We've been working harder than ever to protect wildlife from damaging developments and to connect people to nature.

A busy year

Making islands safe for seabirds

This year we were delighted that the Shiant Isles were declared officially rat-free thanks to an EU LIFE+ funded four-year partnership project between us, the Nicolson family – custodians of the islands – and Scottish Natural Heritage to restore the islands as a secure haven for nesting seabirds. 

A month-long intensive check in February found no sign of rats. This means that none have been recorded there for two years, the internationally-agreed criterion for rat-free status. The focus now shifts to Orkney, where the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and Orkney Islands Council are working in partnership to safeguard the future of Orkney's internationally-important wildlife by eradicating non-native invasive stoats. 

A busy year for casework

The past year has been a busy one for our casework teams, who have been working hard to fight damaging developments that threaten Scotland's precious wildlife.

Sadly, the long-running cases of four offshore wind farms located in the Firths of Forth and Tay came to a very disappointing end. Last year, we were initially successful in quashing the Scottish Minister’s consents for these projects by judicial review. Although the RSPB is supportive of renewable energy to tackle climate change, these projects are predicted to cause enormous harm to seabirds, including thousands of predicted turbine collisions of gannets, gulls, puffins and other auks found at the Bass Rock, other Forth islands and seabird colonies along the coast, including our Fowlsheugh reserve.

However, Scottish ministers successfully appealed, with the Inner House of the Court of Session ruling in their favour in May. We applied to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the Inner House judgement but, much to our disappointment, it was turned down. Despite this setback, we continue to believe that our original grounds for the case are strong. Furthermore, we are extremely concerned about the precedents that this might set, not just for protected seabird colonies in the Firth of Forth, but for how it could substantially reduce protection for key places for wildlife elsewhere in Scotland and the UK. 

Regardless of the legal arguments, the time taken to go through the courts has allowed technology to develop considerably. This means that the turbines which may now be constructed are likely to be larger and fewer in number, potentially reducing the impacts on seabirds.

Standing up for Coul Links

Further north, news of an application to construct a golf course on Coul Links in Sutherland was met with horror and determination by a coalition of conservation bodies, including the RSPB. The site is one of Scotland’s last remaining intact dune habitats, home to curlews, oystercatchers, dunlins, bar-tailed godwits, ringed plovers and terns, while large flocks of eiders overwinter just offshore. Wild cats and pine martens have both been recorded and its special plants include sea centaury, purple milk-vetch, moonwort and frog orchid.

Not surprisingly, the area (including neighbouring Loch Fleet) is heavily designated – both as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and internationally as a Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site. We will continue to fight this damaging development.

Threats to Scottish wildlife

Golden eagles in the spotlight

In May 2017, Scottish Natural Heritage published a report entitled Analyses of the fates of satellite tagged golden eagles in Scotland, which showed that between 2004 and 2016, 41 out of 131 marked golden eagles had disappeared in circumstances that were described as “suspicious”, and indicative of wildlife crimes having taken place. 

This report prompted the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform for the Scottish Government, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, to commission an independent inquiry to consider how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law, including consideration of options for licensing. 

The inquiry will also look at other matters related to grouse moor management which are causing public concern, such as the large-scale culling of mountain hares, and muirburn taking place on deep peatland habitats. It is due to make its final report in early 2019. We have already given evidence to the inquiry, and we are expecting to be invited to participate further in due course.

Concern for threatened species

Last year’s corncrake survey revealed a fall in numbers with only 866 calling males recorded in Scotland, the lowest since 2003. Corncrakes are summer migrants to Scotland, with most found in crofting and farmland areas. Since the 1990s, crofters and farmers have received support through agri-environment schemes to create corncrake-friendly conditions on their land. These include delaying mowing dates, and creating corridors of vegetation for the birds and chicks to move through and take cover in.

Possible reasons for a decline since 2014 may be found on their wintering grounds in Africa, or on migration. Also, late springs here could potentially have an effect, and there are concerns that a gap between successive management contracts between schemes has had a detrimental impact.

Elsewhere, capercaillie and black grouse have continued to struggle at Abernethy, part of a worrying wider trend. Capercaillie populations remain critically low at about 1,100 individuals, with more than three-quarters concentrated in Strathspey within landscapes subject to growing human recreation and development pressures. Overall numbers of lekking black grouse on RSPB reserves have fluctuated with recent declines at Abernethy and Lake Vyrnwy in Wales offset a little by an increase at Geltsdale in Cumbria.

Good news

Species on the up

Orkney, North Uist and Tiree were buzzing last summer with rare great yellow bumblebees. A three-year survey on Orkney ended on a high when surveyors recorded almost 100 bees on the tiny island of Copinsay. Numbers on Balranald held up well too, while on Tiree, members of a community project raised and planted out kidney vetch and other nectar-rich flowers that are essential for early-foraging queens. There were more than 100 records of great yellow bumblebees on the island.

There was excitement at Abernethy when one of the UK’s rarest insects was rediscovered there. Extra survey work revealed 21 larvae of the pine hoverfly, and two of them were on the RSPB reserve. This insect has specific requirements – the larvae feed in the bacterial soup of rotten hollows in ancient Caledonian pines – and so we have been enhancing stumps to allow rot holes to form. 

Supporting Glasgow's house sparrows

Over the past four years, RSPB Scotland, in partnership with University of Glasgow researchers, have been running a citizen science project surveying house sparrow colonies in Glasgow. 

This year, thanks to a Knowledge Exchange grant from the university, we have accelerated efforts with a dedicated officer and a work placement student attending events, and creating house sparrow meadows in city parks and community gardens. They have also been working with IT students to create a recording web app to make the project more efficient, and a game app aimed at teaching players to create house sparrow-friendly gardens.

Our people

Connecting people with nature

We have been connecting children to nature on our reserves, within the community and in our cities. In Glasgow and Edinburgh we've been working with eight schools within the Ambassador Schools programme, championing species such as the swift, house sparrow, garden bumblebee and water vole. 

Schools have been recording and creating habitats for wildlife, as well as planning and designing their local area with nature in mind. The Glasgow schools, for example, learned how to identify signs of water voles, and watched a relocation project in action. 

The Ambassador Schools programme encourages local businesses and community green spaces to champion their species through planting meadows and hedges and creating homes for nature. 

Fantastic feedback for school sessions

Continuing this work to help children experience nature, we have been providing engaging outdoor outreach sessions to primary schools across Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh as part of our Aldi-funded education programme. During the 2017-18 school year, a whopping 18,254 young people took part in these sessions and we've received some fantastic feedback. 

And finally, some great news from Aberdeen, where the groundbreaking Dolphinwatch programme will now include schools outreach, year-round community events and a dolphin festival in 2019. This two-year project has been made possible thanks to new funding from the Scottish Power Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund (Our Heritage Grant).