Scottish Nature Notes

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Scottish Nature Notes

Keep up to date with the latest wildlife and nature news in Scotland. Regular blogs from RSPB Scotland's conservation teams across the country. Writing about Scotland's amazing wildlife & natural environment.
  • Where have all the kestrels gone?

    The latest Breeding Bird Survey (published 29 August) shows kestrel numbers decreased by 65% in Scotland between 1995 and 2012. Louise Cullen met up with Senior Conservation Scientist Staffan Roos to find out why.

    Scotland is a spectacular place for watching wildlife – especially birds. Whether it’s seabirds in summer or migratory geese in winter, there’s always something to look out for. Some of our resident bird species however, aren't doing so well. 

    Steve Round (rspb-images.com)

    Kestrels used to be a common sight in Scotland, often spotted hovering above road verges looking for prey like voles, but between 1995 and 2012 we lost more than half of our kestrels; a whopping 65% decrease to be exact. That’s the largest drop of any monitored bird species in the whole country.

    The figures came out at the end of August in the Breeding Bird Survey and it made me wonder what was sending these beautiful birds of prey into such steep decline. To help answer that question I went to Bridge of Allan, near Stirling, with Senior Conservation Scientist for RSPB Scotland, Staffan Roos.

    We decided to take a mini road trip round the area to look at some kestrel habitat so Staffan could explain what might be going on. While on our way to the first spot he told me an unusual fact that stuck with me. Apparently kestrels  can see in the ultraviolet light range, so when prey species like voles use urine to mark their territory kestrels can see it from the air, follow it, and bingo – a tasty snack! Interesting. It also made me appreciate the fact that I don’t have to employ a similar technique to find what I need in the supermarket.

    Anyway, our first stop was an ideal location for kestrels and indeed there were a few nesting among a small clump of trees.

    Staffan told me the key things kestrels need are an abundant food source, like voles and songbirds, and a good nest site. Kestrels are opportunistic birds and don’t actually build their own nests – they use the disused nests of other species like crows.

    So all they need is food and somewhere to call home, sounds simple right? Wrong.

    The second place we visited was a farmer’s field which had just recently been ploughed. When a field is ploughed it pushes all the left over seeds and grain down under the soil which means species like songbirds can’t access the food when they need it most – in winter. And if there’s less food for prey, there’s less food for predators like kestrels too.

    Early research by the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science suggests the intensification of agriculture could be the main reason for the significant drop in kestrel numbers. Specifically, preliminary results suggest that kestrel numbers have fallen at times when there has been a change from spring-sown barley to autumn-sown wheat and oil seed rape. 

    Our final stop was an abandoned farm in Bridge of Allan. The reason? Staffan told me the increasing use of second generation rat poisons could possibly be playing a part in the decline of the kestrel. If an effected rat is eaten by a kestrel, the poison is passed on to the bird as well. They’re often used in buildings for storing grain and food, to keep out rodents.

    There are several other possible contributing factors that are being investigated too, including competition for nest sites and climate change. RSPB conservationists are currently carrying out this vital research to identify what is causing the decline, so solutions can be created and put in place to hopefully increase populations of kestrel in Scotland once again. 

    Kestrel chick ringing

    Brookfield Drinks, the owners of Kestrel Lager, is supporting the RSPB in those efforts. The money they provide is used to fund the research programme set up to help save the kestrel, as well as increased monitoring of kestrels in Scotland through the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme and to advise landowners, land managers, crofters and farmers on wildlife friendly practices that will benefit these beautiful birds.

  • Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival

    The Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival is well underway after launching on Tuesday with an 11 mile cycle round the city, which Jenny Tweedie went along to. 

    There was a last-minute flurry of preparations before the bike parade set out. Foam petal cut-outs found their way onto bags, fuzzy bee costumes were tidied, and flowers were arranged artistically into panniers and baskets. This wasn't going to be a regular bike ride around Glasgow.

    Photo: Louise Greenhorn

    The 15 brave souls who set out from Hillhead High School this Tuesday, were raising awareness of the Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival, and what better way to do it than to festoon themselves with natural habitats! Heading for an 11-mile ride around the city, they were armed with festival leaflets and wildflower seeds (courtesy of Grow Wild Scotland) to encourage everyone they met to give nature a home and get involved.

    Photo: Louise Greenhorn

    The festival is a three week celebration of Glasgow’s wild spaces; the green oases that hide away between the city’s tenements and motorways. These sites are vital for urban wildlife, offering tiny sanctuaries of food and shelter, but they’re equally vital for the people that use them. Getting outside, getting into nature, has been found to help reduce stress and improve health whatever your age, and at a time when more and more of us spend our lives glued to LCD screens, these refuges are surely more important than ever.

    Photo: Louise Greenhorn

    But finding the time and the incentive to get out there can sometimes be a challenge, which is why the festival is offering such a wide-range of opportunities right across the city. For the sedate nature-lovers, there’s a showing of Project Wild Thing in Kelvingrove Park (tonight). For the scientifically curious, there’s a chance to do some surveying, or take part in an archaeological dig. For the artistic, there’s up-cycling, for the culinary inclined, there’s some foraging. If you’re full of energy, there’s a canoe trip. If you’re five, there’s the smelly welly club.  There’s jam-making, Open Doors events, guided walks, talks, storytelling, and even a comedy night to round it all off.

    Photo: Louise Greenhorn

    The bike parade visited just some of the many sites offering activities: North Kelvin Meadow, Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Gorbals Healthy Living Project, Govanhill Baths, and Woodlands Community Gardens. It was a long day, with too many one way streets, too much traffic, and two punctures. But at the end of it all, the bees and the flowers were still smiling.

    Photo: Louise Greenhorn

    To take part in the Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival, find all the events here: www.rspb.org.uk/thingstodo/glasgow or here: www.glasgowgardenfestival.org

    And you can see more smiling bees here:

  • Good news for Scotland's seabirds

    Allan Whyte, RSPB Scotland Marine Policy Officer, gives us some good news about seabirds.

    Good news for Scotland's seabirds

    There is a glimmer of hope reflecting on Scotland’s sea. Invariably it is bad news when seabirds make the headlines, but recent announcements by the Scottish Government have bucked the trend.

    14 draft Special Protection Areas (SPAs) have been announced for seabirds, along with the designation of 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including six for black guillemots and three for sandeels.

    The announcements are an important first step towards creating a network of protected areas for seabirds and great news for RSPB Scotland and our supporters who have been campaigning for this for over a decade. We at RSPB would like to thank everyone who has taken part in our campaign and made this happen.

    Scotland is home to globally important populations of seabirds, with 95% of the EU’s great skuas, 67% of the EU’s northern gannets and 65% of the EU’s black-legged kittiwakes all breeding on Scotland’s coasts. Climate change and poor management of Scotland’s marine environment has contributed to declines in seabird populations in Scotland, with around half of our seabirds disappearing since the mid 1980s.

    A recent report, published by RSPB Scotland, identified key seabird feeding areas the Government must designate to meet its international obligations, so the draft SPAs announced are an important first step, but more must be done to properly protect seabirds in Scotland.

    RSPB Scotland’s Director, Stuart Housden said “The designation of draft Special Protection Areas is an excellent first step on what will be a long journey towards securing a healthy marine environment in Scotland. However, the real test will be how well these sites are protected and managed to help restore Scotland’s seabird populations. Although we are now at last making progress in protecting key areas, our seabirds are still without the protection they need further out at sea where they feed. The Scottish Government must bring forward more SPAs for seabirds soon and also recognise the value of MPAs for other seabirds like razorbills, kittiwakes and Arctic terns.

    “A number of crucially important areas, for example parts of the outer Firth of Forth, have not yet been protected for seabirds, despite their enormous value to gannets, kittiwakes and other species. Worryingly this is the same area being scoped for large scale offshore wind development. We will not stand idly by and let such areas be damaged. RSPB Scotland looks forward to continuing working with the Government to finish the designation job, enhance the seas around our coasts and restore our seabird and marine wildlife heritage.”

    These sites have the potential to protect and enhance Scotland’s marine environment, benefit our world class industries and our coastal communities; the challenge of unlocking that potential is still to come. Watch this space!