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Successful scheme provides 'life rafts' for rare Scottish bird

Last modified: 11 July 2013

Black-throated diver nesting on artificial island

Image: Chris Gomersall

A pioneering project to recreate ideal breeding habitat for one of Scotland’s rarest birds on some Scottish lochs has met with remarkable success.

The black-throated diver, a species that only breeds in freshwater lochs in the north-west of the country, is benefitting from the scheme to create special floating rafts that provide the necessary conditions to breed and raise chicks.

Although graceful in the water, it’s a different story on land. Black-throated divers must nest close to the water’s edge as their legs are set so far back on their bodies that they are very poor at walking, instead shuffling around on their bellies. 

This makes the birds highly susceptible to changes in water level, often on lochs used to generate hydro-electric power. If water levels are too high nests are prone to flooding and if too low, adult birds may be unable to reach their nests when returning from feeding. 

Conservationists devised the unique system of tethered floating rafts, covered in vegetation, to provide stable breeding habitat and have partnered with landowners to implement them throughout the region. 

The efforts appear to be working. Since the introduction of the raft programme in the late 1980s, the Black-throated diver breeding population has rebounded from a low of 180 pairs to 240 pairs in 2012.

Stuart Benn, RSPB Scotland Conservation Manager, said: “Black-throated divers are arguably the most stunning of British birds, a gorgeous, sleek combination of black, grey and white, with never a feather out of place.

“It is fantastic to see these charming birds successfully breeding on our lochs. This is a great example of how, through simple measures, we can give nature a home and have a huge impact on the success of a struggling species. Thanks to our partnership with landowners, we are able to provide a safe haven for these birds and the conditions they need to thrive.”

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Nature in the UK is in trouble and some of our more familiar garden species are amongst those suffering serious declines. We can all help by give nature a home where we live.

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