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Natural Connections

Modern life in Scotland is increasingly busy. The connections our ancestors had with nature and the land are being lost. As leisure time shrinks, or is filled with hi-tech experiences, opportunities to experience nature become fewer. And yet it is possible to connect with nature on a day to day basis. All around us, the great web of life continues to hold its shape, and nature continues its eternal cycles. Keep looking, listening, smelling, touching - and keep experiencing natural connections.

Friday, August 27, 2004

In spite of the poor weather there has been some good news on the rare breeding birds front with two pairs of Ospreys nesting in Wales. Interestingly, both males were from the re-introduction scheme at Rutland Water (250 miles to the east). That means (if I remember rightly) the birds were hatched in Scotland, released in England and nested in Wales. One of the females had previously fledged from a nest on the Black Isle. Only one chick was raised this year (one nest was destroyed by high winds) but the signs are good that the species might recolonise Wales as it has done much of Scotland.
News from the Roseate Terns on Coquet Island in Northumberland is not quite so good, even though this years 73 pairs was the highest since the early 1970s . Poor weather and a shortage of sand eels conspired to reduce the number of chicks fledged from 80 in 2003 to 63. Even then, that figure would have been much lower had all the successful pairs not used the special "nestboxes" provided for them. The island's Arctic and Common Terns have also had a disappointing breeding season.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Group of Swallows just north of Brookfield, milling about, obviously contemplating giving up on this awful Scottish summer. Otherwise just rain, more rain and still more rain.....

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Interesting discussion on the e mail newsgroups about changing butterfly distributions. It seems that many species are benefiting from global warming and spreading northwards into Scotland. One of these, the Comma, is shown below.


Comma Sketch by David Measures (Natural History Museum)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I've been thinking a lot about Jack McConnell's announcement yesterday that he wants to see Scotland become the number one wildlife tourism destination in Europe. My first reaction was "there's hardly enough wildlife to go around as it is. How are we going to share it with anyone else?" To the lay person, much of Scotland appears wild and ideal for supporting wildlife, but the reality is quite different. Sure there are small pockets where wildlife is concentrated, but vast areas are virtually empty, save for a few Meadow Pipits. The problem with Scotland is that it is not wild at all. Man's influence is everywhere,whether its the pollution of the Moray Firth which is reducing the Dolphin population, or the speedboats on Loch Lomond which have decimated wildfowl numbers. Enormous areas of upland have been destroyed, perhaps forever, either nibbled away by millions of sheep and deer, or covered over by blanket afforestation. Only in tiny oases such as nature reserves can any semblance of wildness live on.
What Jack McConnell and his advisors have to realize is that if he wants Scotland to be a wildlife tourism destination, he has to invest in wildlife. That means creating wilderness. Not little pockets here and there, but huge areas which man's influence can't penetrate. Richard Mabey wrote about this a few months ago in his column in BBC Wildlife. He described modern thinking on conservation in the US which advocates turning vast tracts of land into wildlife reserves. The existing reserves are the starting point, but then compulsory land purchase is used to join them up. The resulting wildlife corridors allow isolated populations to meet up, and exploit the territories in between. Such schemes require roads to be re-routed, land use to be changed, and even human populations to be moved. But if we are serious about having a product worth "selling", then tough decisions will have to be made.
In Scotland, the "Trees for Life" charity have already produced a plan to turn 2,238 square kilometers (that's over 30 times the size of Loch Lomond or 3 times the size of East Lothian) north of the Great Glen into wilderness. All the costings and impact studies have been done. Jack McConnell could set the whole scheme in motion with the flick of a pen. What an epitath that would be.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Another fine day today. Driving down to Greenock in the morning, noticed another patch of Montbretia, this time just past the railway bridge west of Langbank. Then saw two Roe Deer (maybe a buck and a doe, or else a doe and her fawn) tip-toeing out of the woods next to the first Finlaystone meadow. No doubt they were tempted by the lush new growth of grass there. It has already been cut twice, and is shooting up again. News from seabird colonies and birds of prey monitoring schemes suggests that the warm wet weather hasn't done them any favours. However I suspect anything that relies on fresh plant growth for food will have fared a lot better.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Drove along Candrens Road this afternoon. Fields on both sides of the road are still flooded. No sign of any bird life except a few Woodpigeons. Good patches of Canadian Goldenrod between the road and the dual carriageway. Also some Greater Willowherb. Later, noticed two nice patches of Sea Aster, one beside the eastbound slip road at Paisley/Renfrew, the other next to the western boundary road of Hillington industrial estate.
Earlier in the afternoon I was standing in one of the car parks at the Phoenix car centre when I heard what sounded like a high-pitched version of the croaking call made by Ravens. On looking up, I saw three distant corvids, one soaring in circles, the others flapping to and fro. I'm pretty sure they were Ravens - quite an interesting sighting considering the location.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Still lots of summer flowers to notice, although the signs of autumn are becoming more obvious (Rowan berries are now ripe, as are the hips on the Dog Rose bushes). Noticed a nice patch of ?Canadian Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) in the verge between the Johnstone bypass (A737) and Candrens Road. The fields there are flooded for the first time in 3 or 4 years. This used to be an excellent site for passage waders including Ruff before extra drainage works were put in. Maybe I'll take a look there tomorrow....
Another garden escape, Montbretia, is adding a splash of brilliant orange to the side of the A8 as it passes Langbank.

Friday, August 13, 2004

No sign of an end to the monsoon-like conditions we have been experiencing. Noticed that the sea level fields between Erskine and Langbank, which were subject to considerable drainage works over the winter have flooded for the first time since then.
Most notable plant in the hedgerow is Tansy, with some lovely patches beside Arkleston Farm Road. From a distance it could be mistaken for a ragwort species. However up close the button-shaped flower heads all gathered into tight umbels are unmistakable.
Also lots of Mugwort there, encroaching onto the footpath.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Scotsman newspaper (in conjunction with RSPB Scotland) is running a poll to find Scotland's national bird. A short list of twelve candidates has been drawn up. My immediate reaction was to favour Golden Eagle, and after further thought (see list below) I still hold that view. However I also thought about some other possible candidates not on the original list, including Blue Tit (one of the the most familiar birds in many Scottish gardens, especially given the decline of the House Sparrow), Magpie (would definitely win if having a booming population was one of the criteria), Herring Gull (ditto) and Chicken (well, we do consume around 1.5 million every week).

My views of the runners and riders.....
CAPERCAILLE 1001
Points for:
Not found elsewhere in UK
Cantankerous
Spectacular
Rare
Points against:
Introduced
May go extinct
Unfamiliar

CRESTED TIT 1002
Points for:
Not found elsewhere in UK
Rare
Cute
Industrious
Points against:
Small
Unfamiliar

GANNET 1003
Points for:
Spectacular
Scotland has largest colonies in the world
Historic link (Sula bassana)
Economic importance (until recently)
Points against:
Common elsewhere in the UK
Not particularly rare or exceptional

GOLDEN EAGLE 1004
Points for:
Spectacular
Regal / proud
Romantic
Synonymous with wild areas
Rare
Scotland has strongest population in Europe
Breeds only rarely elsewhere in the UK
Points against:
Unfamiliar (most Scots have never seen one)

OSPREY 1005
Points for:
Spectacular
Rare
Well known
Successful
Synonymous with wild areas
Breeds only rarely elsewhere in the UK
Points against:
Found all over the world
May become common elsewhere in the UK

PEEWIT 1006
Points for:
Familiar
Cute
Declining
Points against:
Unspectacular

PEREGRINE FALCON 1007
Points for:
Spectacular
Synonymous with wild areas
Comparatively rare
Scotland has strongest population in Europe
Points against:
Familiar in many other countries
Increasing all over the UK

PTARMIGAN 1008
Points for:
Interesting biology
Not found elsewhere in the UK
Synonymous with wild places
Points against:
Associated with shooting

PUFFIN 1009
Points for:
Cute
Familiar
Synonymous with wild places
Scotland holds huge colonies
Points against:
Common elsewhere in the UK and other countries

RED GROUSE 1010
Points for:
Economic importance (“glorious twelfth” and all that)
Symbolic significance (brand names etc)
Synonymous with wild places
Points against:
Associated with shooting
Widespread in UK and elsewhere

SEA EAGLE 1011
Points for:
Spectacular
Rare
A success story
Confined within the UK to Scotland
Synonymous with wild areas
Points against:
Introduced
Lives by scavenging
Well established in other countries (e.g. Scandinavia)

SCOTTISH CROSSBILL 1012
Points for:
Scotland’s only endemic species
Rare
Points against:
Small
Obscure
May lose species status

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Walked around Dunsapie Loch, Edinburgh this afternoon, as a thick, east coast "harr" blew in. Lots of flowering plants around including Yarrow, a ragwort species, Harebell, Greater Plantain, Great Willow Herb (in large clumps around the loch edge) and possible Yellow Rattle (on the drier roadside banks). Under the cliff which runs along the east side of the loch were numerous clumps of Common Knapweed, one of which had two Six-spot Burnet Moths feeding on it (see pic below).

Saturday, August 07, 2004


Six-spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipendulae) on Common Knapweed

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Safely back from the Algarve today. Below are photos of some of the things I mentioned in the last few postings, namely the fires around Monchique (from the hotel balcony), the Convolvulus species which grows over everything (possibly "Morning Glory"), the floral hedges (which put our Privet to shame) and a view north from Cabo Sao Vincente (one of the most dramatic places I have ever visited).


Fires in the Sierra de Monchique


Purple Convolvulus species


Floral hedge


Looking north from Cabo Sao Vincente