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.
  • For The Love Of.......

    Jim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer with RSPB Scotland, talks about a new climate change campaign we're working on alongside our partners in Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.

    For The Love Of.......

    We all know about climate change. We've all heard the arguments and warnings, but it’s still overwhelming, complicated and scary.

    I know how it feels, but there is still have hope. Hope because there are things that we all love and care deeply about – things we will fight to protect. Our love and hope are the basis for a new focus for campaigning on climate change in the run up to the big climate change conference in Paris in December 2015.

    RSPB Scotland works to protect and save nature because we love it and you love it. Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to the wildlife on our planet and we are already seeing some of the impacts on Scotland’s wildlife. That’s why we are dedicated to action on climate change and are working with our partners in Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and the wider UK on the For The Love of... campaign.

    Too many of the things we love could be changed forever by climate change, our food, our childrens’ future, our hobbies, our lifestyles our wellbeing, but especially our wonderful nature. Unless politicians know this is something we all care about, they won’t have the mandate to act.

    So this is the time for us all to show them that we do care, that this issue is really important to us. The For The Love Of...campaign helps us tell our politicians and world leaders that in Paris we all a new global climate change deal – a new and better Kyoto Protocol.

    Some of the love stories people are already sharing online

    Everyone has got a love story to share so it would be fantastic if you could share yours too. It’s pretty easy - go to http://www.rspb.org.uk/fortheloveof and share it with others and our politicians, to show how much you care and want action on climate change.

    I have already shared my love story – more on that coming soon!

  • Tilting at windmills

    RSPB Scotland Senior Conservation Policy Officer, Richard Evans' response to Daily Telegraph article.

    Tilting at windmills


    According to yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, "wind turbines have killed more birds of prey than persecution this year", in Scotland.  Well, to quote the hapless William Boot in Evelyn Waugh’s journalistic satire Scoop:  “Up to a point, Lord Copper”. 

    The Telegraph piece is based on statistics released this week by SASA (the Scottish Government’s providers of Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture)[1].

    The new figures cover the first two quarters of 2014, and include for the first time details of all animals submitted to SASA, as opposed to only incidents involving pesticides. On the face of it, this looks like an opportunity to make the sort of comparison reported by the Telegraph.  But does it?

    Well, probably not to the extent to which the article implies.

    First of all, SASA clearly state that “... due to the nature of some incidents and the investigations relating to these it may be necessary to limit the information published.  We will publish updates to such cases as further information becomes available ....”  Some of the information that has been “limited” relates to the 22 birds of prey found dead in March and April 2014 on the Black Isle, fifteen of which Police Scotland in June “confirmed as having digested an illegally-held poisonous substance”. The police later confirmed that a further victim has tested positive for the same substance. The SASA spreadsheet covers these birds with a single row, listing the “species or sample involved” as “various”, alongside the comment “This incident is the subject of an on-going investigation”.  So, the Telegraph’s analysis inadvertently omits sixteen bird deaths resulting from an illegal act or acts –meaning that in the first half of 2014, at least four times as many birds of prey were found to have died in Scotland as a consequence of wildlife crime than as a result of colliding with wind turbines.

    Secondly, there is a more fundamental question of whether data such as SASA’s can be used to compare the rate of different causes of bird death at all.  Most wildlife crime goes unreported, and if carcasses are recovered at all they are often in such a poor state that the cause of death cannot be determined. By contrast, accidental deaths are much more likely to reported – and quickly enough for a post-mortem to be carried out. This difference introduces a statistical quirk, technically known as selection bias, meaning that a simple comparison of the numbers of different known causes of death is likely to be flawed.

    In common parlance, the Telegraph piece compares apples and carrots.  Yes, the SASA data includes four bird of prey deaths at windfarms (apples).  Yes, the SASA data includes two bird of prey deaths from persecution (carrots).  Are there twice as many wind turbine deaths of Scottish raptors as deaths resulting from illegal killing?  Err, no – because selection bias means that turbine deaths (apples) are far more visible than deaths resulting from persecution (carrots), and the SASA data reports only on birds found and submitted for analysis.  And, err no again – because SASA clearly state that the data for the period are incomplete. 

    It is unfortunate  that the ever-defensive Scottish Gamekeepers Association jumped on this decidedly shaky bandwagon, in a bid to try to exonerate an increasingly beleaguered gamebird shooting industry from any involvement in raptor persecution, despite contrary evidence being found on sporting estates year after year after year, and the monotonous regularity of gamekeepers appearing in our courts, including a case just last week.

    But if you’re still not convinced that the Telegraph piece is way wide of the mark, why not try this little thought experiment?  Suppose – just suppose – you wanted to rid a landscape of its birds of prey, how would you do it?  Would you build a new-fangled and expensive wind farm, in the hope that all those eagle-eyed, highly manoeuvrable birds of prey would, like moths to a flame, fly into the turbines?   Or would you rely on the tried and trusted Victorian methods of targeted trapping, shooting, poisoning and nest destruction that continue to be used by some to eradicate some of our rarest bird of prey species from vast swathes of our uplands?

    This is not to say that there is no risk to birds of prey from windfarms.  However, by and large the renewables industry is keen to minimise damage; and the consenting process for wind turbines is geared to avoid it.  Wish that we could say the same about some elements of the shooting industry.



    [1] , who operate the government’s wildlife incident investigation service (WIIS), the main aim of which is to “identify any adverse effects on non-target animals that might arise from the approved use of pesticides”.  SASA also collect information for the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland) on poison abuse.  

  • A new species for Scotland

    RSPB Trainee Ecologist Genevieve Dalley tells us about her discovery of a new flying insect species for Scotland. 

    A new species for Scotland

    In June this year I went to RSPB Insh Marshes in search of freshwater invertebrates. And I wasn’t disappointed! Amongst a wealth of interesting and local species was the star: Molanna angustata, a new species for Scotland.

    Molanna angustata

    Sometimes the most unassuming little creatures can turn out to be the most interesting. A small, pale brown caddisfly with long antennae; Molanna angustata would normally be one of the first to escape a moth trap unnoticed on a sunny morning.  But a closer look will reveal a sweet little insect with an interesting story.

    In Britain there are 2 species of Molanna: Molanna albicans and Molanna angustata. M. albicans is a species largely associated with small lakes. It is found in Ireland, Wales, 2 sites in West Yorkshire then, after a big gap, scattered sites in Central Scotland northwards. M. angustata, on the other hand, is a species of lowland lakes, ditches, ponds and canals. This is fairly widespread across lowland England and Wales, up to the Lake District and Yorkshire. However, it has never before been found in either Ireland or Scotland. The two species have never been found together in the same place.

    Molanna albicans distribution

    Molanna angustata distibution

    In order to identify caddisfly adults to species, the genitals and wing patterns must usually be inspected under a microscope. And it was to my surprise when sorting caddisfly specimens taken from the ‘moth trap’ at Insh Fen that I had two male Molanna, both matching the features of Molanna angustata.

    Molanna angustata adult

    This was exciting as, looking at the current distribution map, this would only be the second record for Scotland. I sent the specimen to the National Recorder for Caddisflies, Ian Wallace, and it turned out to be even more exciting: the ‘first’ record (Rannoch Moor, 1900) turns out to have been a mistake – a check with the museum revealed the specimen does not exist and was probably a data entrance error. This makes the Molanna angustata I found at Insh the first ever record of this species in Scotland.

    Molanna angustata male genitals

    This discovery raises more questions than it answers: why has it never before been found in Scotland? Is the species moving north or has it simply gone unnoticed until now? What habitats is the species truly associated with?

    There has been a number of examples in the invertebrate world in recent years showing the move of southern species northwards (e.g. Southern Hawker Dragonfly) potentially at the expense of specialist upland species (e.g. Upland Summer Mayfly). Is this the case with the Molanna species? However, this still wouldn’t explain the jump from the current distribution all the way up to Insh. Further investigation is clearly required.

    Finding Molanna angustata has reinforced to me the excitement, interest and importance of investigations into understudied species. Whether moth trapping for caddisflies or kick netting in upland streams, you never know what is going to turn up next. There is so much to discover and learn and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!