Natural Heritage

With over 600 delegates at the conference we certainly couldn’t take them all at our lovely site but there was plenty of variety. From community woodlands to local industry, wildlife watching to adventure sports, the trips truly showcased how diverse protected lands can be.

Want to find out more about  Muir of Dinnet? – Read about visiting our site

Bringing the EUROPARC Message together on the closing day

Mike Cantlay speaking at EUROPARC2018 | ©Kirstin McEwan / Scottish Natural Heritage

Mike Cantlay spoke about the importance of young people in decision-making
©Kirstin McEwan / Scottish Natural Heritage

We were, of course, delighted to have our own Scottish Natural Heritage Chair Mike Cantlay speaking on the closing day of the conference discussing the importance of the next generation in shaping Scotland’s nature and in allowing young people to be decision makers.

“I fear that the only thing standing in the way of our young people might be us. Our young people get it. They see the pace of change our nature is enduring. And they are learning the tools, the technology, the science, to best protect and conserve the nature we hold dear.”

Dr Mike Cantlay OBE, Chair of Scottish Natural Heritage

One of the key elements of EUROPARC 2018, which succinctly answered many of the discussions related to youth engagement and empowering the next generation, was the launch of the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto.  This project brought together more than 50 youth people from across Europe who have been involved in community, protected area, youth or nature programmes to discuss the challenegs they face in rural areas and the changes needed to help them tackle them.

We are also proud to have supported the development of the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto Project which parallels much of our own work with young people living, learning, and working in rural communities and protected areas. Watching the official launch of this important document was a proud moment for everyone involved. 

Want to read the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto? – Find an online version here

Friday also gave us an opportunity to highlight some of the fantastic projects we are involved in including Scotland’s Youth Biodiversity Panel ReRoute in partnership with Young Scot. Other top stalls from the day included our Scotland’s Natural Larder project with some great advice on Scottish produce and ever popular tasters and some great discussion on our National Nature Reserve and protected area site with our Designated Sites Manager as well as many of our conservation projects across Scotland. We were also lucky enough to have had a number of our Student Placements in attendance at the Marketplace section of the day to discuss how they are involved in Scottish Natural Heritage Projects and how their placements will help them develop careers in the environmental sector.

The Importance of EUROPARC 2018

We are very proud to have been a sponsor of EUROPARC 2018 and to have been involved in so many aspects of the event and contributing to such a highly importance knowledge share event. Sharing best practices across the sector, not just here in Scotland but globally, helps all of those working in protected areas, improves techniques and processes and creates a network of professionals who can all work together and collaborate on projects.

Organisations like the EUROPARC Federation who help providing a forum to share ideas and create a space to discuss projects and past experience, are vital to tackling the diverse challenges our natural spaces face and promoting greater connection with our protected areas.

Loch Kinord at Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve ©Lorne Gill/Scottish Natural Heritage

Loch Kinord at Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve
©Lorne Gill/Scottish Natural Heritage

This year’s youth focus and launch of the Youth Manifesto and it’s focus has also been an essential element and is particularly relevant to Scotland with so many rural communities and young people facing issues.

We are excited to continue honouring the new commitments we have made as an organisation on working with young people and involving young people in the governance of our organisation.

Where to next for the EUROPARC Federation?

After a highly successful EUROPARC Conference in the Cairngorms National Park next year the baton has been passed to Lativa and will be hosted in the Kemeri National Park from 24th-27th September 2019.

We look forward to working with our European partners and conservation professionals and to sharing our updates, successes and challenges through this and many more events like it to help achieve all our conservation targets and connect more people with nature right across the globe.

Posted in biodiversity, Cairngorms National Park, conference, conservation, SNH, Year of Young People | Tagged , , , ,

Dualchas coitcheann / Common heritage

Am mìos seo bidh sinn a’ toirt sùil air an fhacal ‘breac’ ann an litreachas na Gàidhlig. Tha ceangal aige ri iasg, lochan agus tòrr a bharrachd. / This month we look at the many uses of breac ‘speckled’ in Gaelic literature. It’s a word that is associated with trout, lochs and much more besides.

Dùthaich bhreac

Tha dà ainm-àite faisg air Port-adhair Ìle a’ sealltainn farsaingeachd an fhacail breac air aghaidh na talmhainn. Tha e a’ nochdadh mar bhuadhair ann am Beinn Bhreac. Dà chilemeatair don ear-thuath air a’ bheinn, tha Loch nam Breac, far a bheil am facal na ainmear, a’ ciallachadh an èisg Salmo trutta. ’S fhiach cuimhneachadh, ge-tà, gu bheil breac a’ ciallachadh ‘bradan’ ann an dualchainnt no dhà.


’S iomadh loch is allt thar na Gàidhealtachd air a bheil ainm le ‘breac’ ann. Tha eisimpleirean ann an Lochan Dubh nam Breac air mòinteach ann an ceann a deas an Eilein Sgitheanaich, Loch nam Breac Ruadh ann an Uibhist a Deas agus Lochan nam Breac Reamhra faisg air an Òban (Latharna). Chan eilear a’ dol a dh’innse far a bheil na sia lochan air a bheil Loch nam Breac Mòra, eagal ’s gum biodh cus dhaoine a’ falbh a dh’iasgach annta!

Mar bhuadhair, tha ‘breac’ a’ dèanamh tuairisgeul de choltas àite, gu tric air fhaicinn aig astar, co-cheangailte ri lusan, creagan no sgrìodan. Tha eisimpleirean anns an Àirigh Bhric ann am Muile (nach eil breac tuilleadh oir chaidh coille a chur oirre), An t-Sròn Bhreac, ceann beinne taobh Loch Lòchaidh agus A’ Chreag Bhreac is A’ Chruach Bhreac a tha air leth bitheanta. Tha an t-uabhas de bheanntan air a bheil Am Meall Breac agus A’ Bheinn Bhreac. Uaireannan tha na ‘beanntan breaca’ ceangailte ri Cailleach na Beinne Brice a bha uaireigin, ’s dòcha, na ban-dia phàganach a bhuineadh ris a’ gheamhradh.


Ann an litreachas na Gàidhlig, tha breac mar thuairisgeul air coltas achaidhean is leathaidean far a bheil lusan sònraichte pailt – leithid sòbhragan, neòineanan is oighreagan (feireagan). Tha ‘breac le feireagan as cruinn dearg ceann’ a’ nochdadh anns an dàn ainmeil ‘Coire a’ Cheathaich’ le Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir. Chithear a’ chiall sin anns an ainm-àite Achadh Breac (Achbreck ann am Beurla), a nochdas ann an grunn àiteachan eadar Siorrachd Bhanbh agus Earra-Ghàidheal.

A speckled land

Two place names close to Islay Airport demonstrate the diversity of the word breac (‘BREH-uchk’) in the Gaelic landscape. Meaning ‘speckled’, it is the descriptor in the mountain name Beinn Bhreac (bayn VREH-uchk) ‘speckled mountain’ – the ‘h’ softening the ‘b’ in agreement with the feminine gender of the noun beinn. Two kilometres northeast of the mountain is Loch nam Breac ‘the loch of the trout’, where the word is a noun, referring to our native brown trout which, of course, is a beautifully speckled fish.


Many water bodies across the Highlands and Islands carry the name of this species. Examples are Lochan Dubh nam Breac ‘the black [peatland] lochan of the trout’ on Skye, Loch nam Breac Ruadh ‘the loch of the russet trout’ in South Uist and Lochan nam Breac Reamhra ‘the lochan of the fat trout’ near Oban, Argyll. The localities of the six lochs which are called Loch nam Breac Mòra ‘the loch of the big trout’ will remain undeclared, because of fears of overfishing!

As a descriptor, breac is applied in place names to several types of feature, and refers to an appearance, usually observed at distance, caused by the distribution of vegetation or rocks, including scree. Examples are the Àirigh Bhreac ‘speckled shieling’ on Mull (no longer speckled because it is covered with plantation forest), Sròn Bhreac ‘speckled nose’ on Loch Lochy, and the extremely numerous and widespread Creag Bhreac ‘speckled crag’ and Cruach Bhreac ‘speckled stack’. There are many mountains called Meall Breac and Beinn Bhreac, the latter often connected with Cailleach na Beinne Brice ‘the hag of Beinn Bhreac’, who may originally have been a pre-Christian deity associated with winter.


In Gaelic literature breac is employed to describe the appearance of fields, hillsides and plateaux where particular plants are growing in abundance, examples being primroses, daisies and cloudberries. ‘Studded with cloudberries of the roundest, reddest head’ is a line from ‘The Misty Corrie’ by Duncan Bàn MacIntyre, one of Gaeldom’s most celebrated poems. A toponymic example is Achbreck, Achadh Breac ‘speckled field’, a name that occurs in locations as far apart as Banffshire and Argyll.

Posted in Gaelic, SNH, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

Snails and grasshoppers on the menu at EU wild LIFE conference

Spiders, bees, grasshoppers, snails and other creepy-crawlies are top of the bill at an International nature conference taking place in Scotland this week.

Wildlife specialists and project managers from across the European Union (EU) are meeting in Stirling for a two-day event we are hosting in partnership with the EU’s EcoCo LIFE project, to discuss the best ways to help our most threatened invertebrates.

Invertebrates are all animals with no backbone and they make up around 98% of animal life. They perform many vitally important functions. As well as pollinating our crops and wild flowers, they turn natural waste into fertile soil, for example, and they are an essential food source for birds, fish and other animals.

The conference – ‘Bringing bugs back to LIFE’ – brings together conservationists from most EU member states who are working on 27 LIFE projects across Europe. The EU’s LIFE funding programme supports environment and nature conservation projects. EcoCo is short for ‘ecological coherence’, which tries to connect fragmented habitats. EcoCo LIFE projects focus on improving ecological coherence through habitat restoration and creation and SNH is the lead partner for EcoCo LIFE Scotland.

Angus Campbell, SNH deputy chair, opened the conference and welcomed delegates to Scotland. Angus said: “We are delighted that Scotland and the EcoCo LIFE project have been selected to host this important event. Invertebrates are a critical part of the complex and interdependent ecosystems and food chains in all habitats, and it is important that a clear focus is given to them.


SNH deputy chair, Angus Campbell, welcomes delegates to Scotland

“Invertebrates are also a source of great fascination, with incredible lifecycles and lifestyles, and there is so much more to be understood about them and how they contribute to the web of life.  There have recently been media reports of massive declines in flying insects, pesticide threats to bees and other pollinators and aquatic invertebrates having ingested plastic particles.  So it is timely that the LIFE programme has chosen this time to hold this event.”


Male Azure Hawker dragonfly, ©Laurie Campbell/SNH

In Scotland, some of our invertebrates are found nowhere else in the world, such as the northern February red stonefly, the long-nosed weevil Protapion ryei and the beetle Anaspis septentrionalis. For others, such as the pinewood mason bee and the chequered skipper butterfly, Scotland provides a last stronghold within the UK. On land and in fresh water alone, it’s thought Scotland could be home to around 50,000 species, with thousands more in our seas.


Chequered skipper, (C) SNH/Lorne Gill

Invertebrates though are at risk from climate change, from pollution and from damage to, or loss of habitat. ‘Bringing bugs back to LIFE’ will include talks and presentations from specialists working on invertebrate projects, and field visits to Scottish EcoCo LIFE projects at Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve. Workshops will allow attendees to share experience, expertise and ideas to work out how to encourage more projects that focus on how to help these often forgotten creatures.

We recently launched ‘A Pollinator Strategy for Scotland’.  As in other countries, Scotland’s pollinators are a vital part of our biodiversity. Species such as bees and hoverflies are a familiar sight in our gardens, parks and countryside and they play a crucial role in our food and farming industries, as well as contributing to our enjoyment of the outdoors and our health and well-being.


Yellow-tailed bumblebee (C) Lorne Gill/SNH

But our wild pollinators are under threat. Faced with pressures that include habitat fragmentation, changes in land use, disease, pesticides and climate change they need our help. The pollinator strategy is just one example of work we are engaged in to help our invertebrates and you can read more about it here.

Posted in bees, biodiversity, climate change, conference, Ecology, Flanders Moss NNR, Insects, Land management, peatland restoration, plants, Projects, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Turning the tide on marine plastic at NNRs

This weekend was the Great British Beach Clean, an initiative of the Marine Conservation Society. We held clean-up events at Forvie and St Cyrus National Nature Reserves (NNRs) and encouraged members of the community to join us. Our NNR Reserve Managers Annabel Drysdale (Forvie) and Therese Alampo (St Cyrus) tell us more…

Forvie_family surveying beach litter2018

Forvie and St Cyrus National Nature Reserves have outstanding beaches, much enjoyed by people and relied on by wildlife to shelter and feed.  However, north-east Scotland is not immune to the global issues of beach litter and marine plastic which lessen our enjoyment of the coast and pose dangerous threats to the birds and animals that encounter discarded items.

The tide is turning though, with recent high profile campaigns raising awareness to reduce our use of plastic bags, straws and single use products.  Our coastal NNRs have a long history of supporting beach cleaning and it will soon be easier than ever for anyone to help.

Both NNRs regularly organise beach cleans open to the public and this weekend saw over 130 people joining us for the Great British Beach Clean weekend.  35 bags of litter were collected, with recyclable plastic, cans and glass separated wherever possible. It was great to see so many people come out to help!

These events ask helpers to survey part of the coast during the clean-up and the results are sent for inclusion to the MCS national report.  Finding out where beach litter is coming from is one step to stop it arriving on the shore.

Taking our support for beach cleaning one step further, Forvie and St Cyrus are entering into an exciting project with East Grampian Coastal Partnership.  We are encouraging visitors to the coast to ‘take 3 for the sea’ and simply collect three items while they are on the beach to put in the bins back at the car parks.  Of course you don’t have to stop at three – every item you pick up will make a big difference!


We also value our links with local schools and St Cyrus NNR has been hosting beach school visits with the local primary for over a year now.  Staff lead activities such as rock pooling, geology, art and navigation, so the pupils already know a lot about the coast.

In addition, we have asked artist Julia Barton to run workshops with St Cyrus Primary and a local school to Forvie, Newburgh Mathers Primary, this autumn.  Julia will explore beach litter in imaginative visits and challenge the children to think about what it is, where it came from and how much energy has been used to make all the rubbish lying around. Julia will also use some of the beach plastic found to produce cubes of solid waste, which will be displayed at the Scottish Parliament next year.

Thanks again to everyone who helped out over the weekend. Our beaches are beautiful, but we all need to put in the work to make sure they stay clean and safe for our wildlife, and for future generations to enjoy. Whether you were able to join us or not, we encourage you to ‘take 3 for the sea’ wherever you are!

Posted in beach, beaches, coastal, Community engagement, Marine, marine pollution, sea life, SNH, St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Creating a buzz at Flower & Food Festival

Dundee’s annual Flower and Food Festival is a big event  in the calendar for our Tayside and Grampian team. This year was extra special, being the show’s 30th anniversary.  Held in Camperdown Park,  the festival provides something for everyone, from school children to serious gardeners, foodies and culture vultures.


Sandra and pollinator

For local officer Sandra Penman the event was an opportunity to meet and talk to a wide audience about the importance of protecting biodiversity, particularly pollinators.  There was quite a bit of planning involved for Sandra who had organised all the activities and put together a display including leaflets, piles of deadwood and pollinator friendly potted plants.

SNH staff who manned the stall all weekend were joined by partners from other environmental organisations. The Winter Woodland display in the marquee won the top award in its section, with positive feedback from the Britain in Bloom judges on its environmental theme and message — to get outdoors and enjoy nature during winter.

Our focus on pollinators was well received with many people stopping to watch the super ‘Bee’ movie in our woodland den. Friday was a very busy start with lots of school children getting free access to the show and rushing in to look for stamps on their Pollinator Passports. Sandra horrified many children (and adults too) when she told them that without pollinators we would have no chocolate to eat!

We were joined by some pollinator experts over the weekend, including our own Jim Jeffrey and Athayde Tonhasca, who diligently answered all the difficult questions and talked people through the various ways they can do more for Pollinators. This includes; encouraging people to make space for pollinator friendly plants such as lavender, cyclamen and primroses; leaving some ‘wild’ areas for hibernation and shelter; trying to have something in bloom throughout the seasons; less grass cutting when the early dandelions are out; and of course reducing pesticide use in the garden.


Special thanks to our Scotland’s Natural Larder colleagues who cooked up a storm over the weekend and shared information about sustainable, nutritious food. They also made sure to run along to our stand with delicious venison stovie tasters for staff. The team are now looking forward, with relish, to making some weed burgers with a recipe from the Student Survival Guide, which is equally suitable for non-students who are looking to eat well on a budget.  The team enjoyed a wonderful day connecting people and nature and are very much looking forward to the 31st festival next summer.

Posted in bees, biodiversity, climate change, foraging, Uncategorized, Volunteering, wild flowers, woodlands | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A trip to a wooded rock off the west of Scotland where the herbivores don’t go!

Kate Holl, SNH Woodland Adviser, recently visited a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland. The island has no herbivores such as deer, allowing the plantlife to grow wilder than anywhere else in Scotland!

Eilean nam Meann

(c)Kate Holl

On a perfect summer’s morning earlier this year I set off to visit the tiny island of Eilean nam Meann, off Port Ramsay on the Isle of Lismore that woodland ecologist Neil Mackenzie had told me about last year.   Unlike most of the rest of Scotland, there are no deer on this island.  The local resident sheep are well managed and do not have access.

Eilean nam Meann itself is little more than an offshore rock, but as you can see from the picture above it is crowned with woodland.  Lying as it does in the inter-tidal zone, it is cut off from the main island twice a day by the sea, and so we had to wait until low tide when the sea receded sufficiently for us to cross over to the island.

On Eilean nam Meann

(c)Kate Holl

We knew we had only a few hours before the tide would turn and start coming in again, and not actually wanting to be stuck on the island for 12 hours (!) we scuttled across the mud and clambered over the seaweed clad rocks up to the woodland edge. As you can see from the picture below, we were confronted with an almost impenetrable mantel of thorn scrub encircling and protecting the woodland.

Thorn scrub protecting the woodland

(c)Kate Holl

Bramble, hawthorn and dog rose thorns tore at our clothing as we pushed through and fell into the cool green interior of the woodland. As our eyes accustomed to the light we were amazed at what we saw, for the woodland opened up to reveal a beautiful green sanctuary carpeted with wild flowers: bluebell, pignut, wood anemone, sanicle, primrose, bugle, yellow pimpernel, herb robert, wild garlic, stitchwort all in flower, together with dozens of lovely twayblade orchids:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Climbing plants such as ivy and honeysuckle, absent from most Scottish woods because grazing animals find them so good to eat, have pulled themselves up into the canopy where they can flower and fruit.

The woodland itself was mainly comprised of hazel with ash, and occasional oak, with holly, hawthorn and sycamore, all of which (apart from the oak) were regenerating prolifically under the canopy.

(c)Kate Holl

(c)Kate Holl

What a joy to discover this wood, and to see the proof that, where herbivore numbers are low enough or absent, the flowers and the understorey can develop just like those woods in Iceland, Norway, France and the Isle of Wight that I visited last year. There could indeed be “flowerful” woods in Scotland.  It’s just that most don’t ever get the chance, but really, how much more enjoyable would a walk in your local wood be if there were just some more flowers….?

(c)Kate Holl

More information about Kate’s Churchill Fellowship and the research she has done into this subject is available here.

Posted in biodiversity, Flowers, plants, trees, wild flowers, wild land, woodlands | Tagged , ,