Help us create a bigger home for nature
The parish of Birsay lies in the far north west of Orkney’s largest island. Whilst famous for its ancient archaeological sites that predate the Egyptian pyramids, the area also boasts sweeping moorland, dramatic coastal cliffs, peaceful beaches and an abundance of wildlife.
The RSPB protects a special place for nature here at RSPB Scotland’s Birsay Moors reserve. This wild and windswept habitat is an important home to some of Scotland’s rarest birds such as short-eared owls, red-throated divers, hen harriers, and one of Scotland's most threatened species, the curlew.
We have an exciting opportunity to expand our work on Orkney through the purchase of 39 hectares of land at Skesquoy, which links to existing sections of RSPB Birsay Moors. Skesquoy is already home to several pairs of breeding curlews, and we believe that through some careful land management work, we can drastically increase the curlew numbers on Skesquoy in the future.
We’ve raised a significant contribution for the purchase of Skesquoy through a generous trust donation. Please join us in raising the final £32,000 by December 2019 to secure this amazing home for curlews and other wildlife.
Why is Birsay Moors remarkable?
Nestled in the sweeping moorland in the north of mainland Orkney, RSPB Scotland’s Birsay Moors nature reserve is an important home to some of Orkney’s most remarkable birds. In spring, red-throated divers and golden plovers can be seen courting, while in summer the skies come alive with gliding short-eared owls and dive bombing skuas (or bonxies as they are known locally). Throughout winter, Birsay Moors hosts one of the largest roosts of hen harriers in Scotland.
Our work here focuses on providing an undisturbed and protected haven for the species here. We’re restoring areas of eroded blanket bog and providing light cattle grazing on grassland fringes, whilst also ensuring that some areas are left ungrazed to provide the long grass favoured by Orkney voles, an important food item for many birds of prey.
Birsay Moors makes up part of the West Mainland Moorlands Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the Orkney Mainland Moors Special Protection Area (SPA), designated for its specialist moorland habitats and breeding birds. For our breeding wading birds, such as curlews, what makes Birsay Moors important is the medley of habitats in close proximity. Curlews often nest in moorland or rough grassland, use wetter areas for feeding, and sometimes take chicks into more artificially managed farmland fields in search of alternative food sources. To manage the reserve in the best way for curlews, our efforts revolve around restoring degraded bog, improving hydrological control and enabling efficient livestock grazing. All of these provide favourable and variable habitat conditions for curlews.
How will my support help?
Since the mid-1990s, curlew numbers have dropped by 61%. They’re believed to be disappearing faster in Scotland than anywhere else in the world. Given that Scotland supports nearly 15% of the global breeding population of curlew, this doesn’t bode well for the future of these much-loved birds. Currently, the population at Birsay Moors remains stable, due to the fact we’re managing the land for them here. However, research shows curlews remain highly dependent on our continued intervention for their survival. Without this, Orkney’s population are likely to face further declines, and possibly local extinction.
We have the opportunity to purchase a piece of land at Skesquoy, immediately next door to our Birsay Moors reserve. Skesquoy is a critical home for curlews. Its mosaic of heather, rough grassland and rush-covered pasture provide ideal conditions for breeding, feeding and chick-rearing. Wild areas like Skesquoy are becoming increasingly rare, and the loss of these areas poses a clear and consistent threat to Orkney’s curlew population.
If we don’t purchase this land, there’s a significant risk of it being lost to intensive farming, which could have a devastating impact on the local curlew population.
We know at least four pairs of breeding curlews have been recorded at Skesquoy. If the land is managed appropriately, we believe it could support 10 pairs. If we can purchase the land at Skesquoy, we’d implement a livestock grazing regime and some small-scale hydrological management, which help to improve the site for curlew feeding and breeding opportunities. This could be started immediately and without further resource – but would provide a lifeline to the local curlew population.
With your support, we have the opportunity to secure this important land, allowing us to help more vulnerable species in this beautiful location.