RSPB Scotland using innovative techniques to make its reserves the best for nature

Stephen Magee

Friday 9 October 2020

RSPB Loch Garten nature reserve, Strathspey

RSPB Scotland has launched a two-million-pound project supported by the EU LIFE fund designed to improve the condition of protected areas on land it owns and manages.

100% for Nature aims to boost the condition of nationally and internationally important natural heritage features – meaning special species and habitats at twelve RSPB Scotland nature reserves to the highest level.

The vast majority of remaining features on RSPB Scotland nature reserves are already classed as being in good ecological condition and we hope to be the first organisation to achieve almost complete compliance.

We think that this will make an important contribution in the fight to tackle the climate and nature emergency. Innovative conservation techniques will be trialled to demonstrate how Scotland can meet its key biodiversity targets.

Approaches will include:

  • Grazing by Konik ponies to help restore the largest floodplain fen in the UK at Insh Marshes
  • Using remote controlled flail mowers to cut heather within Ancient Pine Forest to improve conditions for Capercaillie by increasing the amount of blaeberry.
  • Invisible fencing to better manage dune systems on the Solway Coast.

Important wetland, forest and montane willow habitats will benefit from the projects.

Key species include Capercaillie, wintering geese, Chough and breeding waders.

The aim is not only to improve the condition of the RSPB’s own reserves, but to offer science-based approaches that other landowners can use and learn from.

Most of RSPB’s nature reserves in Scotland are designated sites, recognised as being internationally and nationally important for nature. These include European protected sites – Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), which receive the highest level of protection due to their importance and require active management to ensure nature is thriving on the sites. Natura 2000 is an EU-wide network of key sites for wildlife. Its aim is to ensure the survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats, and it is the largest coordinated system of protected areas in the world

We take our domestic and international conservation commitments very seriously and wish to be an exemplar of best practice, including meeting our legal obligations to protect and enhance the most important natural heritage “features” of these sites.

In Scotland, most of the protected features on our sites are in good conservation condition which is formally known as “favourable condition”, however our aim is to get 100% of the protected features on our land into favourable condition.

This is a challenging ambition, however one that we think is deliverable over the project period. Our work will contribute also to Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy and meeting the obligations of the Aichi Biodiversity treaty.    

Protected areas are an effective tool for tackling the climate and nature emergency, when accompanied by measures to improve nature in the wider landscape. Bringing the suite of Scotland’s most important nature sites into favourable condition is therefore critical and requires collective and coordinated action from landowners across Scotland. We hope that this project can provide some best practice techniques and contribute to that collective effort.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said: “Improving key habitats for nature is at the heart of the RSPB’s work. Many of our sites are protected nature conservation areas which we regard as an accolade. We are delighted to be able to use such a wide range of innovative techniques to make our reserves the very best they can be for wildlife. We hope this work will also allow all those who manage land and other protected nature sites to benefit from the evidence we build over the lifetime of the project.”

The project – which will last for four years - involves a LIFE grant from the EU of just over £1.25m. The RSPB is committing over £650,000 and NatureScot will provide £80,000.

The condition of protected areas is monitored in Scotland by NatureScot. If all features on a site have reached favourable condition it means that the land is being managed in a way which meets key objectives for nature.

A full list of the projects as well as drone footage of some of the landscapes involved can be seen on the project’s website here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/100-for-nature/

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Country: Scotland Topic: Capercaillie Topic: Scotland Topic: Scotland