‘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 , , , , , , , , ,

Future planning: designing places in a climate emergency

As urban areas grow and the realities of the climate emergency become clearer, there is a need to look at the way we design and build the places where we live and work. Today, Abi Gardner, a graduate placement working with our Placemaking team, tells us about a recent Future Planning Conference she attended in Glasgow.

Extreme weather events such as heavy rain and heatwaves are becoming more frequent. Research shows that being in nature is good for your health and well-being making you more relaxed and increasing concentration and motivation. Wildlife, such as pollinators, need urban green spaces to live and thrive. To ensure our urban areas are sustainable, resilient and nice places to be, we must work together to integrate nature-based solutions and green infrastructure into our towns and cities.

Nature-based solutions use nature to address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, providing benefits to both human well-being and biodiversity. In our towns and cities, nature-based solutions are often delivered through green infrastructure. This includes having more street trees and rain gardens to help prevent flooding and to cool places down during heatwaves. It also includes wildflower verges and green roofs to help pollinators move around. It includes green networks to enable people to walk and cycle to work and green spaces to spend time relaxing, exercising or playing in nature.

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Green infrastructure at Strathclyde University, Glasgow. ©SNH

During Scotland’s Climate Week earlier this year, planners, developers and green infrastructure experts across industry and Scotland’s Key Agencies Group came together in Glasgow to discuss how to better design places as we mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Organised by our very own Green Infrastructure Fund, along with partners at the Ecosystem Knowledge Network, the day saw lots of motivating and proactive discussions. These included examples of successful green infrastructure projects from across Europe, partnerships showcasing exciting place-based projects across Scotland, as well as lots of conversations about how we can do more to make sure places benefit both people and nature.

Future Planning: Designing places in a Climate Emergency Conference.  ©SNH

With more collaboration among all stakeholders, the place-making process can more effectively use nature-based solutions to ensure places are resilient to extreme weather events and help wildlife, as well as creating healthy and thriving communities for those that live and work there.

Want to find out more?

To see more in-depth interviews with some of the key contributors of the event head over to the Future Planning conference website.

Posted in Access, active travel, biodiversity, climate change, Community engagement, conference, graduate placement, meadow, Natural Health Service, Planning, SNH, Uncategorized, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mapping our species-rich grasslands

According to UK charity Plantlife, Britain has lost 97% of its species-rich grassland in less than a century. Hundreds of plants, fungi and invertebrate species rely on these important habitats – which in turn support healthy populations of birds and mammals. This is why Apithanny Bourne, who is on a graduate placement with us, will be spending the next year attempting to evaluate the best method to locate and map remaining fragments of grassland…

My background is in entomology and I’m drawn to meadows for their rich diversity of insect life. Species such as the northern brown argus butterfly (Aricia artaxerxes) and the scabious mining bee (Andrena marginata) are specialists of grassland habitats, where they and others have developed interesting relationships with certain plants. Unfortunately, as our landscape becomes increasingly dominated by monoculture, species-rich grasslands are often restricted to small pockets of land – typically field corners and steep slopes, not easily accessible to farm machinery. Grassland types can also be difficult to identify when not in flower, meaning they are easily lost to forestry plantations and incorrect grazing regimes. Society has become so accustomed to the intensive nature of farming that whilst the felling of woodland might spark an outcry, the fertilising of grassland is a normal occurrence.  We haven’t noticed the steady disappearance of important grasslands from our landscape.

Field scabious (Knautia arvensis), Weem Meadow.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Scabious in our Battleby meadow

My project will initially involve a period of data collation – only around half of Scotland has been surveyed for species-rich grassland, so there are a lot of gaps to fill! Using contacts in the NGO sector and the knowledge of individual botanists, as much additional information as possible will be gathered. Satellite technology and automated classification using GIS software will then be used to identify potential SRG sites. By working in collaboration with the Cairngorms National Park, it will be possible to perform a pilot in an area such as Deeside, with potential polygons ground truthed by an ecological consultant. Data will be integrated into the Habitat Map of Scotland and the feasibility of using this method over a larger area will be evaluated.

Image - Meadow Brown on creeping thistle - 29 Oct 2019 (A3092247)

Meadow Brown on creeping thistle

I’m really interested in engaging the public with insects and wild plants – so I’d also like to explore a citizen science approach to recording grasslands. I hope to collaborate with an NGO such as Plantlife to find out whether trained volunteers could be used to monitor the sites for a more sustainable, long term approach. A web page or app into which the public can enter grassland data may also prove useful in the future. There are many natural history groups across Scotland and harnessing the power of social media may assist us in locating important undesignated grasslands.

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Base rich grassland


Next year I hope to spend more time out in the field, but in the meantime I am based at SNH’s Battleby office, and I’m  happy to chat more about my work (apithanny.bourne@nature.scot). Thanks for reading!

Posted in battleby, biodiversity, Cairngorms National Park, citizen science, Ecology, Flowers, Fungi, gardens, graduate placement, Habitat Map of Scotland, Land management, mapping, meadow, plants, SNH, Staff profile, Uncategorized, wild flowers, wild land, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Creagan, Aibhnichean is Minn a’ Leum / Crags, Rivers and Leaping Kids

Tha minn a’ nochdadh gu tric air aghaidh na tìre air a’ Ghàidhealtachd /  Young goats appear in many places in Scotland’s Gaelic landscape.

Creagan, Aibhnichean is Minn a’ Leum

Ann an monadh Chinn Tìre, deas air an Tairbeart, tha abhainn bheag air a bheil ainm mòr. Is e sin Abhainn Leum nam Meann – agus nach brèagha na h-ìomhaighean a tha an t-ainm sin a’ brosnachadh! Tha gobhair a’ nochdadh fad, farsaing is minig air mapaichean na h-Alba, agus uaireannan ’s iad an fheadhainn òga – na minn – a th’ air an ainmeachadh.

Feral goats. The Isle of Colonsay.©Lorne Gill/SNH

Feral goats. The Isle of Colonsay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Gu tric tha minn agus gobhair co-cheangailte ri creagan, agus tha an t-ainm-àite Creag nam Meann a’ nochdadh ann an grunn àiteachan, leithid ann an Arainn, Loch Abar, san Eilean Sgitheanach agus air Mòinteach Raineach. Tha Gleann nam Meann faisg air Gleann Fhionnghlais anns na Tròisichean, le Coire nam Meann beagan tuath air, faisg air Loch Bheothail. Faisg air Fisinis ann am Muile, tha Beinn nam Meann, agus tha Sgùrr nam Meann deas air Camas Shanna ann an Àird nam Murchan. Siar air Gleann Moireasdan, tha Sròn Badan nam Meann – ged nach eil e soilleir an e minn-earba no minn-ghobhair a thathar ag ainmeachadh an sin.

Tha dà ainm le ‘meann’ a tha doirbh a mhìneachadh. Is iad sin Bogha nam Meann agus Sgeir nam Meann, a tha faisg air a chèile far cladach a deas Eilein Alltanaigh ann an Asainte. ’S dòcha gun do dh’èirich na h-ainmean à seann sgeulachd no naidheachd.

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Feral goats, Isle of Rum NNR, © Laurie Campbell / SNH

Chithear a’ Mhinn cuideachd air aghaidh na tìre. Tha dà loch ann an Earra-Ghàidheal air a bheil Loch a’ Mhinn, agus tha Suidh’ a’ Mhinn sa mhonadh faisg air Cill a’ Bhacstair ann an ceann a tuath an Eilein Sgitheanaich. Agus tha am facal minnean againn, a’ ciallachadh ‘meann òg’ – an dà chuid aig earba no gobhar. Mar sin, chan eil e soilleir dè an t-ainmhidh a th’ air ainmeachadh ann an Coille Mhinnean air cladach Loch Fìne, ach tha dùil gur e an earba a th’ ann.

Crags, Rivers and Leaping Kids

In the hills of Kintyre, south of Tarbert, there is a small river with a big name. It is Abhainn Leum nam Meann ‘the river of the jump of the kid goats’ – whose name surely conjures up some bucolic images! Goats are a significant toponymic feature of the Scottish landscape, and in some places it is the young of the species that are named – the word meann ‘MYOWN’ being conspicuous.

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Feral goats, Isle of Rum nnr.© Laurie Campbell / SNH

Goats are often associated with crags, so the place-name Creag nam Meann ‘the crag of the kid goats’ is not uncommon, examples being found in Arran, Lochaber, Skye and Rannoch Moor. There is Gleann nam Meann ‘the glen of the kids’ near Glen Finglas in the Trossachs, with Coire nam Meann ‘the corrie of the kids’ a little to its north. Beinn nam Meann ‘the mountain of the kids’ is near Fishnish on Mull and Sgùrr nam Meann ‘the rocky peak of the kids’ is close to Sanna Bay in Ardnamurchan. West of Glen Moriston is the highly descriptive Sròn Badan nam Meann ‘the nose [hill-end] of the small copse of the kids’.

Less explicable, however, are the sunken sea rocks off Oldany Island in Assynt, Sutherland, called Bogha nam Meann ‘the sunken rock of the kids’ and the adjacent Sgeir nam Meann ‘the skerry of the kids’. Are their names perhaps related to an old story or legend involving goats?

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Roe deer doe,  Invereshie and Inshriach NNR, ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The genitive singular form of am meann is a’ mhinn [uh VEEN] ‘of the kid goat’, a form which pops up in some place-names – such as two lochs in Argyll called Loch a’ Mhinn ‘the loch of the kid’, and the intriguing Suidh’ a’ Mhinn in Trotternish, Skye which means ‘the sitting place of the kid’ ie the place where humans would sit and watch a kid goat! Again, there might be a folkloric context to this name.

There is one other related word for a kid goat we find in the landscape – minnean [MEEN-yan] – but it can also refer to the young of the earba or roe deer (as can meann on occasion). Thus, Coille Mhinnean on the north shore of Loch Fyne is either ‘wood of young goat kids’ or ‘wood of young roe deer’. The habitat suggests that it is likely to be the latter.

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

Buffering climate change with wetlands

We were delighted to host 18 colleagues from across Europe on a recent study tour by the Eurosite Wetlands and Climate Change working group, visiting sites across central Scotland to find out how we are using wetlands to help buffer the impacts of ongoing climate change.  The tour also helped us learn from our visitors’ experiences working with wetlands in countries including the Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, Croatia and Poland.

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Eurosite wetlands study tour at St Andrews ©Iain Sime/SNH

Eurosite is a network of site managers, sharing experiences on practical nature management.  As such, delegates were particularly interested in the techniques and means by which we have been restoring, creating and managing wetlands in Scotland.  The study tour also promoted the concept of using wetlands as ‘natural climate buffers’ – which seeks to give wetlands the space to evolve with climate change, adapt to it and play an important role in helping society cope with climate change. We were able to show how we have been trying to do that in a variety of different ways.

The tour visited Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve where there were gasps of amazement at some of the changes that have been achieved on the reserve – particularly the fun titled ‘stump flipping’ technique (illustrated in this video).  It has allowed areas of damaged bog to be transformed from bare peat to now wet, vegetated ground with returning Sphagnum within only 4-5 years.

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Results of PeatlandACTION work at Blawhorn Moss National Nature Reserve ©Iain Sime/SNH

Later the group also visited Blawhorn Moss National Nature Reserve where they were able to see the near complete restoration of this raised bog after many years of extensive and imaginative restoration work.  Andrew McBride from the Peatland ACTION project explained the wide range of impressive restoration techniques that have been developed and there have been invitations for the team to visit the Netherlands and other places to export our work and help with the restoration of their bogs.

The tour also included restoration in the urban environment with our Green Infrastructure project.  It was impressive to see work taking place to open up a culverted burn in Easterhouse as part of creating new greenspace for the local community, that also reduces flood risk to housing and the M8.  The group also saw work taking place near Sighthill to restore a local nature reserve and use the canal and wetlands to reduce flood risk in central Glasgow.  Even the Dutch visitors thought this work meant they should be doing more wetland creation work in their cities!

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Green Infrastructure work underway near Sighthill in Glasgow ©Iain Sime/SNH

We also ventured onto sand dunes and salt marshes to see case studies from the Dynamic Coast project.  At St Andrews, volunteer efforts to create and expand salt marshes were closely examined, with a desire to try such techniques elsewhere.  Other impressive salt marsh creation was discussed at Skinflats RSPB reserve, which was full of water and coping well with the 2nd highest tide since a flood embankment was breached a couple of years ago.  And there were further gasps at the scale of volunteer effort on St Andrews beach, and how successful this has been at expanding sand dunes.  The work was obviously of great interest to visitors from coastal countries such as the Netherlands, but also to a site manager of the Kampinos National Park in central Poland which has Europe’s largest area of inland sand dunes– who knew?!

With invitations to export our experiences to other parts of Europe, and plans to work on other collaborative initiatives, the tour was a great success.  It really helped emphasise the importance and scale of the wetland restoration work that we are doing here in Scotland.  That was despite sunny weather blessing the whole of the tour, something that you might expect wouldn’t help show off wetlands!

Posted in climate change | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

School proves learning outdoors really works (and is fun!)

Friday at SNH’s Battleby Offices – means fun and challenges for visiting pupils from St John’s RC School in Perth. 

Come rain, hail or shine, for the past academic year, P5-7 have been out and about learning, playing and having fun with their class teacher and Outdoor Learning teacher, John McManamon. 

The teachers and pupils have enjoyed their educational visits to Battleby

The teachers and pupils have enjoyed their educational visits to Battleby

John came to know and love Battleby having grown up nearby and saw its huge potential for learning, so he contacted us to seek permission to bring pupils.  One of our main offices, Battleby, is located about 5 miles north of Perth and features beautiful grounds, including a 200 year old oak wood and one of the largest wildflower meadows in Perthshire.  Recent additions have included a living wall, a pollinator trail, an array of bug, bee and bird boxes, and habitat piles.

John met with our Outdoor Learning Advisor, Gardener, and Property Manager to gain some background information and resources, and then set to work developing a programme of activities for pupils.  Pupil Equity Funding helped fund the bus transport to Battleby, as well as John’s post and an apprentice.

SNH staff helped develop a plan of suitable activities for pupils

SNH staff helped develop a plan of suitable activities for pupils

The main aim of the programme is to broaden learning experiences – with a particular focus on mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing.  In 2018/19, 170 pupils from P5-7 spent at least 3 full days at Battleby.  Activities included team games, individual and group challenges, learning about the history, plants and wildlife, and lots of free play.  Sessions were designed to develop confidence, resilience and help pupils evaluate risk, as well as develop relationships and improve communication decision making skills.

Pupils were encouraged to participate in challenges

Pupils were encouraged to participate in challenges

All pupils said they enjoyed the experience and saw the benefits – and became very passionate when asked to create some persuasive writing on the topic of ‘Is Outdoor Learning a waste of time?’:

“I think that Outdoor Ed helps with social lives because you need to co-operate in groups with people that you might not normally work with.  That will also boost your confidence in talking to new people.” Sean

“There are some people who think that Outdoor Ed is too dangerous.  I understand why they might feel that way but the point of Outdoor Ed is to learn about these dangers.” Niamh

“I think Outdoor Education is good because it gets children more active.  You get fresh air and you learn about wildlife like birds and animals.” Sam

“Outdoor Ed is good because you learn how to work together.” Rozerin

“In my opinion it is a good thing that every school should do.” Mario

Feedback from pupils and teachers has been very positive

Feedback from pupils and teachers has been very positive

Teachers reported some children had gained in confidence and as a result attainment improved.  Relationships improved because they were based on a more rounded picture as pupils witnessed and showed different sides of themselves. One teacher said:

“There was a very good balance between learning, challenges and free time. The free time was ‘just playing’ e.g. climbing trees, playing tig or other active games, but I think it was very valuable to some of these children. The outdoor challenges definitely saw them supporting each other to achieve.”

John has demonstrated the impact Battleby visits can have and convinced Senior Management to invest in further programmes of visits over the coming years.  He is currently designing these to build a progression of skills and experiences from P4–P7.

“Battleby’s unique setting and landscape is such a valuable resource for us to use for Outdoor Learning. Having such diversity on its grounds helps pupils and teachers explore and appreciate nature. The Scottish Natural Heritage staff have gone out of their way to help us create this experience and I really appreciate what they have done for us.” John McManamon

Pupils also experience a progression of place, as John ensures that Battleby visits build on learning in the school grounds and within walking distance. Additionally pupils have developed a real connection to Battleby with some bringing family to visit during weekends and holidays.

Further information

Battleby Grounds are open to the public and are free to access however if visiting as a group please let SNH know.  The Conference Centre and grounds are used for a range of events, such as police dog training and first aid training, therefore at times it can be impractical for a large group to visit.  Find out more.

John used a number of SNH’s resources, including Beyond your boundary:  easy steps to learning in local greenspace and those found on the Outdoor Learning Directory.


Posted in Outdoor learning, Scottish Natural Heritage, Young people | Tagged , , ,

Autumn delights at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve

Red Squirrel

Red squirrel at Tentsmuir – (c) Lorne Gill-SNH

Marijke Leith is one of our team at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. She joined the team at Tentsmuir in July on our student placement scheme having graduated from Aberdeen University in June.  Here Marijke talks about some of the many features that make this reserve such a special place to visit at this time of year.

Autumn spectacles
The start of September saw a quick turn of seasons from summer to autumn. The first of the leaves turned and the weather changed from (sometimes) warm, sunny mornings to clear and crisp mornings with a chill in the air. Tentsmuir has something for everyone in all seasons and, although the days are shorter and the temperatures are cooler, there is still a lot to see!

The beginning of autumn sees the trees laden with pine cones and beech nuts. This year, the branches are weighed down with the mass of beech nuts on them, happily for the red squirrels. Our resident red squirrels are busy eating and stashing the beech nuts, but they still make a visit to the feeders outside the hide to get a hazelnut as a treat, much to the delight of photographers in the hide (and me) – who doesn’t love a red squirrel picture?

Incoming to Tentsmuir
The autumnal signs also lead us to the incoming birds of winter. Although often thought of as a downtime in activity which it is for some species such as the dragonflies and butterflies, the arrival of birds is on the increase at both Tentsmuir Point and Morton Lochs. At Tentsmuir Point we see the increase of pink-footed geese and eider ducks, with pink-footed geese reaching their thousands in the winter.


Pink footed geese (c) Steve Buckland

The pink-footed geese have arrived early this year – about two weeks before they normally do – in Tentsmuir, as in other places on the east coast. Over autumn and winter, the geese are counted weekly by volunteers. The data is shared with Fife Bird Club and Fife Nature to monitor the numbers and species of geese visiting.

Inland at Morton Lochs, the number of visiting teal varies and although the numbers recorded are lower than in past years, they still visit the lochs with the September count recording 87 teal on one day. The kingfisher returning to the lochs is also a fantastic start to the autumn. This is a very exciting time for visitors and photographers, who have been flocking to the hides to grab a glimpse of this beautiful bird. I’ve been lucky enough to get great views of not just one but two kingfishers on the North Loch. But so far, they are too fast for me to capture on camera.

Kingfisher - credit Steve Buckland

Kingfisher (c) Steve Buckland

The volunteering activities at Tentsmuir NNR have also taken on an autumnal theme. Burning brash has begun down at Morton Lochs to remove the remains of the many trees and branches that were blown down in the gales in September last year. The burning of the brash helps to clear the site and also prevents the wood decomposing and adds nutrients to the soil. We burning the smaller branches, and pile up the larger logs to create a ‘habitat pile’ which will provide shelter for a range of insects and cover for frogs, toads and small mammals. We had a great helping hand to kick off the season with a team of volunteers from the Perth SSE office. What we managed to clear in one day with the help of the team would have taken us around five days without them. We really appreciate the help we get from volunteer groups.

Burning Brash - credit Lorne Gill

Volunteers from Scottish and Southern Electricity helping to burn brash at Morton Lochs. © Lorne Gill/SNH.

Although planting wildflowers might sound more like a spring job, we have been busy planting wildflower plugs and seed this month with a lovely group of young people working towards the ‘Out There Award’ run by Ramblers Scotland. Between us, we managed to plant almost 200 plugs and two areas of seed which will be used in the pollinator trail which we plan to create next year. Come spring, we will hopefully see a burst of wildflowers and be able to enjoy the results of our hard work. The trail will use existing paths to highlight what plants can be used to help pollinators such as bees and butterflies and the important job they do in nature.

Ramblers Wildflower Group 2

Ramblers Scotland members helping plant wildflower plugs.

On the 24 October, we have our dragonfly pond clearance volunteer day with Daniele Muir from the British Dragonfly Society. Why not come along and help out?

Despite the onset of cooler weather and shorter days, there is still plenty to do and see at Tentsmuir NNR! Whether it be searching for a glimpse of teal or goldeneye at Morton Lochs or watching the vast numbers of pink-footed geese at Tentsmuir Point, come visit and enjoy an autumnal day out in Fife!


Posted in Uncategorized

The bountiful birds of St Cyrus NNR

Simon Ritchie has been working at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve since he was 16 – initially as a volunteer, he is currently employed as a Seasonal Reserve Officer. Simon  has previously written about his passion for the wildflowers of St Cyrus.  Today he writes about another of the features that make this reserve such a special place to visit at this time of year, including the most beautiful bird he has ever seen…

I am fascinated by all of the wildlife of St Cyrus NNR, but the birdlife at St Cyrus NNR has always fascinated me the most. One of my earliest memories was coming to St Cyrus NNR as a young boy with my grandfather; I vividly remember my grandad pointing out a kestrel that was hunting over the cliffs and that memory has stuck with me for the last 18 years. Who knows, maybe that interaction with nature sparked an interest that has lead me where I am today!

Kestrel at St Cyrus NNR (c) Gus Routledge

Kestrel at St Cyrus NNR (c) Gus Routledge

I have been fascinated by birds since my mid-teens and this led to an interest in other wildlife. However, birds have stayed my main focus and St Cyrus NNR is the perfect place to learn and appreciate birdlife. I remember one of the earlier times I volunteered at St Cyrus NNR with Therese and the gang. It was winter 2012 and we were conducting a WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count, I was amazed with the amount of wintering wildfowl on the reserve; hundreds of teal, wigeon, pintail and pink-footed Geese!

Teal - credit Steve Buckland

Teal – (C) Steve Buckland

This brings me nicely on to the estuary at St Cyrus NNR, it is a tidal estuary of the River North Esk. It is a haven for waders, wildfowl and gulls. August is one of the best times of year for waders and over the years on the estuary I have seen; ruff, green Sandpiper, whimbrel, grey Plover, large flocks of knot, dunlin, ringed plover and sanderling amongst many others. A small number of pink-footed geese also use the estuary as a roost in autumn and up to 3000 can be feeding in the fields near-by.

As I have mentioned, the estuary is an important refuge for gulls. A lot of people are not into gulls, but I for one love them! St Cyrus NNR can boast large numbers of gulls, sometimes 5000+. These are usually a mixture of herring, lesser black-backed, great black-backed, common, black-headed gull and kittiwake. Scarcer gulls have also been recorded here in recent years including glaucous and Iceland gull, which are vagrants from the Arctic. Little gull also occasionally use the estuary and these birds breed in Finland and Asia.

Gulls at St Cyrus NNR estuary (c) Paul Ross

Gulls at the St Cyrus esturay, (C) Paul Ross

The cliffs of St Cyrus NNR provide a safe nesting place for birds to use. Our 75m cliffs are home to; 42 fulmar pairs, raven, jackdaw, peregrine and buzzard. All of which can be seen at once in territorial feuds! The scrubland below the cliffs is a fantastic area for smaller birds. Gorse, broom, hawthorn, meadowsweet and a  reed bed provide nesting habitat for a large variety of different birds including; willow warbler, whitethroat, reed bunting, stonechat, yellowhammer, linnet, meadow pipit, blackcap, robin, blackbird, goldfinch and sedge warbler, among many others. St Cyrus NNR is home to over 50 species of breeding bird.

Bluethroat at Tangleha’ (c) John Clark

A beautiful bluethroat at Tangleha’ (c) John Clark

As well as supporting breeding birds, St Cyrus NNR also welcomes passing migrants on their travels. Over the years, St Cyrus NNR has had some scarce and rare birds, and 2019 has been no different. Earlier this year, a hoopoe made landfall in our cattle field. This made for some excellent viewings. Just half a mile to the north of the NNR I was also lucky enough to find a male bluethroat, the best looking bird I have ever seen! Other notable birds that I have seen at St Cyrus include; sooty shearwater, pomarine skua, red-backed shrike, yellow-browed warbler, black redstart, velvet scoter and black-throated diver.

No matter what time of year you visit St Cyrus NNR, the birds always put on a good show. If you visit in the coming weeks, keep your eyes to the skies and listen out for returning flocks of pink-footed geese. There is always something to marvel at…

Simon Ritchie, Seasonal Nature Reserve Assistant

Posted in Birds, coastal, Flowers, gulls, National Nature Reserves, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, Staff profile, Uncategorized, Volunteering, wild flowers, Young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,