Scientific advances in coping with flooding

Neville Makan, our Operations Officer in Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire, writes about the recent RSE Conference ‘How can we learn to live with floods? Challenges for science and management’.

Flooded parkland in Perth. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Flooded parkland in Perth. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) hosted a conference on 15th March addressing how we can live with flooding.   Identified by the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment as the top environmental risk to the UK over the next century, flooding is formidably difficult to tackle – socially, economically, scientifically and even ethically. The RSE event attracted more than a hundred people drawn from academics, agencies and NGOs, community groups and the public.

We know that global mean temperature is increasing, leading to climate change, but there is simply not enough data to statistically prove that the recent record-breaking flooding events, experienced across the UK, are linked to global warming.  Records have been broken before and, along with high levels of natural variability, it is difficult to predict when we will have flood events and have come to the conclusion that extreme flooding is the new norm.

However, the modelling studies are improving in predicting where floods will occur, and how we should manage them. That was the more reassuring finding emerging from the conference – we are now much better placed to advise on imminent floods and measures that should be taken to reduce the adverse impacts.

River Earn in spate, Perthshire. ©Lorne Gill

River Earn in spate, Perthshire. ©Lorne Gill

We were shown how ‘blue-green’ corridors can be created to manage surface flood waters, at source, along pathways and in and around receptors within the urban environment.   And we learned more about improvements in techniques for natural flood management within catchments across rural landscapes, where Natural Flood Management is now seen as an essential tool in the rural land management toolbox.

There is still much debate about how woodland regeneration and other ‘natural remedial’ measures can dampen the impacts of flooding. Coincidentally, on the morning of the conference some media attention was given to a scientific publication setting out some key evidence gaps that need to be filled before we can be more certain on the benefits.

We need people to engage with urban design solutions that can help them around their homes – not just in finding sustainable ways to live with floods, but in realising the benefits that can stem from more community action.

It was a great conference, capped by an excellent public debate in the evening. We look forward to seeing the formal report from the RSE, reassured that scientists agree on at least one point, admirably enunciated by  one of the speakers – “Water flows downhill and then collects in puddles!”

Posted in climate change | Tagged , , ,

Birds, bees and trees make Scotland beautiful

Juliette Camburn of Keep Scotland Beautiful invites communities to take part in the 51st annual Beautiful Scotland awards, one of the longest running environmental improvement campaigns in Scotland. The 2017 theme for Beautiful Scotland and It’s Your Neighbourhood is ‘birds, bees and trees’.

Blackbird feeding on an ornamental rowan tree ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Blackbird feeding on an ornamental rowan tree ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The campaigns aim to bring communities together to help deliver local environmental improvements and recognise the efforts of volunteers across Scotland as they work hard to enhance local areas.

Beautiful Scotland celebrates and supports the achievements of communities and Business Improvement Districts from across Scotland who help to improve the places they care for. Smaller-scale projects such as community allotments, friends of parks groups, after-school clubs, and community gardens can celebrate too by entering the non-competitive It’s Your Neighbourhood campaign.


Volunteers working at the Scottish Association for Mental Health walled garden at Redhall in Edinburgh. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

By providing quality greenspace for health and education, the campaign will help Scotland “take” one of the six “Big Steps for Nature” as part of Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy and Route Map to 2020. Making shared space great for biodiversity is not just fantastic for wildlife, but a great way to improve both our physical and mental wellbeing.

Both campaigns are part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Britain in Bloom campaign and groups will receive support, encouragement, resources and national recognition from both Keep Scotland Beautiful and the Royal Horticultural Society.

Keep Scotland Beautiful is urging communities Scotland-wide to come together and take part in the successful initiatives which recognises the tireless efforts of volunteers to improve areas in which they live, work and play. All entrants will receive a free packet of native Scottish wildflower seeds for bees.

Registration is open until end of April and is available on-line here: Beautiful Scotland / It’s Your Neighbourhood

Keep Scotland Beautiful is also on the hunt for volunteer Beautiful Scotland judges and It’s Your Neighbourhood assessors – so, if you love Scotland, the environment, meeting new people, visiting inspiring projects (and pinching ideas!), and being part of a team find out more here or email

Honeybee feeding on a garden sedum. ©Lorne Gill

Honeybee feeding on a garden sedum. ©Lorne Gill

Free seeds for bees and butterflies

Keep Scotland Beautiful’s biodiversity campaign encourages and enables communities, groups, organisations, individuals (or anyone interested) to plant for pollinators, helping to increase biodiversity. This campaign aims to create healthy outdoor spaces for communities to enjoy, enabling people to learn more about biodiversity and reconnect with their environment.

To find out more, and to apply for free seeds, click here.

Follow these links to find out more about Beautiful Scotland, It’s Your Neighbourhood campaign, RHS Britain in Bloom competition.

Find out more about the benefits of greenspace for our general wellbeing here.



Posted in Uncategorized

Helping us get outdoors with good design

Scotland has some of the best outdoor access legislation in the world – but those who own or manage the land sometimes need advice and support on how to make sure we can all best access Scotland’s wonderful countryside.

Dumbreck Marsh Nature Reserve. ©George Logan/SNH

Dumbreck Marsh Nature Reserve. ©George Logan/SNH

That’s why a new guide – launched by Paths for All and SNH on 17 March – on how to select and design gates, fences, boardwalks and other structures which aid access is welcome news. The guide is designed for access professionals, rangers, planners, surveyors and community groups, and should make it easier for all of us to access the outdoors.Outdoor Access Design Guide cover.

For example, putting a boardwalk over boggy land can make access easier for people with pushchairs or limited mobility. It also encourages the public to use certain routes, can protect important habitats and might help to keep visitors boots clean! So there’s benefits for both the public and the land manager.

To ensure equal access to everyone who wants to spend time outdoors in nature, we need well-designed access infrastructure. We hope these design standards will allow even more people – of all ages and abilities – to use Scotland’s paths, routes and greenspaces ,whether they’re walking, cycling or riding a horse. This, in turn, benefits communities, the environment and the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland.

The refreshed Outdoor Access Design Guide brings together widely sourced designs, which are tried, tested, and regularly used throughout Scotland to manage outdoor access.  The guide is available to download on the Paths for All website . For more information, contact

Paths for All can also offer advice and support for professionals and community groups that need extra support to design access infrastructure. Visit the website to download useful resources and see upcoming training courses at

There are also other useful resources such as downloadable sign templates for land managers on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website.


Posted in Access | Tagged , ,

Help keep our seal pups safe

Part of the Ythan Estuary has been proposed for designation by Marine Scotland as an official seal haul out site. This designation gives protection to the seals by providing safe areas for them when hauled out on land. So what does this mean for those visiting the Ythan and Forvie National Nature Reserve? Annabel Drysdale, our Reserve Manager at Forvie, explains.

Grey seal pup. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Grey seal pup. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

It’s wonderful news that Forvie National Nature Reserve is becoming one of the best mainland sites to view seals in Scotland, with over 1000 large grey seals hauling out at the mouth of the River Ythan at Newburgh in recent years – 26% of Scotland’s east coast population – but we’d ask people to help us protect these wonderful animals. We recommend that people view the seals from the south side of the estuary at Newburgh village. There’s been a big increase in visitor numbers, particularly over the last year, so this extra protection for the seals is welcome and important.

The designation affords protection to haul out sites from “reckless or intentional harassment”, which means repeated and deliberate attempts to remove seals from resting. Walking on a beach and inadvertently disturbing a seal is not an offence.

Grey Seal cow and her pup. ©Lorne Gill

Grey Seal cow and her pup. ©Lorne Gill

This winter, up to a dozen pups were born on the beach at Forvie; for the first few weeks of their lives, they are vulnerable to disturbance and abandonment. Grey seal pups are born with white fur and don’t swim until they moult and grow a new coat of grey or brown fur. Grey seal mothers often leave their pups on the beach while they forage for food during this period and can abandon them if they are touched by humans or their dogs before they return. Approaching seals can also be dangerous: grey seals are large and powerful and new mothers can be aggressive and can charge even on the land. Approaching too close can also be stressful to the animals reducing their chances of survival.

at the Ythan estuary, Sands of Forvie National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Grey seals hauled out on the sand dunes at the Ythan estuary, Sands of Forvie NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

We’re not certain why the grey seal haul out has grown so quickly at Forvie, but the local population should not be considered in isolation, as seals roam for many hundreds of kilometres throughout their lives. The number of grey seal pups counted in the UK has increased since the 1960s, with large numbers being seen at North Sea sites. In the Northern and Western Isles, the number of pups counted has levelled off in the last five years. The number of common, or harbour, seals, continues to decline across eastern Scotland and in Orkney. The results of more than five years of diet studies, in partnership with the universities of St Andrews and Aberdeen, have shown that the seals are not predominantly feeding at the Ythan. The diet of grey seals at Forvie is largely sand eels, cod, whiting, haddock and other North Sea fish species. Seals like to haul out between feeding trips to sea or while they moult their fur, so the golden sands at Forvie make an inviting spot for such a rest.

You can find more information, including guidance on what constitutes an offence here.

Following several incidents at Forvie in recent months, nature reserve staff have introduced information notices and a rope fence to encourage responsible access at the haul out and protect the seals. We’ll continue to manage the site in partnership with the local community, Aberdeenshire Council, Police Scotland, Marine Scotland and our visitors.

Read all about seals in Scotland in our Naturally Scottish booklet.

Posted in seals | Tagged , , ,

WiSe operators avoid disturbing sharks

Our blog today comes from Colin Speedie FRGS, founder of the WiSe Scheme, which works with marine wildlife tourism operators to promote good practice and minimise disturbance to the animals. For many years Colin worked as skipper and project leader of the Wildlife Trust’s Basking Shark project, conducting long-distance surveys on the species around the British Isles. He is the author of a new book on the history of the basking shark from the 1700’s until today ‘A Sea Monster’s Tale – in search of the Basking Shark’.

Wildlife watching from a boat near Stonehaven. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Wildlife watching from a boat. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The basking shark is once again in the news, following the publication of two new papers based on discoveries from the ground-breaking Scottish Natural Heritage and University of Exeter satellite tracking project.

Back at sea level, the current resurgence in basking shark sightings is being translated into a growing ecotourism opportunity for commercial operators, particularly on the west coast of Scotland.

It’s worth remembering that the Sea of the Hebrides is one of the very few places in the world where this extraordinary creature can be seen at the surface on a regular basis, and the chance to see the world’s second largest fish (at up to 11m in length) is high on the bucket list of many nature enthusiasts.

With opportunity comes responsibility though. We need to ensure that our enthusiasm for encountering not just the basking shark, but whales, porpoises and dolphins, seals and seabirds does not turn into something that disturbs those same creatures. Ecotourism has to be sustainable; otherwise it may be no better in the long run than the other more harmful forms of exploitation that it has replaced.

Scotland’s seas are amongst the best for viewing wildlife: here visitors enjoy watching porpoises in Europe’s largest protected area for the species.

Happily this is recognised by all parties in Scotland, a nation that leads the way in marine matters by taking sustainability seriously. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the upcoming series of WiSe Courses that will take place at venues around Scotland in March. Experts from the field of research will join the WiSe instructors at one of the Master courses in Fort William (18 March) to cover the subject of the changing seas around us, and new entrants to the industry can learn the basics at Standard courses in Aberdeen (20 March) and Oban (25 March).

All attendees will learn about the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code at these events. This highly successful Code was first launched in 2006 and is currently being revised to bring it up-to-date. The Code offers more than just basic guidance in what is (and what is not) acceptable boat handling around marine life, but far more importantly explains why.  The combination of this simple enhancement, together with WiSe training, empowers boat operators far more and goes a long way towards that elusive goal – sustainability – that we would all like to see.

None of this would work, however, without the willingness of operators to take part, and it’s a measure of the maturity and responsibility of the marine ecotourism businesses that the vast majority of operators have attended a Wise course since its introduction in 2004. Partly, that may be because so many of them are wildlife enthusiasts themselves, who want to see and share Scotland’s wild wealth with others. But given that one of the main reasons cited by so many visitors to Scotland from around the world is that they come to see nature in the wild, then that commitment to the long-term health of the environment is a very good thing.

A small basking shark off the eastern coast of Holy Isle in the Clyde. © Lisa Kamphausen/SNH

A small basking shark off the eastern coast of Holy Isle in the Clyde. © Lisa Kamphausen/SNH

Returning to the basking shark, it’s perhaps worth remembering that the current enthusiasm for shark watching only came about in relatively recent times. In fact, the creature was actively hunted around Scotland from as early as the mid 1700’s in some of the same places that now support valuable ecotourism. During the early years the hunt was relatively small scale. But in the years around World War II a sudden upswing in numbers, combined with a dearth of edible oils and the introduction of the harpoon gun, saw a massive expansion of the hunt for a few short years. Soon a combination of falling oil prices, the exposed nature of the Sea of the Hebrides and the often wild weather on the west coast saw the collapse of the industry.

Which was, perhaps, just as well, or maybe there would be very few basking sharks left to support the economic and social benefits that come from their presence in our waters today.

The recovery in numbers in the Sea of the Hebrides now seems to be steadily increasing and the long-term way that those animals reside in the area has now been demonstrated beyond doubt. Hopefully this is something that we can all unite behind, to celebrate and sustain as our own gift, keeping that wonderful place populated with Sea Monsters for future generations to wonder over – as we have been lucky enough to do.


Posted in Marine | Tagged , , , , , ,

Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2017

Scottish Apprenticeship Week celebrates the benefits apprenticeships bring to individuals, businesses and the economy. One of our Shetland staff, Christine Murchison, tells us about the Modern Apprenticeship (MA) she completed with SNH a couple of years ago.

Christine off tohelp prepare for the arrival of the new season's wardens at Noss NNR. Shetland admin is not all desk-based!

Christine off to help prepare for the arrival of the new season’s wardens at Noss NNR. Shetland admin is not all desk-based!

Shortly after starting my job with SNH in April 2013, I was given the opportunity to begin an SVQ Level 3 in Business and Administration. To be honest, at the time I was both delighted and surprised as I expected it to only be available for younger candidates! Having been employed in the travel industry for over 25 years and then admin temping for a year I thought it would set me a personal challenge and give me the opportunity to further my skills. I would gain additional qualifications and it would contribute towards my personal training and development achievements. I was particularly grateful that this qualification could be gained during work hours and hoped that it would be beneficial to both myself and SNH in the coming years.

Sometimes, if you're lucky. the ferry from Aberdeen takes a detour around Noss NNR.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky. the ferry from Aberdeen takes a detour around Noss NNR.

I had a number of teething problems, not least because our office location in Shetland meant that the training company felt that a visit was not feasible so I had to work out the online systems with minimal phone and email instructions. This meant some elements got overlooked and it was only as time progressed, that things came to light which would have simplified proceedings had I had a face-to face introduction. There was even the small matter of me not quite understanding what an SVQ entailed in that you don’t actually learn anything as such. As an ‘older’ candidate, it was a relief to find out from a friend further down the line, that with an SVQ it’s basically a question of gathering evidence. This altered my mind set on how the SVQ worked as I’d found it frustrating up to that point wondering why I wasn’t gaining any knowledge!

Some units were more straightforward than others depending on what the topic was and if I had evidence to suit. Due to the nature of my admin job, some of the questions asked and product evidence required wasn’t always applicable, so I had to try and work around that.

The modules all required a mixture of written answers and “Performance Indicators” which were met by way of providing evidence such as screen shots, e-mails, and other data which matched the criteria required.

All the answers and evidence were uploaded onto an online learning portal. I’d never used this method before, but once I worked out how it operated it did get easier. It meant that everything was stored virtually with the assessor being able to review the units online without reams of paper having to be posted away for assessment.

Christine receiving her certificate from Jorunn Clouston in Shetland.

Christine receiving her certificate from Jorunn Clouston in Shetland.

Remote learning can be a difficult concept if you’re not getting the help you would have had in person, however assistance from the right tutor can make all the difference and the tutor in the latter stages of my SVQ was very helpful in answering my queries and explaining what was required. This spurred me on to continue and finally finish the SVQ.

I’m so glad I persevered and finished it. Since then I find it makes you think more about what you’re doing and the processes involved. It shows an employer that you have the aptitude to apply yourself and to be aware of the different areas of your work.

Find out more about Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2017 here.

And whether you’re an employer or an employee there’s more information about Modern Apprenticeships here.

Noss NNR will be welcoming vistors from late April. Details of how to get there and what to see are on our website. And why not check out our other Shetland NNR at Hermaness.

Posted in Modern apprenticeships | Tagged , , ,

Invasive non-native species and why we intervene

To be blunt, invasive non-native species damage our environmental economy and health.  Stan Whitaker, SNH’s Policy & Advice Manager for Ecosystems & Biodiversity, explains further.

Uist wader project worker lamping for hedgehogs on the South Uist machair, Western Isles Area. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Uist wader project worker lamping for hedgehogs on the South Uist machair, Western Isles Area. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

In conserving threatened species, we have to focus our limited resources on those where we can make the most difference.  This often means dealing with invasive non-native species INNS) that threaten native species. The following short blog post outlines some of the work we are currently involved in.

Not all non-native (alien) species are damaging. Many species that have been introduced to our gardens, fields and landscapes are now an important part of Scotland’s diversity and underpin many of our primary industries. However, a minority have serious negative impacts on native Scottish habitats, our health or our economy. We refer to these species as invasive non-native species

The most challenging invaders tend to be land mammals, aquatic plants and invertebrates.  SNH leads on invasive non-native species on land and our top priorities are to identify how these species invade and act quickly to prevent their establishment and spread.

Here we take a brief look at our work to control three invasive non-native mammals in particular. We prioritise our funding for large-scale eradication and control where it will have significant long-term benefits for the natural heritage.  The projects outlined below all have the potential to deliver real benefits to species, communities and local economies.

Hebridean Mink

The main objective of the Hebridean Mink Project is to eradicate American mink totally from the Outer Hebrides, preventing further significant disturbance and losses to our internationally important populations of ground nesting birds, and creating the conditions for native species to recover.


Arctic tern nesting. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The conservation of the local and migrant bird species found throughout the Outer Hebrides will undoubtedly ensure a brighter future for the tourist industry here. As mink numbers have decreased the number of breeding tern colonies has increased throughout the lslands. Anglers and fish farms will also benefit, as the considerable damage to farmed fish and young wild fish stocks by mink will cease.

American mink predation on domestic poultry has been so severe previously that many people had given up. However, many local crofters, encouraged by the positive results of the project are already keeping chickens and ducks again.

Hedgehogs in the Uists

Our Uist wader research project aims to protect ground-nesting birds from egg predation by introduced hedgehogs. The project was established in 2000 in response to concern about declines in the internationally important wader populations which nest on the islands of North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist (see more on our website). These ground nesting birds nest in high densities on the islands and have declined over the past 25 years. Research in the 1980s and 1990s showed that this was largely due to predation of their eggs by hedgehogs.

Dunlin in breeding plumage, South Uist. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Dunlin in breeding plumage, South Uist. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

In 2011, the project started a new phase: a four-year research programme into the islands’ breeding wader populations. The project monitored the outcome of over 1000 nests, gathering information on the factors affecting breeding success, and demonstrating that hedgehogs are having a significant impact on wader populations. Alongside the research, efforts continued to prevent hedgehogs re-colonising areas already cleared. We have developed the techniques required to capture hedgehogs, and are now in the process of investigating sources of funding for a large scale eradication project.

Stoats in Orkney

Stoats were first seen in Orkney in 2010 and since then the population has become well established. They are now widely distributed throughout Mainland Orkney, Burray and South Ronaldsay.

Stoats are accomplished predators and pose a very serious threat to Orkney’s wildlife, including the native Orkney vole, hen harrier, short-eared owl and ground nesting birds.

Short-eared owl. ©Lorne Gill

Short-eared owl. ©Lorne Gill

The Orkney Native Wildlife project tackles the threat posed by stoats. Our aim is to develop a project to safeguard Orkney’s ecology by removing stoats, and to prevent the stoat population from spreading to Orkney’s other islands.

SNH often works in partnership, and tackling invasive non-native species is a good example of where this tactic can work very well. In many cases we encourage action by others, rather than taking direct action ourselves, by supporting projects which involve the public and land managers in tackling INNS in a coordinated and cost-effective manner.  Further examples of this collaborative approach are our work on Saving Scotland’s red squirrels and the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, an ambitious proposal which aims to control mink and invasive plants across a 29,500 km² area in the north of Scotland.

This is by no means the full extent of our work across Scotland in relation to invasive non-native species, but perhaps gives an insight into the approaches we take and the challenges we face.

See the SNH website for further information on non-native species.

Posted in invasive non-native species | Tagged , , , , ,