Wonderful woodland wanders for National Walking Month

This National Walking Month, we’re celebrating some of the amazing walking opportunities on Scotland’s great National Nature Reserves (NNRs) – here are some of our top woodland walks to get you inspired!

Bluebells Clyde Valley Woods NNR ©Lorne Gill SNH

Bluebells at Clyde Valley Woods NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH

May is one of the best times of year to enjoy our amazing native woodlands. This year is proving to be a great year for blossom with the blackthorn, hawthorn and wild cherry laden with blooms. The bluebells are also spectacular, carpeting the woodland floor with their deep rich blues, mixed with the fresh greens of spring.

Enjoy the seasonal colours in some of our wonderful woodlands of Taynish, Clyde Valley Woodlands, Ariundle Oakwood, Muir of Dinnet or Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserves (NNR).

Clyde Valley Woodlands NNR

Bluebells at Clyde Valley Woodlands National Nature Reserve ©Lorne Gill SNH

Bluebells at Clyde Valley Woodlands National Nature Reserve ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Scotland’s oldest and richest forest lies hidden in dramatic gorges throughout the Clyde Valley. Since the last Ice Age, rivers have gouged deep clefts in the soft sandstone. Ancient woods of oak, ash, rowan and hazel now grow here. Clyde Valley Woodlands NNR is made up of six of the best of these woodlands.

Explore the many paths through these spectacular ancient woodlands, or better still, find a quiet spot and sit awhile; it’s always best to simply let the wildlife come to you. In spring the woodlands are rich in wildflowers; the bluebells are particularly vivid.  If you’re quiet, with luck you may see badgers, roe deer, otters, great spotted woodpeckers, kingfishers, peregrine falcons, dippers and much more.

Our trail guide describes six walks in the reserve, whether you visit the waterfalls of the Falls of Clyde, the quiet gorges of Cartland Crags and Cleghorn Glen or enjoy the spectacular views over the Avon Water at Chatelherault.

Muir of Dinnet NNR

Loch Davan at Dinnet NNR © SNH

Loch Davan at Dinnet NNR © SNH

Lying within the Cairngorms National Park, on Royal Deeside, Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve (NNR) is a mosaic of wetlands, woods and moors. It’s a great place for wildlife.

The woodlands here are young, most of the trees are less than 60 years old, but the woods are rich in wildlife. Spring spreads a pale green mantle of new leaves on the birch and aspen woodland. Scattered rowan, willow, alder and aspen grow throughout the wood. Delicate celandine, primroses, cowslips and wood anemone carpet the ground. Resident birds are beginning to breed and summer visitors, such as swallows and willow warblers, are arriving back from Africa.

Follow the Loch Kinord trail (6.5km) through Muir of Dinnet’s woodland with beautiful views across the loch. Or take one of the shorter trails to explore the Vat or Parkin’s Moss – each trail sharing a unique part of this wonderful reserve.

Ariundle Oakwood NNR

The woodland trail at Ariundle NNR ©Lorne Gill SNH

The woodland trail at Ariundle NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH

On the Sunart Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland, Ariundle Oakwood NNR is just a fragment of the once-immense oakwood that stretched from Portugal to Norway. This precious section of ancient woodland is now very rare. Feast your eyes on all the shades of green you can imagine, with mosses, lichens and liverworts flourishing on every possible surface. Listen for bird song from the diverse species that live among the trees. And from shrews to red deer, badgers to wildcats, you might even spot something larger as you explore.

Take a trail through the woodland to the north, past a ruined croft, with excellent views over the glen. Another trail meanders alongside the river, or join them together for a beautiful 5km walk.

Taynish NNR

Taynish bluebells © SNH

Taynish bluebells © SNH

Taynish NNR lies at the end of a hidden peninsula. The peaceful oak woodlands are interspersed with grassland glades, heath, saltmarsh and shoreline. The reserve provides a truly amazing landscape that’s teeming with wildlife.  Trees have stood here for more than 6,000 years. A magical mosaic of mosses and lichens drapes from the trees and carpets the ground.

Spring brings white wood anemones, the unforgettable haze of bluebells and yellow primroses. By May, there are lots of resident wrens and migrant willow warblers, and the woodlands are alive with song. For a glimpse into this wonderful woodland, Peter Cairns (nature and conservation photographer), has captured this year’s bluebells in full bloom.

Explore the woodlands by following the Woodland Trail (5km), a mostly level and well surfaced route around this remarkable northern “rainforest”. It includes a path to Taynish Mill picnic area and shore (400m). If you are feeling more energetic, the Barr Mòr Trail (3km) is strenuous with some steep climbs, but it gives a great view from the top

Glasdrum Woods NNR

Walkers on the woodland trail at Glasdrum NNR ©Lorne Gill SNH

Walkers on the woodland trail at Glasdrum NNR ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Ancient woodland cloaks the slopes of Beinn Churalain, which rises steeply above Loch Creran. Get a taste of an Atlantic rainforest as you follow the woodland trail up through Glasdrum Wood NNR.

With ancient oaks, ash and hazel trees this temperate rainforest is even rarer than tropical rainforest.  Ferns sprout from rocky crevices, while lichens and mosses cling to branches.  In spring and summer the wood is also filled with the chorus of bird song. Wrens, chaffinches and wood warblers are a few of the birds you can see and hear. Butterflies flit among the flowers that grow in open spaces that the sunlight can reach. More than 20 butterfly species live among the woodland glades and open ground of Glasdrum Wood NNR.

Follow the woodland trail (1km) through the ancient mossy woodland and enjoy views to the south and west across Loch Creran.

You can find out more about National Nature Reserves across Scotland on our website. Or have a look at the Woodland Trusts Visiting Woods or Forest Land Scotland for some more inspiration on woodlands to visit.


Posted in National Nature Reserves | Tagged , , , , ,

Livestock Worrying – “Your Dog – Your Responsibility”

Enjoying the outdoors with your dog can be a fantastic experience but it’s important to remember to explore responsibly. Many people live, work and day-trip in the countryside so there are many things to think about when looking after your pet in these areas. A vital one is interactions with farm animals and wildlife. This week our guest blog comes from Police Scotland National Rural Crime Co-ordinator, Alan Dron, who discusses the issues dogs can cause when not kept under control and away from livestock. 

Scottish blackface lambs ©Mark Hicken/Scottish Viewpoint

Scottish blackface lambs
©Mark Hicken/Scottish Viewpoint

Throughout Scotland, regardless of geographical location there is rarely a day passes without a report of livestock worrying being received by Police Scotland.

At the start of January 2019, the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) launched their latest campaign, “Your Dog – Your Responsibility”.  This five-month multi-agency campaign aims to highlight:

  • the reality of livestock attacks and distress caused primarily by dogs,
  • ensure dog owners understand the distressing and emotive nature as well as emotional and financial impacts such incidents can have, not just on farmers but everyone having to deal with the aftermath
  • increasing frequency of attacks on other animals such as horses and animals like camelids which are currently not included under the definition of ‘livestock’ such as alpacas and llamas

Comprising of 16 organisations and bodies tackling livestock attacks is an important issue and remains a priority for SPARC.

SPARC comprises of the Scottish Government, Scottish Land & Estates, Crown Office + Procurator Fiscal Service, NFU Mutual, NFU(S), Association of Young Farmers Clubs, Forestry Commission, Confor,‎ Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish Community Safety Network, Scottish Business Resilience Centre, Zero Waste Scotland, Neighbourhood Watch, Food Standards Scotland, British Horse Society + Police ScotlandThe target campaign audience is primarily dog owners living, working or enjoying the rural communities and environments.  Many dogs are left to their own devices during the day, allowing them to roam free without supervision while some owners take their dogs into the countryside for exercise and do not have them under proper control. Regardless of whether a dog has been let off a lead and does not obeyed commands or through the increasing number of dogs left alone at home or in gardens then escaping, owners are reminded that they must take responsibility for the actions of their dog. Further work is still required highlighting, not just the message about an owner or person responsible keeping a dog on a lead if there is livestock nearby, but a more general awareness regarding responsible dog ownership, both in the home and when outside.

©John MacTavish / Scottish Viewpoint

Springer Spaniel in Highlands of Scotland.
©John MacTavish / Scottish Viewpoint

Coupled with the use of stronger language and messaging, for the first time a physical launch was held at Penicuik House, Penicuik Estate, Mid Lothian to maximise opportunities for TV, Radio, written and social media press resulting in excellent national and local coverage.  Keeping this important issue in the public’s mind is vital if longer term behavioural change is to be achieved. Over the last few months, local events to raise awareness on the issue have also taken place throughout Scotland with the last main event on the 2nd of May at Conic Hill, Balmaha, within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

It is hoped by having a harder-hitting message that reaches communities throughout Scotland the campaign will encourage farmers and landowners to report all instances of attacks and distress to their animals. This also complements work undertaken by rural organisations, NFU Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage and adds to the debate on livestock worrying ahead of the proposed Protection of Livestock (Scotland) Bill consultation submitted by Emma Harper MSP.

Cattle near Peebles ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Cattle near Peebles
©Lorne Gill/SNH

If you need to contact your local Police Scotland division about sheep worrying or a livestock attack find a Police Scotland Rural Division Leads

To find out more about how you can #TakeTheLead and help keep both pets and farm animals safe on the Police Scotland website as well as our Scottish Outdoor Access Code resources for dog walkers.

Posted in Uncategorized

Lusan a tha a’ Casg na Fala / Blood-staunching Plants

Tha grunn lusan dùthchasach air an tomhas mar èifeachdach ann a bhith a’ casg sileadh fala à lotan / A number of our native plants have been traditionally used to help prevent blood flow from skin wounds

Lusan a tha a’ Casg na Fala

Bha na Gàidheil riamh measail air cuid de lusan agus fungasan mar leigheas airson sruthadh fala air taobh a-muigh na bodhaig. Nam measg tha am maraiche no scurvygrass, lus beag a tha a’ fàs os cionn tiùrr a’ chladaich, a’ chaochag (common puffball) ann an cruth pùdair agus sailm de fhreumhaichean na deanntaig. Tha an slàn-lus (ribwort plantain) agus cuach Phàdraig (greater plantain) càirdeach do chèile, agus bha iad air an aithneachadh gu traidiseanta mar lusan a ghabhadh cleachdadh (duilleagan agus sùgh) airson fuil a chasg. Agus bha co-dhiù aon chraobh am measg nan lusan casgaidh. Tha sailm-dharaich ann am Faclair Dwelly, a’ ciallachadh sailm (decoction) de rùsg an daraich a chuireas casg air sileadh fala.

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) growing in the Battleby meadow ©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

Ge-tà, ’s e Lus Chasgadh na Fala no Lus na Fala (mar a chanar ris anns an Eilean Sgitheanach) as cliùitiche am measg nan Gàidheal mar luibh dhùthchasach a chuireas stad air sruthadh fala. Faodar na duilleagan iteach dhen lus seo (ris an canar yarrow ann am Beurla) a bhith air am pasgadh timcheall lot no faodar an suathadh air an lot airson sùgh leigeil asta. No faodar na duilleagan a chagnadh sa bheul, agus uisge-beòil a leigeil air an lot. Airson stad a chur air leum-sròine, bhiodh na seann Ghàidheil a’ blàthachadh duilleagan an luis ann am bainne, agus an lionn a shuathachadh air taobh a-staigh nan cuinneanan le ite.

Bu chòir a bhith soilleir gu bheil Lus Chasgadh na Fala, agus na lusan eile a chaidh ainmeachadh shuas, air am moladh airson lotan air a’ chraiceann a-mhàin. Cha bu chòir an gabhail air an taobh a-staigh no san stamaig ach a-mhàin le comhairle bho chuideigin a tha fìor eòlach air leigheas.

Oak sapling. ©Lorne Gill For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Libary on tel. 01738 444177 or www.snh.org.uk

©Lorne Gill

Blood-staunching Plants in Gaelic Scotland

There are traditions among Scotland’s Gaels of usage of a number of native plants and fungi in order to staunch blood-flow. Species include the seashore maraiche ‘scurvygrass’, powdered caochag ‘puffball fungus’ and a decoction of the roots of the deanntag ‘nettle’. The ribwort plantain is slàn-lus ‘healing plant’ in Gaelic and, like its relative the greater plantain, cuach Phàdraig ‘St Patrick’s quaich’, it was recognised as another species whose leaves and juice, applied to a wound, could stem a haemorrhage. And trees were not entirely ignored. Dwelly’s Gaelic dictionary defines sailm-dharaich as a decoration of oak bark, used to staunch blood.

A flowering stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). ©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

However, it is the delicate feathery-leaved yarrow that is most highly regarded as a cure for haemorrhage. Among the six recorded Gaelic names for the species, two refer specifically to that property – Lus Chasgadh na Fala ‘the plant that stops the blood’ and, on Skye, Lus na Fala ‘the blood plant’. The leaves can be wrapped around a cut or rubbed on the wound to release the juices. Alternatively, the leaves were chewed and the saliva dropped on the wound. To stop a bleeding nose, the plant would traditionally be warmed in milk, and the solution applied to the inside of the nostrils with a feather.

It should be noted that yarrow, and other plants mentioned above, are recommended only for external usage e.g. wounds to the skin. They should not be taken internally without expert advice.

Posted in Gaelic, Scottish Natural Heritage

Green Health Week gets underway

This week we’re celebrating Green Health Week! Here we take a look at what green health is, why it’s so important and what we’re doing to encourage it.

Scotland’s great outdoors is outstanding and provides a wealth of amazing places for physical activity and connecting with nature – all of which we know can help improve our health and well-being.

The good news is that lots of people are already getting active in the outdoors, with the Scottish Household Survey showing that participation in ‘recreational walking’ increased from 56% to 70% of adults in Scotland between 2007 and 2017.

With continued pressure on public sector resources, encouraging more engagement in ‘green exercise’ such as outdoor recreation, relaxation, volunteering, play and learning, gardening and active travel can also help to bring a range of social benefits.

BallaterHW-D1677 social

©Lorne Gill/SNH

Scottish Natural Heritage, with partners including NHS Health Scotland, the Scottish Government and Scottish Forestry, is working to show how greater use of the outdoors can help to tackle some of our big health challenges like physical inactivity, mental health issues and health inequalities.

Four pilot Green Health Partnerships, led by the area health boards and local authorities, have been established in Lanarkshire, North Ayrshire, Dundee and Highland. They bring together health, environment, leisure services, transport, education, sport, academia, local communities and the voluntary sector to show how the outdoors – Our Natural Health Service – can support local healthcare priorities.

In a nutshell, the partnerships aim to co-ordinate increased physical activity and improvements in mental health through helping people engage with the natural environment.


© G.Logan/SNH

A great example of this in action is the Family Fresh Air Club, a project being promoted by the Dundee partnership. Managed jointly by the council’s Ranger Service and the Community Learning & Development Team, this project helps young families at risk of social isolation in deprived areas of Dundee to access green health activities in local greenspaces.

Elsewhere, in the first year of the Lanarkshire partnership, more than 400 health and social care staff received advice about the benefits of green exercise and how to connect patient groups such as people with mental health problems, addictions, brain injuries and a range of long term conditions to local nature-based projects.

As well as Green Health Partnerships, other elements being developed include information and communications, research and the NHS Greenspace for Health projects which build on the previous NHS Greenspace Demonstration Project.

Ayr Hospital


Communicating the benefits of green exercise to the public, as well as awareness raising across the healthcare sector, is vitally important.  SNH has helped with the production of a short animated film to be used in a range of healthcare and leisure settings to promote the use of green places and spaces for health improvement.

The outdoors and green exercise are not remedies for all our nation’s health issues, but they can play a valuable role, and be part of achieving a healthier Scotland.

Find out more at: Our Natural Health Service

Green Health Week linear green



Posted in green health | Tagged , , , , ,

Why does SNH issue licences?

Here we take a look at SNH’s varied – and sometimes complex – licensing work.

Wildlife Photographer.©Lorne Gill

Licenses can be issued for wildlife photography © Lorne Gill/SNH

From otters to ospreys and badgers to bats, we’re a nation of wildlife lovers, and at SNH, we feel the same.

We work hard to protect our wildlife in Scotland and help nature thrive. The vast majority of what we do involves protecting our wildlife’s habitats, encouraging people to enjoy nature, funding wildlife projects and supporting volunteers.

Our licensing work is hugely varied. We issue licences to allow rescuers to move stranded whales into deeper waters, and to move hedgehogs on the Uists to allow wading birds to breed successfully.

We issue licenses for scientists to fit electronic tags to birds of prey to monitor and better understand their movements, and to professional photographers so that they can get closer to birds.  In both cases, we attach conditions so the birds’ wellbeing is protected. Often the work that we licence allows improvements to be made for protected species by providing better habitats for wildlife such as for bats and water voles during development works.

Roger Broad tagging Seea Eagle chick©Laurie Campbell/SNH

Ringing a wild Scottish Sea Eagle ©Laurie Campbell/SNH

But our job is complicated. Sometimes wildlife can cause problems for people and SNH also has a legal duty to help.

For example we issue licences to prevent bird strikes on aircraft at airports, to prevent serious damage to farmers’ crops to protect their livelihoods. We have issued licences for the removal of nests from boiler air ducts, and to remove birds trapped in supermarkets and places where food is prepared.

One example where control is sometimes needed to preserve public health and safety is gulls. Gulls sometimes nest around power stations, as the relative peace of these locations is ideal habitat for them. But for the staff working around very dangerous equipment, the presence of gulls can make maintenance impossible to complete. There is very little that can be done to gull proof sites like this, as the electrical equipment can’t be covered. In these cases – provided everything possible has been done to minimise the issue – we will grant a licence to kill certain gull species.

We often grant licences in case they’re needed – but that doesn’t mean control will definitely take place. For instance, we have issued a small number of licences to remove swifts over the past years to airports. We insist that airports develop management plans to minimise risks, but we grant licences to permit control in case they find it is absolutely necessary – if human life may be endangered. We know if this is the case, airports will need to act quickly. Swifts are the fourth most common group of birds recorded in airstrikes in the UK over recent years. But to date, no birds have been killed under these licences.

We grant licences for these reasons if, and only if, all other methods have been attempted. Lethal control is always a last resort. It’s also only allowed if a species isn’t at risk and any licensed activity won’t risk the population as a whole in Scotland.

We are confident that all activities carried out under these licences do not affect the conservation status of any of our native species.

Pipistrelle bat ©Lorne Gill SNH

Pipistrelle bat ©Lorne Gill/SNH

As a Scottish Government agency, our licences are publicly funded.  We have given careful consideration to changing our approach and charging for licences. But there is compelling evidence this is not cost effective and could lead to increased wildlife crime. For example, casework involving bats in houses often requires working with vulnerable people experiencing distress with bat roosts in their property. Charging for a licence that some cannot afford could lead to people taking the law into their own hands – killing a protected species, where a humane approach which actually benefits bats could have been undertaken instead, through the licensing system we have in place right now.

Every country in Europe has the ability to control wildlife in the ways we’ve described. Laws recognise there are situations where licences can and should be granted. But these licences should never jeopardise our wider conservation aims.

It’s our role to balance public safety, while making sure Scottish wildlife and nature is protected, and can thrive for future generations.  It’s a responsibility we take very seriously. Our work is regularly reviewed and we report to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Europe every year, so we can continue our commitment to getting the balance right.

Licence assessments are carried out by experienced professionals working to published guidance, all available on www.nature.scot.

Posted in wildlife management | Tagged , ,

Taking the Lead on Responsible Dog Handling

As weather continues to improve you may be looking for new places to explore but remember that dogs and livestock rarely mix well. This week we have a guest post from Karen Ramoo, a Policy Adviser in Access, Conservation & Wildlife Management from Scottish Land and Estates.  Below, she highlights the impacts that livestock worrying incidents can have on everyone and the long lasting issues that land owners can face.

A ewe with her lambs near Auchterarder, Perthshire. Ian Paterson / Scottish Viewpoint

A ewe with her lambs near Auchterarder, Perthshire.
©Ian Paterson / Scottish Viewpoint

From our agricultural lowlands to our valleys and more remote and rugged countryside, Scotland has stunning scenery and landscapes offering plenty to see and do. The open access rights that allow people to enjoy our natural environment go hand-in-hand with responsible use. Fortunately, both are respected the vast majority of the time.

However, issues such as out-of-control dogs being allowed to ‘worry’ livestock, can sometimes arise. While ‘Worrying’ may sound a bit light-hearted, it is anything but for the animals or for farmers and other land managers.

The term can refer to attacks on sheep, cattle, camelids- including alpacas and llamas, and horses – all which are, of course, devastating in themselves. However, it also includes chasing, which can also lead to all sorts of harm, ranging from stress to miscarriage in pregnant animals. It’s important to note that such incidents cause perfectly avoidable suffering alongside other welfare issues for livestock.

© A calf in Stronsay, Orkney.
Iain Sarjeant / Scottish Viewpoint

Looking at the human impact, there’s often a lot of distress for farm or land workers who sometimes have to deal with multiple dead or horribly injured livestock. As well as the emotional effect or this, the financial implications can be severe, such as vets’ bills or the loss of valuable livestock.

Rural insurer, NFU Mutual, reported that in the last two years costs from livestock worrying have more than quadrupled in Scotland with the total cost to the industry in 2017 estimated at £1.6m. While insurance can cover the cost of replacing stock killed and the treatment of injured animals, there is still a knock-on effect on breeding programmes and business practices that can take years to overcome.

Scottish Land and Estate is aware of one estate farm located close to Edinburgh that has had enough and has taken drastic action. Ground that was previously used to graze sheep has now cleared its livestock following the death of 22 animals over 12 months from dog attacks. The farm is now left with 22 acres of ground that is now long grass and no immediate plans as to what to do with it.

©Lorne Gill/SNH

Blackface Sheep, Tayside and Clackmannanshire Area. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Most dog owners are responsible but regrettably some are not. Letting them stray or run loose not only runs the risks already mentioned, but also puts dogs’ lives in danger. Whether people believe their beloved pet wouldn’t harm another animal,  it’s just not worth taking the chance.

We encourage all dog owners to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code which provides advice such as keeping dogs on a short lead or close at heel when livestock are around, not taking them into fields where there are young animals, and generally staying as far away as possible.

Land managers want everyone to enjoy the countryside and – with a bit of caution and common sense – for dogs and livestock to exist safely alongside each other.

If you are heading out with your dog, make sure to do so responsibly. If you need more help and advice check out our free online course Responsible Dog Walking in Scotland’s Great Outdoors. Why not show us how you are putting our course or the Scottish Outdoor Access Code into practice using our #TakeTheLead hashtag on social media!

Posted in Uncategorized

SNH seabird scientist on lessons learned in Antarctica

Early this year, I travelled to Antarctica for three weeks, with 79 women from all over the world, in the culmination of a year-long women in science leadership development programme called Homeward Bound. This ground-breaking initiative aims to increase representation of women in senior leadership roles by equipping them with the skills they need to effectively influence decision-making about the future of our world.

Helen Wade - credit Anne Charmantier

SNH marine ornithologist Helen Wade in Antarctica. Photo credit: Anne Charmantier

Nothing can prepare you for the scale and beauty of Antarctica. High quality films and photos don’t do it justice and eventually you run out of adjectives trying to describe it.

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As a seabird scientist, with a love of marine life, I thought my highlight of the expedition would be the Antarctic wildlife. The hundreds of penguins porpoising next to the ship. Or the humpback whales constantly interrupting our workshop sessions as someone would shout ‘whale!’ and 80 women would rush outside to watch them surfacing and diving – close enough to hear the satisfying deep ‘whoosh’ as they breathed out. Or the huge leopard seal stretched out on floating ice only a few meters away. These encounters were almost unbelievable and a huge privilege to experience. But unexpectedly it was the icebergs and glaciers, and the amazing group of women I shared the experience with, that made the deepest impression on me.

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Looking out at the Antarctic landscape from a ship, the deep splits and cracks of the crevasses in the ice sheet, as the ice moulds itself over and between mountains and ridges, are obvious to see. The sharp jagged edges of the ice edge clearly indicate where ice used to be before it sheared away and crashed into the sea. The deep thunder-like rumbles in the Antarctic silence alert you to ice shifting and moving on a massive scale. This all contributes to a deep sensory awareness that Antarctica is a landscape in flow and movement. Not static as it first appears but constantly shifting – imperceptibly, as ice flows like rivers between mountains, and dramatically, as avalanches crash down mountainsides.

Research base - credit Helen Wade

Argentinian research base on the Antarctic continent backed by a huge glacier.
 Photo credit: Helen Wade

The recognition of this sense of movement and flow was bittersweet for me. It was awe-inspiring and exciting to see glaciers calving but also extremely sobering to know human actions are speeding up this process. One day, after being welcomed onto an Argentinian research station, resident scientists pointed out where the edge of a nearby glacier used to be – it now sits hundreds of meters away. It was striking evidence of the human-induced climate change causing the Antarctic Peninsula to warm three times faster than almost anywhere else on earth.

Glacier - credit Helen Wade

A massive glacier with huge crevasses imperceptibly flowing into the sea.
Photo credit: Helen Wade

Visiting Antarctica brought home to me how deeply connected we are to every place on our planet. Even in this remotest of places, with no permanent human population, we are having an impact. The experience has made me seriously question whether we are doing enough to act on climate change. Are we really acknowledging the implications of not acting? And if not, what actions should we be taking to act more quickly and more effectively to preserve the life support system that is our planet?

I came away from the expedition with a strong sense that individuals matter. Climate change may feel overwhelming but we each have an important role to play – in the decisions we make in our daily lives to making sure governments and decision makers know action on climate change is important to us.

Gentoo penguin colony - credit Helen Wade

Gentoo penguin colony with our ship, the MV Ushuaia, in the background.
 Photo credit: Helen Wade

Before leaving for Antarctica, I knew a few of the 79 women I would be sharing a ship with for three weeks but most I had ‘met’ only as thumbnail-size images on monthly video calls over the previous year. So amongst the excitement of arriving in Argentina to meet them there was some trepidation about sharing a relatively small space with so many people I didn’t know. There’s no escape in Antarctica. With no phone signal or easy internet access, it isn’t possible to rely on connection or support from family and friends.

Helen Wade and Rachael Bice

Helen with fellow UK participant, Rachael Bice

However, from day one it was clear I was part of the most supportive, accepting and compassionate community I’ve ever experienced. There was a strong collective sense of wanting each and every woman to succeed, with everyone ready to support in any way they could. Our group ranged widely in age, career stage and cultural background but there was no hierarchy. Instead, we each recognised the value that every person brought to the group – in their unique set of skills, experiences and perspectives. This diversity was recognised as a strength that would help us approach challenges in a cohesive and holistic way.

Being part of this amazing group of brave and passionate women has left me wondering what our world would be like if we had more courageous and respectful leaders? How would our lives be different if we were better able to recognise the value of collective diversity and diverse perspectives? How would embracing this diversity help us make better decisions about the world we live in?

For me, diversity, and a more compassionate, inclusive approach to leadership, is the way forward – especially when we’re working to address the huge challenges we face, like climate change. The more perspectives and ideas we embrace, the more holistic and effective the solutions will be. Women are an essential component of this diversity, which is why initiatives like Homeward Bound that equip women with the skills to lead are so important. We urgently need their voices if we are to create a more sustainable future for us all.

You can read about my pre-Antarctic Homeward Bound programme here.





Posted in Marine, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Skate spotting and eggcase hunting

SNH skate tracking intern Rachel Mawer reflects on a recent trip to the Outer Hebrides and Shetland to raise awareness of some fascinating marine projects.

Skate 1

A skate from the Firth of Lorn © Roger Eaton

Back in November, in conjunction with the Scottish Association for Marine Science, we launched the Skatespotter website. Skatespotter allows anglers to upload photos they have taken of common skate for photo identification based on their spot patterns. At the moment, our skate photo-ID work has been focused in the Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura MPA to monitor the skate population there. However, we are hoping to build a database of common skate for the whole of Scotland. To this end, myself and my colleague Jane travelled to the Outer Hebrides and Shetland recently to meet anglers there and promote the project.

skate 2

One of our regular skippers in the MPA, Ronnie Campbell, taking a photo of a skate © Jane Dodd

In presentations in Stornoway and Lerwick, I gave a brief background on common skate and the past and current work SNH has done on the species in the Marine Protected Area (MPA), before moving on to how anglers can help, by taking photos and submitting them through Skatespotter. The talk finished with some slides giving them a shot at matching skate – it wasn’t as easy as they thought!

The anglers who attended were all very interested in our work and enthusiastic. It was great to be able to meet them and learn what they were willing to share about skate in their area. Even though some had been fishing for skate for years, they were shocked at how little we actually know about common skate. Despite their name, common skate are critically endangered and very rare across much of their former range. Along the west and north coasts of Scotland, and around the Outer Hebrides and Shetland and Orkney, they are still abundant – some even view them as a pest!

skate 3

We match skate based of the shape, size and position of their spot patterns, by looking at similar clusters as circled above ©  Ronnie Campbell

Our photo-ID work in the Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura MPA is an important tool for monitoring the skate population there; through it we can estimate population size and survivability. When we know what parts of the MPA a skate has been caught in, we can also learn a bit about their movements (or lack of!). But, we don’t know much about common skate elsewhere in the country.  This is why it is important that we start to reach out to anglers throughout Scotland and gather data on common skate in different places. Plus, by collecting images from further afield, we may begin to gain an insight into long distance movements in common skate. We’ve already started receiving skate photos from the anglers and hopefully this will be the beginning of a Scotland-wide skate photo ID database.


An eggcase from a lesser spotted dogfish © Mike Arreff

While in the Outer Hebrides, we also promoted the Shark Trust’s Great Eggcase Hunt, which helps describe shark, skate and ray species distribution throughout British waters. On North Uist, I met members of some local natural history groups to hunt for eggcases.  Although many were seasoned beach combers, a few were not aware that the “mermaid’s purses” dotted about the beach were in fact the eggcases of sharks and skate. Some sharks and all skate reproduce by laying eggs. Eggcases vary in size and shape, and this tells us what species laid it.

eggcase 2

Hunting for eggcases © Mike Arreff

Recording the location and species of eggcase to the Shark Trust shows what species we get in our waters and where. It also indicates how diverse the shark and skate population is in different areas. Our eggcase hunt was very successful, with most of the group finding something. Hopefully, this event will have made more people aware of what they can find on their local beaches and encourage them to report eggcases to the Shark Trust.


Posted in Marine, Marine Protected Areas | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Èildean ann an Ainmean-àite / Hinds in Place-names

Tha am facal eilid a’ nochdadh gu tric ann an ainmean-àite air a’ Ghàidhealtachd, mar a tha Ruairidh MacIlleathain a’ mìneachadh / The Gaelic name for the red deer hind appears frequently in the Highland landscape, as Roddy Maclean explains.

Èildean ann an Ainmean-àite

Tha am facal eilid gu math cumanta mar eileamaid ann an ainmean-àite, gu h-àraidh ann an sgìrean monadail, agus e a’ dearbhadh cho cudromach ’s a bha am fiadh do na Gàidheil thar an eachdraidh. Na chruth bhunaiteach, tha e a’ nochdadh mar ainm a’ chnuic as àirde ann an Eilean Ghruinneirt ann an Ros an Iar (‘An Eilid’); bha an t-àite sin uaireigin air a chur gu feum mar dheuchainn-lann airson armachd bhith-eòlasach, agus cha robh e fàilteachail do dh’èildean idir!

Red Deer hinds (Cervus elphus) during the rutting season, Isle of Rum NNR. West Highland Area. ©John MacPherson/SNH For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.snh.org.uk

©John MacPherson/SNH

Na chruth ghinideach iolra, bidh e a’ nochdadh cuideachd mar eilid – mar sin tha Creag nan Eilid ann (Ros an Iar cuideachd), Druim nan Eilid (Na Tròisichean) agus Sgeir nan Eilid (Loch nan Uamh, Àrasaig). Ge-tà, nochdaidh e cuideachd anns a’ chruth èildean, leithid ann an Cnuic nan Èildean (Cnòideart) agus Eilean nan Èildean (Loch Teacuis làimh ri Loch Shuaineart); tha an t-eilean a’ faighinn ainm bho chnoc air tìr-mòr – Tom nan Èildean.

Anns an tuiseal ghinideach shingilte, ’s e (na h-)èilde a chanas sinn, agus tha e anns an dreach sin ann an Cnoc na h-Èilde ann an Ìle, Làirig Èilde (deas air Gleanna Comhann) agus Tom na h-Èilde (Gleann Shannda). Agus tha am buadhair brèagha eilideach (‘làn èildean’) ri lorg ann am Beinn Eilideach (no Beinn Eildeach gu h-ionadail) a tha os cionn Ullapuil ann an dùthaich far an lorgar an ‘damh donn ’s na h-èildean’ fhathast.

Red deer (Cervus elaphus) stags with hinds in rut, Kilmory, Rum NNR.  October ©Laurie Campbell/SNH       G19/ For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177

©Laurie Campbell/SNH

Hinds in Place-names

The word eilid (‘AY-litch’) is common, not only in Gaelic nature poetry, but as a naming element in the Highland landscape, referring to the hind (female) of the red deer, and demonstrating the animal’s importance to the Gaels throughout their history. In its basic form An Eilid ‘the hind’, it is the name of the highest hill on Gruinard Island in Wester Ross, a location once infamous for being a testing site for biological weaponry, and not a happy place for hinds!

Red deer (Cervus elaphus) and their calves, Ru Arisaig, Lochaber ©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

In the plural possessive (genitive) form, it can also be eilid – thus we get hill names such as Creag nan Eilid ‘the crag of the hinds’ (also in Wester Ross), Druim nan Eilid ‘the ridge of the hinds’ (Trossachs) and Sgeir nan Eilid ‘the skerry of the hinds’ (Loch nan Uamh near Arisaig). However, it can also appear as èildean as in Cnuic nan Èildean ‘the hills of the hinds’ (Knoydart) and Eilean nan Èildean ‘the island of the hinds’ (Loch Teacuis); the last takes its name from an adjacent mainland hill – Tom nan Èildean.

The singular possessive form ‘of (the) hind’ is (na h-)èilde as in Cnoc na h-Èilde ‘the hill of the hind’ (Islay), Làirig Èilde ‘hind pass’ (Glencoe) and Tom na h-Èilde ‘the knoll of the hind’ in Glensanda. And the lovely adjectival form eilideach ‘abounding in hinds’ is to be found in Beinn Eilideach (locally Beinn Eildeach) above Ullapool in country still inhabited by red deer.

Posted in Gaelic, Scottish Natural Heritage

Badgering away in Scotland

Our guest blogger today, Eddie Palmer, is the chairman of Scottish Badgers. Eddie tells us all about these charismatic animals — and what we can do to help protect them.

6 @SBP Crossing water on fallen tree night SBP cropped - for SM

Copyright @ScotlandBigPicture

Our Scottish badger is the same animal that is found right across Europe and Asia. The oldest badger bone remains found in these islands were carbon-dated to 35,000 years ago. Badgers are between half a metre and a metre in length, and a burrowing animal, with a distinctive black and white face, and dense fur which looks grey. They have a good sense of smell, but very poor eyesight. An extended family, or ‘clan’ can occupy several setts in ancestral territory used for many years.

Sadly, most people have never seen a live badger – only dead ones at the sides of roads at certain times of the year. The experience of seeing badger cubs at play in the spring is truly memorable. Badgers live underground in a maze of tunnels and chambers called setts and come out mainly at night time to feed.

9 @SBP Dry stane dyke cropped

Picture copyright @ScottishBigPicture


  • In Scotland, badgers live only on the mainland, and not on the islands, apart from Arran, where they were introduced by Victorians for sport.
  • Badgers belong to the order known as ‘mustelids’ – together with otters, stoats, weasels and pine martens.
  • Badgers can eat up to 200 worms a night!
  • A badger ‘sett’ is the name for its burrow, and ‘cete’ is one collective noun for a group of badgers.
  • A badger sett can extend for at least 30 metres underground from an entrance.
  • Badgers also use day nests, in the daytime, to relax and sleep.


    Badger cubs at play in the spring. Video credit @ingham_mal

Where badgers live – Badger setts can be anywhere – in woodland, hedgerows, in sand dunes , in open fields, in gardens, and under patios and decking. Any habitation is a sett, and is protected by law. The number of sett entrances does not correspond to the number of badgers inside.  There could be 10 badgers in a three hole sett, and only six animals in a forty hole sett.

Badger Sett.©Lorne Gill/SNH

A badger sett. Copyright SNH/Lorne Gill.

Badger signs – How do we know badgers are around? There are many signs to look for, including newly dug earth (snuffle holes), badger hair in spoil (excavated material found at sett entrances), foraging signs nearby (dug earth), latrines, beaten paths between badger holes, and claw marks on tree branches.

What do badgers eat? – Badgers are omnivorous and eat a wide variety of food, but they mainly eat earthworms. They also feed on insects, larvae, tubers, fruit, nuts, cereal crops, eggs, slugs and fungi. They move slowly over land at night, covering at least half a mile from the sett.

The Badger Year – Sows delay implantation, mating at any time of year, but giving birth in February. This is so there is food for the young when they emerge above ground in early May. During this time, last year’s cubs, the yearlings, are pushed out to fend for themselves and this is why so many get killed on roads. Autumn sees a period of feeding up for the winter, with again more killed on the road as they forage. From November to February, badgers go into ‘torpor’, which isn’t really hibernating, but they do become slower and less active.

There are problems for badgers – They may be disturbed by development, including forestry and agriculture, and badger baiting with dogs still goes on.


  • Reporting road casualties to us on the Scottish Badger website – this is important for finding setts.
  • Telling us about badger setts – we need accurate records in order to protect badgers.
  • Informing us about any possible crimes or disturbance to badgers.


Badgers for Beginners course Falls of Clyde Oct 2016 - small

Participants at a Badgers for Beginners course at the Falls of Clyde.


Posted in badger, biodiversity, citizen science, mammals, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,