Charlotte Mackenzie, Communications and Youth Officer at RSPB Scotland, fills us in on a great community project taking place in Durness.
Corncrake and cake!
One of my earliest memories is being given some paints by my granny so my passion for art must have started at a very young age! I was then given every encouragement by my mum and one of those teachers who just helps whisks you along the path that you know you need to follow. So, one of the things I most love about my job is being able to give that wee bit back and provide the spark for the next generation, and when it combines with a great message then so much the better!
Right up in the far north-west is the wee village of Durness and here is the last stronghold on the UK mainland of the corncrake. We’ve worked very closely for many years with the crofters here to try to make conditions as good as they can be for the birds and this includes working with the local primary school. On a visit in June, eleven pupils produced some amazing artwork whilst learning more about one of Scotland’s most threatened birds. I took their pictures back to Inverness and made up designs incorporating the artwork and got them printed onto cotton bags and tea towels.
Roll on a few months and the day dawned for a special celebration in the warm and welcoming Durness village hall which even sleety November showers couldn’t dampen. The bags and towels were handed out to much admiration and there were some great discussion about the importance of corncrake conservation around the engaging display materials. The cups of tea and absolutely scrumptious homebaking were a big hit too!
Durness is the last place on the UK mainland where corncrakes have an unbroken breeding record. Their other strongholds are the Hebridean islands and Orkney. Corncrakes were once common throughout Britain but the population was pushed back to these areas due to ever increasing agricultural intensification, particularly in the 1970s. Corncrakes need the land to be managed in a sympathetic way, which includes having plants that grow early on in the season such as nettles and cow parsley and silage fields to be cut later in the season in a corncrake friendly manner. We are working hard with local crofters so that they can do just that. It was fantastic to see such a great turn out - events such as this can only help to make our partnership even stronger and more successful.
Record numbers of barnacle geese arrived at our Mersehead reserve in Dumfries & Galloway this year, warden Rowena Flavelle tells us a bit more about these birds and the site.
Once late September arrives, every morning is filled with anticipation, have the barnacle geese arrived back at Mersehead? These geese have an incredible migration of 2,000 miles from their Arctic breeding grounds in Svalbard returning to RSPB Scotland Mersehead in late September to early October. This year, they arrived back on the 8th of October with their numbers quickly building. At Mersehead, we count the geese once a week monitoring how many are present on the reserve and also which fields they are feeding in.
In addition, we also contribute to a wider monitoring program which counts the world population, all of which winters on the Solway Firth. Last year, this monitoring program concluded that the world population stands at 41,700 birds. That means, on a visit to Mersehead, you can see a quarter of the world population in one place! Our latest barnacle goose count recorded 11,070 individuals feeding on the reserve. This is the highest count at Mersehead in the last five years.
It is always interesting to scan through the geese searching for any that look a little different. This year, there is believed to be six leucistic barnacle geese on the Solway Firth and we definitely have two at Mersehead. Similar to albinism, these leucistic birds have extremely pale, almost white plumage, but unlike true albino birds, they have black eyes, beaks and legs.
Very often our visitors will see the leutistic geese and return to the Information Centre thinking they may have seen a snow goose. A snow goose will be bigger than the surrounding barnacle geese and has an orangey-red bill as opposed to the black bill of a barnacle goose. However, it is always worth double checking that flash of white among thousands of geese as a snow goose was present at Mersehead in February and October 2016. In previous winters, a red-breasted goose was flying with the barnacles and a Richardson's Canada Goose was also spotted.
Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland, recently spoke at the European Environment Bureau Conference. Here she reflects on the conference and the importance of co-operation for our environment.
Brexit or no Brexit: the environment needs international governance and cooperation
Anne speaking at the EEB Conference
It's a cliché but also entirely appropriate: the environment really does know no boundaries. Our human divisions of counties and countries, our regional and national political jurisdictions though distinct and meaningful to us, have no significance to our birds and animals. Nature is mobile and fluid. And likewise, so are our impacts on it. Air pollution is blown across national boundaries; fish populations are shared by many coastal states; and international trade is one of the most significant factors in the spread of invasive non-native species.
Of course, RSPB Scotland has always been aware that our bird populations are part of a global resource - with wildfowl and waders arriving here for the winter, from our northern neighbours, while many of our breeding birds – swallow, swift, corncrake, osprey and wheatear - migrating across Europe and Africa to winter in warmer climes.
This is why RSPB Scotland, as part of the UK-wide RSPB and the global BirdLife International, has always advocated international co-operation. Such co-operation between those managing sites has enabled the sharing of knowledge and good practice. This co-operation between governments is essential to address global or supra-national issues such as climate change. We have always supported multinational action to address environmental issues and, before the EU referendum, recognised that while the EU had environmental negatives as well as positives, it was, on balance, safer for nature for the UK to remain as part of that union.
Notwithstanding the result of that EU referendum and the subsequent Brexit negotiations, we continue to adhere to these principles - and wish to see international cooperation and action retained, whatever the outcome. It is important that the Scottish and UK Governments maintain their commitments to environmental standards, funding and governance - and that both the UK and EU27 agree that, whatever the future arrangements, there should be no "race to the bottom".
I’ve been reflecting on this since the Scottish Environment LINK and European Environment Bureau conference, held in Edinburgh last week. It was a huge pleasure to join with our LINK partners to welcome EEB colleagues, from across Europe to Scotland, and outline RSPB Scotland's approach to the challenges arising from current political uncertainties.
I indicated that, whatever the future, our focus will - as environmentalists and as a charity - always be on outcomes: on preventing and reversing the loss of biodiversity and addressing climate change. I also called for our politicians, in Scotland, the UK and the EU, to make greater efforts to maintain, implement and enforce environmental laws. Whatever happens, we will continue, as NGOs, to cooperate with, share knowledge and experience and support our partners throughout the BirdLife and EEB networks.
Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary of Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform speaking at the EEB Conference
It was so encouraging that the conference was addressed by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary of Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. She used the opportunity to reiterate the Scottish Government's clear and resolute commitment to maintain environment standards in Scotland - and to continue the ambition to lead the way to higher standards. This is enormously welcome - but especially positive was her additional commitment to press the UK Government to retain the principles of EU environmental law - such as the precautionary and polluter pays principle. I wish her well in this; it represents one of the key changes to the Withdrawal Bill advocated by the Greener UK partnership of which we are a leading partner.
Beyond these Brexit-related debates, the conference was also a great opportunity to renew and deepen connections between European NGOs and plan co-operation for the future. RSPB Scotland, other LINK members and the EEB will continue with such cooperation, for the benefit of our wildlife and the environment, whatever happens politically. Let us hope that Governments, in Scotland, the UK and across Europe, find ways to do the same!