Weekly update from Stuart Benn, RSPB Conservation Manager in North Scotland.
The Eagle has Landed
I had to paint a ceiling at the weekend but, whilst it took Michelangelo four years to manage that with the Sistine Chapel, I was done in a couple of hours. And with the days drawing out, that still left plenty of time to get out on to the hill to see how the eagles were doing.
Although my observations are interesting, they become much more important when added to everybody else’s efforts and it all helps to build up a picture of how eagles are doing across Scotland. And people giving up their time and expertise like this is replicated not just across birds but other wildlife and habitat management too- not to mention the million and one other ways that folk get involved with volunteering.
Getting info and work like this done just wouldn’t happen if it all had to be paid for. Fortunately for us, people volunteer because they enjoy it and a big part of that is the social dimension. I love hearing about everyone else’s eagle experiences, their joys and frustrations and you get to see some great images too. How about this one that I was sent at the start of the week?!
Pic of Golden eagle and rising moon by Ronan Dugan
Unfortunately, Golden eagles are still largely hill birds in the UK – restricted to the places where they are left alone. The situation is slowly improving but we’ve got a long way to go and a look to the continent shows how things could be.
Last autumn, we spent a couple of week’s holiday in Southern Scandinavia and Northern Germany and one of things I wanted to see most was the breeding Golden eagles of Denmark. Yes, Denmark – flat, agricultural and seemingly as far away from our idea of what eagles need as it is possible to imagine.
But it’s true, Golden eagles now nest in Denmark and we watched them hunting across fields – it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and it completely changed my view as to where birds and other wildlife can live if we just give them the chance.
Golden eagle habitat – Denmark style
So, if you were a volunteer at Denmark’s Lille Vildmose you would be able to look up from sea level and see Golden eagles and Cranes flying overhead. Cranes are increasing in numbers in the UK and are moving north under their own steam so we just need to couple that with a more enlightened view towards eagles and, hopefully, it won’t be too long before we can look up and see them both in the lowlands of the Scottish Highlands! What a sight that would be!
With buses they say you wait for ages and then two come along at once. But special places for nature are scarce and becoming rarer.
In an exciting partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, we've secured a special part of Scotland for nature and people.
Why is it so special?
Is it the stunning views with wetlands, woodlands and snow capped mountains (yes, they were still snow capped last week)? Or is it the wintering white-fronted geese that make a 3,000 mile round trip every year from Greenland?
Perhaps it's the 200+ species of flowering plant (an eighth of the species recorded in the whole of Britain)? Or maybe the lamprey, a primitive eel-like fish, which can be traced back to 200 million years before the dinosaurs existed? Possibly it's the vast range of small beasties that exist, often out of view.
Despite having only just got to know the site, I suspect it is all of the above and more. And that is at the centre of our plans.
We want to protect what we know is here, find what hasn't already been discovered and allow existing and new visitors more opportunities to enjoy the stories and experiences the landscape and wildlife has to offer.
Making it happen
Well, the first step has been taken.
Following support form the National Park Authority, SNH, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the generous donations of our supporters through an appeal, we have secured purchase of the land. The next step will be to appoint a site manager (lucky devil!).
We have already started the important process of talking to the local communities, gathering information about the site and monitoring the wildlife. Next will be formulating a plan to improve the site over the coming years.
In the meantime, if you want to visit the reserve there is a path from the Millennium Hall in Gartocharn which will give you a flavour of the site and its potential.
Brand new blog from RSPB Scotland Trainee Ecologist, David Freeman. Find out more about the fascinating Bryophytes found on our reserves!
A New Career in a New Town
Back in March, I was delighted to be offered the position of Trainee Ecologist based at RSPB Scotland's Edinburgh HQ. The role is a fantastic opportunity to build on and develop a range of Ecological skills as well as a chance to undertake some real conservation work and make a real difference.
Conocephalum conicum by Li Zhang via bryophytes.plant.siu.edu
In particular, I am focusing on Bryophytes a group of tiny plants commonly known as mosses, liverworts and hornworts. These often-overlooked plants are some of nature’s most beautiful creations and display a range of deep colours and fascinating growth forms. They are also of incredible ecological importance. Their reliance on ambient humidity for water means they are often vulnerable to atmospheric pollution and the production of peat from the sphagnum mosses is one of the most important ecological processes in the world.
My calendar for the next few months is already filling up with fieldwork planned in Abernethy, Glenborrodale, Forsinard, Strathbeg, Orkney and Corrimony. Additionally I am being sent on numerous training courses both internal and external in places Like Geltsdale, Loch Leven and Raasay. These represent a fantastic opportunity to learn new skills as well as increase the amount of work I am able to undertake in my current role.
Thuidium delicatulum via bryophyteportal.org
So far, I have been out briefly to Loch Leven and Loch Lomond each time gathering a range of samples. At both of these reserves I have only scratched the surface of what must be present, but when you consider how overlooked bryophytes are, any addition to the records is a step forward! Highlights so far have to be seeing Conocephalum conicum a common but distinctive plant, Thuidium delicatulum that provided me with a fantastic opportunity to practice some microscope ID skills and the Bonsai tree-like Thamnobryum alopecurum. Spotting an osprey fishing on Loch Lomond was a nice moment too.
Over the next few months, I intend to contribute a blog entry regularly to the website. I hope that this will paint a picture of some of the amazing work undertaken by the RSPB and draw attention to the fascinating world of Bryophytes.
Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, reflects on the discovery of a dead golden eagle earlier this year.
A National Disgrace
Take a look at this bird. It is now dead.
The video was taken on 23 June 2011 when we were fitting a satellite tag to this golden eagle chick at its nest high in the hills above Loch Ness. It took its first flight on 20 July and, from time to time during that summer and autumn, I’d take a walk up the glen to see how it was getting on. As often as not I’d see it flying around with its parents, learning the ropes, finding out all the things that an eagle needs to know.
The GPS signals allowed me to keep an eye on it and, as the winter progressed it began to range a little further away from the glen it was born in but it would keep coming back to where it knew. Finally, on 10 February this year it left home – it was on its own. I followed its progress throughout the spring as it ranged round various parts of the Scottish Highlands and all was well until early May when I could tell from the signals that the bird was dead.
The facts of the case have been well reported and can be read here. In short, the bird was at the same location for 15 hours then shifted 15 kilometres in the dark with two broken legs to a spot under a tree where it died several days later. Now, you either have to believe a frankly improbable series of events or come to the conclusion that this young eagle died as a result of a crime. It’s clear which version the Scottish Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, believes as he tweeted “Absolutely appalling – disgusted with whoever did this”.
This week’s Scottish Farmer reports the incident under the bold headline “Game gets the blame”. It says that Scottish Land and Estates condemn the killing but that they are also calling for further examination of the evidence before conclusions are reached. The SF article also quotes the Scottish Gamekeepers Association which has decided to open its own inquiry as it believes that the case is far from clear cut.
I can’t wait to learn what these other inquiries conclude but, in the meantime, what I find most interesting about all of this is that at no point in the RSPB’s press release did it mention anything about gamekeepers, game shooting or land ownership.
Anyway, let’s not forget the dead young eagle with its two broken legs. Unfortunately, it hadn’t found out all the things that an eagle needs to know – it hadn’t learned how to avoid areas where eagles aren’t tolerated.
Over the next few months, young eagles from all over Scotland will be heading off from where they were born. They could end up as magnificent icons of the Scottish Highlands which provide one of the most memorable moments in somebody’s life or they could end up as a sad corpse with broken legs or a body full of poison. Which one of those it is depends upon the willingness of society, the legal system and the Government to deal with those who show a complete disregard for the law.
No doubt those that kill eagles feel their legitimate enterprises bring some wider economic benefit. Tourism is worth £4 billion pounds per year to Scotland. The reputation of a country is incalculable.
Countdown to Scottish Birdfair! May 11-12 at Hopetoun House near Edinburgh
With a little over 1 week to go before the second annual Scottish Birdfair, it’s all go in the office as we finalise plans for the big weekend.
The award-winning festival* attracted some 5,000 visitors in 2012 and is expected to be even bigger and better this year.
The Scottish Birdfair will host over 100 exhibitors showcasing everything from the very best in optics to outdoor clothing, books, arts & crafts, garden accessories and more.
An exciting programme of expert talks, guided walks, demonstrations and workshops ensures there is something for everyone whether you are new to birdwatching or an old hand.
For those of you who like to take advantage of a full day- Set your alarm clock for a guided Dawn Chorus Walk around the beautiful grounds of Hopetoun House. Enjoy a coffee and the sounds of songbirds greeting the day.
There’s also an opportunity to discover the remarkable birdlife of the Firth of Forth on a special seabird cruise. Experts will point out the diverse range of species found right on Edinburgh’s doorstep from puffins to gannets and terns. You may even spot seals, dolphins and jellyfish!
And it’s all for a good cause! Proceeds from the Scottish Birdfair will go to support our efforts to protect and conserve corncrake, a rare and elusive bird and a real Scottish conservation success story.
There’s also a range of fantastic activities including bushcraft, foraging, cookery demonstrations and a fantastic line up of local folk bands throughout the weekend.
There’s lots for the little ones too from storytelling and puppet shows, to pony rides and arts & crafts. The Scottish Birdfair is a great day out for the whole family.
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit: http://www.scottishbirdfair.org.uk/
*Scottish Birdfair was named Best Small Festival at the Scottish Event Awards 2012.
Photo by Ed Mackey