Some of you have been in touch recently with concerns about work to control feral goats at our Inversnaid reserve. For more information on this issue please see the email below.
Goats and the Inversnaid Special Area of Conservation
There has been a lot of concern over the welfare of the goats at our Inversnaid reserve and we wanted to send a reply to everyone that has taken the time to email us on this issue.
As the country's largest conservation organisation, the RSPB cares about all nature, and the reduction in number of these wild goats is a decision we've been forced to take with a very heavy heart. Our Inversnaid reserve is not only a beautiful woodland it is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which means we are legally bound to protect it from damage, from whatever source.
In May 2012, we were advised by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Government conservation advisors, that the condition of the site was deteriorating and rare flora were at risk. In their opinion, this was the result of heavy grazing by the wild goats and because of the site's legal protection we had no choice but to do something to halt the damage.
The intention has never been to eradicate the goat population at Inversnaid, but to reduce the numbers to a level that maintains a harmony with the reserve. We initially sought a proposal for re-locating the goats, but didn't manage to find a viable alternative and so we were left with no choice but to go ahead with the cull.
Recent publicity has brought forward other offers of help with re-location, including an offer from Hillside Animal Sanctuary, which had not been made to us previously, but which is now being investigated.
So now we have an offer of somewhere to put the goats, but we still have no clear way of corralling them or safely capturing and transporting them the long distance to Norfolk. The terrain at the reserve is very steep, dangerous and difficult to access and the animals are naturally wild as they have never been domesticated. So we need to be sure that whatever we do, all the appropriate animal welfare, legal, health and safety and other official requirements are met.
It's too late to put all these measures in place for this year, as the cull is nearly over and has to be completed by the end of this month to avoid the breeding season. We sincerely hope we can find a way forward in discussion with experts in animal welfare that allows us to meet SNH's concerns and avoid the need to cull in the future.
We would like to re-assure you that we will be actively pursuing these new offers of help, to try and see if an alternative solution can be found to this complicated and unfortunate problem.
Thanks again for taking the time to email us
Dr Mike ClarkeRSPB Chief Executive
The goat management work at Inversnaid to protect the internationally important site has come to an end for 2013. No further goat managment is planned until September 2014. On Monday 9th December RSPB Scotland met with representatives from a range of interested parties, including Scotland for Animals, the Feral Goat Research Group and SNH to discuss alternative options for addressing goat-grazing pressure. Recent interest in our work at Inversnaid has resulted in a variety of suggestions and offers of assistance, which we welcome. We will now include a full assessment of these new options in our annual review of management to restore this amazing and special habitat to favourable condition. Working with experts and interested parties, we will reach a clear decision on a way forward which offers a sustainable and legal solution.
Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn tell us how his childhood experiences were different to those of children nowadays but hopes this could be about to change thanks to the 'Project Wild Thing' film.
I climbed a tree this week.
Maybe an odd thing for an adult to do but I got the urge after I’d seen the Project Wild Thing film.
When I was a kid, I used to climb trees all the time and no trip to the local park was complete without scrambling up into the branches of something or other (I’m still not great on tree identification!). I was doing it for fun but, without knowing it, I was also keeping fit, testing my abilities, gaining independence, building my self-confidence, working out how to solve problems.
The world looks different when you’re up a tree.
Children don’t climb trees so much now – they’re told it’s dangerous, they might get hurt, they might get dirty – and a little bit of adventure disappears from their lives.
This is what Project Wild Thing is all about – kicking back at the couch potato, risk adverse culture we’ve turned into - reconnecting kids (and adults!) with the outdoors, reconnecting us with nature.
Check out their website for loads of ideas or go along and see the film – it’s showing at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh on Monday 16 December or, if that’s not handy, maybe there’s another screening near you. The Guardian tells us that the film will change your life – wouldn’t it be great if it did. But if it changes children’s lives that would be truly wonderful!
Speaking of going wild, I’m going to fulfil two lifetime ambitions next week. I’ll be visiting one of the most ambitious wildlife projects in Europe – the Oostvaardersplassen near Amsterdam - and I’ll also be seeing Chic live in concert!
I’ll be blogging about both in 2014 but, in the meantime, have a great break over the festives and why not go wild too!
Jill Harden is an archaeologist with RSPB Scotland. She's been out exploring archaeological sites on our reserves...
Broubster – an archaeological haven
One of the standing stones overlooking Lochan Ealach and the Broubster reserve.
Having explored various parts of Caithness in the past, Wednesday’s visit to Broubster was one that I had been particularly looking forward to. And I wasn’t disappointed. What a fantastic reserve!
The signs were good as we arrived – first one and then a second kestrel flew over the open ground, repeatedly hovering and then moving on. Their review of the landscape proved to be similar to the approach that site manager Dave Jones and I took during our tramp across the waterlogged land. We found ourselves splashing to a historic site, stopping, exploring and considering, making notes and taking record photos, and then moving on. Time after time. We went from the long, low, stone farmsteads that were probably used until the 1960s, back through the millennia to the 2,000 to3,000 year-old remains of round houses and their field systems of the Iron Age or Bronze Age. We then passed even deeper into the past, visiting prehistoric standing stones and the remains of a stone circle that must be at least 4,000 years old.
The stones were the reason for the visit – assessing the site conditions as part of an RSPB historic environment project which is grant-aided by Historic Scotland. These monuments are amongst the list of Scheduled Ancient Monuments on RSPB reserves, and require particular consideration when developing site management plans or doing work. Here at Broubster they appear to be fine, although the area immediately around the site of the stone circle is now particularly wet.
While the area where the stones are is one of heather moorland today, it would have been an area of open grassland in later Neolithic times when they were erected. Perhaps there were areas of scrub and small patches of woodland nearby too. But it isn’t only the habitats that have changed through time. There is also no obvious evidence of the later-neolithic settlements associated with the farming communities who set the stones up. They must be buried under today’s farmsteads just to the west, or perhaps they’re under the peat closer by.
The flagstone stalls of the byre, part of the longhouse close to Torr a Chaise.
It isn’t just these scheduled sites that are of archaeological significance at Broubster. There are at least a couple of other areas that would seem to be worthy of recognition as nationally important monuments. Towards the north end of the reserve is a palimpsest of visible remains. On the heather moorland there are prehistoric round houses, a burnt mound (a prehistoric cooking site, although some interpret mounds like this as saunas!) and traces of fields. And close by, on the improved grassland, is a historic abandoned farmstead.
However, from a vernacular building perspective it is the farmstead by Torr a Chaise that is probably of greatest value. It is a classic Caithness longhouse, some 45m long and 4m wide. It is single storey, with a barn at the south end, living quarters in the middle and byres at the north end. There is a parallel range of buildings just to the east: storage sheds, I presume. Today none of the roofs survive – the Caithness flags have either fallen in or been removed. A quick glimpse at the outside of the longhouse suggests that the walls are of drystone construction, but they clearly aren’t. In places inside the clay bonding is still visible, holding the walls together. In the barn the slots for the timber crucks that held the roof in place can be seen. And an even closer look reveals that the farmstead has been altered over time, including adding extra spaces for stalling cows, and inserting dividing walls. And all of this just by casting a rapid eye over the place.
So much could be done to bring this small part of Broubster to life. Recording it accurately, speaking to local people and researching the archives to learn about the families that worked the farm back to the mid-18th century, seeing how the landscape looked before the river was re-routed. The wallheads could also be conserved so that the longhouse survives as both a useful habitat for nature and a vernacular highlight. Just because it is no longer roofed doesn’t mean it is of little significance. I feel that it is a gem that deserves our care.