Dick Balharry

With the recent death of Dick Balharry we lost a friend, colleague and formidable champion of wild land. A largely self-taught naturalist, Dick was created a MBE in 1996, and received an Honorary Doctorate in Science from Abertay University in 2010.


He began his working life as an under-keeper in Argyll and joined the Nature Conservancy aged 24 in May 1962 as warden of Britain’s first National Nature Reserve, Beinn Eighe. There, Dick pioneered the regeneration of native pine woodland, and set forth on an extraordinary journey reviving the uplands and woodlands of the Scottish Highlands – with influences far beyond reaching into the furthest corners of Europe.


Dick played a pivotal role in the management of Creag Meagaidh NNR when the Nature Conservancy Council bought it in 1985, and he worked tirelessly to reveal the great benefits of effective deer control to enable woodland regeneration. He was an astute land manager, with a deep understanding of the complex impacts of deer, sheep, and burning on hill and woodland landscapes.

Glenfeshie benefitted from his expert judgement and effective influence as conservationist and wildlife manager, and it was fitting that here Dick received The Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s prestigious Geddes Environmental Medal just over a week before he died. His acceptance speech presents a masterly vision for land use in Scotland: http://rsgs.org/dickbalharrysvisionforlanduseinscotland/

Dick retired from Scottish Natural Heritage in 1997, as Area Manager for Badenoch and Strathspey, Moray and Nairn, but then launched into a range of ambassadorial and senior management roles. He chaired the John Muir Trust from 2003 to 2010, and in January 2010 was appointed interim Chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, succeeded in the autumn by Sir Kenneth Calman. He also chaired the Local Access Forum for the Cairngorms National Park, was President of the Ramblers Association Scotland, and in 2008 completed an eight-year term on the North Board of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Laurie Campbell, Dick Balharry and Roy Dennis at the Highland Naturalist launch, Great Glen House, Inverness, September 2007

Laurie Campbell, Dick Balharry and Roy Dennis at the Highland Naturalist launch, Great Glen House, Inverness, September 2007

He was a highly sought-after lecturer and debater in large public gatherings, and gave brilliantly illustrated talks peppered with rich anecdotes and asides. Golden eagles, pine martens and Scots pines were his ‘specialist subjects’, as his dear friend and founder chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, the late Magnus Magnusson, used to tease Dick; had he appeared on ‘Mastermind’ he would have been triumphant.

His wife Adeline, children and grandchildren, were hugely loved by Dick, and they played devotedly special roles in supporting him during his illness, and with exceptional dignity at Glenfeshie on 18 April for Dick’s final public appearance.

You can listen to Dick Balharry’s final interview on Radio Scotland’s Out of Doors here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02q2qdn

Dick Balharry being interviewed many years ago

Dick Balharry being interviewed many years ago

Images – colour images by Lorne Gill.




Posted in Obituary | Tagged , , , ,

Glen Tanar black grouse count

Jeremy Squire is a member of the reserve team at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve. As part of his wider work around Scotland he recently had a day away from Loch Leven, to help with the annual census we take of the Glen Tanar black grouse. Here he gives us a short update on how his journey north went.

It was an early start so I ventured up to Aberdeenshire the night before and had a comfortable evening in the back of the van.

The Rangers and estate workers had all been allocated areas to count and driving through the ancient forest the following morning before dawn was quite exciting. After dropping everyone off, I headed to the end of the Glen and onto my own count section.

Black grouse are best surveyed when they are lekking. A lek is where male birds assemble to engage in competitive displays to attract females. As soon as I got out of the van I was surrounded by the ‘whirring’ and ‘bubbling’ calls of the lekking grouse. It was not quite light, but after ten minutes or so I could locate at least four males strutting their stuff around me and another flew in to join the group.

Black grouse male displaying at lek

Black grouse male displaying at lek. Image (c) Mark Hamblin/2020Vision

The Rangers later pointed me in the direction up the Glen where I was likely to find more. I hiked up the hill. I heard no Black Grouse but lots of red grouse and a few ring ouzels.

Red grouse

Red grouse

I was beginning to think I was in the wrong place, but I got to the top of another small hill and before long the familiar sound started up and again I was surrounded by black grouse. I also had a couple of females fly past.

I could hear a merlin calling nearby and then was lucky enough to get great views of a male merlin through the telescope. Scanning the breaks in the heather on the neighbouring estate there were even more grouse. You should be aware that black grouse are easily disturbed at the Lek. For safe watching please observe this RSPB guidance – http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/funfactsandarticles/watchingbirds/grouse/blackgrouse.aspx

Black Grouse in the early morning gloom

Black Grouse in the early morning gloom

After completing my task in Glen Tanar I had a quick visit to Muir of Dinnet NNR. I had the good fortune to work in the visitor centre last year, and this time around I was lucky to spot a red squirrel near the visitor centre and an otter on Loch Kinnord. I was also really fortunate to have an osprey catch a fish right in front of me – I saw the common gulls lift, and the redshank start alarming, and suddenly a loud slap as the osprey dropped in. It flew away with what appeared to be a small pike.

I missed out on those famous adders though.

Jeremy is now back at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve where the wildlife is no less exciting, and you can follow events at Loch Leven on our NNR blog @ https://lochlevennnr.wordpress.com/



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Remembering Derek Ratcliffe

The recent publication of Nature’s Conscience: The Life and Legacy of Derek Ratcliffe is a timely reminder of one of our foremost environmentalists. Derek immersed himself in nature, and when he highlighted the disastrous effects of pesticides on peregrines he effectively raised the country’s consciousness on how pesticides can carry significant environmental impacts.

Nature's Conscience

It was on 21st April 1945 that Derek, aged 16, climbed to his first peregrine’s nest in the north Pennines. In fact, he was almost killed reaching the nest, and hobbled back to catch his train home after one of the rubber soles of his shoes peeled back, and had to be cut off. Undeterred a month later he was in the Lakeland fells where he located three more peregrine nests.

Two years later he published his first essay in his school’s magazine detailing his observations of ravens and peregrines. A literary as well as a natural history star was born; the essay won a prize. It ended with an affirmation that he was smitten with nature… “Not for one moment has this lure of the wild diminished or abated, rather it has strengthened throughout the years, and may the birds always exist to lend additional charm and attraction to the hills of home.”

Derek Ratcliffe

Derek Ratcliffe

From these modest but thoughtful beginnings, Derek emerged to become arguably one of Britain’s greatest naturalists of the 20th century, and certainly the prime architect of so much of nature conservation in post war Britain. He retired as Chief Scientist of the Nature Conservancy Council (forerunner to the country conservation agencies including SNH) in 1989, having led the production of the two-volume A Nature Conservation Review and the SSSI selection guidelines, both still bedrocks of conservation work today. The flow of work was remarkable. To the iconic Poyser book series he contributed The Raven and The Peregrine, and to the New Naturalist Series he gave us Lakeland and Galloway and The Borders (with a foreword by SNH’s Des Thompson). His 1977 book, Highland Flora, was a wonderful addition to our understanding of the plantlife of Scotland.

There was hardly a corner of Britain where he had not walked, and above all observed. The writer and chronicler of the New Naturalist book series, Peter Maren, comments: “Derek was a naturalist’s naturalist. He was never anyone’s lackey but stood up for nature forcefully and from the heart. His knowledge was bottomless and his integrity unimpeachable. To me he was a wildlife hero. I am proud to have known him and to have been his colleague.”

His career defining moment arrived when he proved and documented the disastrous effects of pesticides on peregrines and other birds-of-prey: Thanks to Derek and a remarkable team of scientists and policy advisers we can now enjoy seeing many birds of prey – not least peregrines in our towns and cities.

In the Foreword to the new book, Professor Sir John Lawton writes: “In a world where too often nature struggles to survive, the Peregrine is emblematic of recovery and improving fortunes – and we have Derek Ratcliffe to thank for that.”

Derek’s entire life was spent working in the nature conservation field. He was deputy director of the Nature Conservancy from 1970 to 1973, and appointed chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy Council in 1973. Several staff in SNH have fond memories of working with Derek. Everyone comments that he was quiet, modest, diligent, energetic and caring as much of colleagues and friends as of nature. Professors John and Hilary Birks, both botanists, and with Des editors of the book, remark: “In preparing this book, we have been astonished at the breadth and depth of Derek’s work – an exceptional legacy, and without his influence we would not have the level of protection afforded nature in the UK today. Derek was probably the greatest ecological polymath of the 20th century.”

Derek Ratcliffe scaling a Birch  tree to inspect a Merlin’s  brood of two 3–4-day-old chicks in an old Carrion Crow’s nest in the foothills of Skiddaw in the Lake District. The picture was taken on 9 June 1989, a month before his retirement. Photo by Des Thompson

Derek Ratcliffe scaling a Birch tree to inspect a Merlin’s brood of two 3–4-day-old chicks in an old Carrion Crow’s nest in the foothills of Skiddaw in the Lake District. The picture was taken on 9 June 1989, a month before his retirement. Photo by Des Thompson

What a remarkable person. With a bicycle, binoculars and notebook, Derek launched forth to make history. Imbued with humble greatness from an early age, Derek Ratcliffe stands out as an inspiration for our budding generation of young naturalists.

Nature’s Conscience: The Life and Legacy of Derek Ratcliffe (edited by Des Thompson, Hilary Birks and John Birks) is published by Langford Press: For further information see: www.eecrg.uib.no/NewsItems/DAR.htm

Posted in Natural history books, Projects, Research | Tagged , , ,

Inspired by words

Many of us can point to a book that helped to get us interested in nature. This year we are running a project called ‘BookWood’, as part of the Scotland’s Nature Festival, to find out which books inspired our Facebook and Twitter audiences. We will then make those books available in Princes Street Gardens for others to share.

Our facebook campaign, which is being supported by BBCs Out of Doors and will feature on their programme, will tell us which books were inspirational to our readers. Once we gather in the results we will aim to make copies of the most popular books available for others to enjoy and hopefully share.

So, we are asking readers of our blog and followers of our facebook page to get involved.  How ?  Easy, just go to our facebook page and tell us about the books that inspired your interest in nature.

We will also invite those who end up taking a book from Princes Street Gardens to contact us and let us know what made them pick a particular book from those on offer. The results of this conversation will appear on our facebook page @ https://www.facebook.com/ScottishNaturalHeritage

After folks have read the book, we will ask them to ‘release it’ back into the world for somebody else to enjoy. Readers could leave their copy in a café, on a train, on a bus, or maybe even somewhere in the beautiful Scottish countryside.  We will encourage people to let us know where they left their book. Each book will carry a small label explaining why the book is being shared with our facebook contact details.

What book inspired you?

What book inspired you?

In the run up to the Scotland’s Nature Festival we have been asking our colleagues, which books inspired them to take an interest in nature, and perhaps some of these are on your list?

Zeshan Akhter (Biodiversity Team) … “While I was at university, I read Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell. I was intrigued to read about how the author had visited the marshlands in Iraq and brought back an otter to Scotland. I have eastern roots – there is a history of movement of people between Iraq to Pakistan – where my family is from. So the fact that the author had gone to Iraq created an instant connection with the book. Then the evocative descriptions of Sandaig on the west coast of Scotland, where the author lived and devoted himself to the care of otters, captured my imagination. I subsequently visited Sandaig and found it to be just as ethereal as Gavin Maxwell had described. It’s such a hidden corner of the world and so staggeringly beautiful.”

Susan Davies (Chief Executive) – “Looking back 30 years or so one of the books that intrigued me was ‘The Zoo Quest Expeditions’ by David Attenborough.  He took us on journeys to Guyana, Borneo and Paraguay in the quest for animals to collect for zoos. The book had an element of stealth, of anticipation, intrigue and fascination at the beauty of our natural world and of the care for the animals collected.  It wasn’t all about the wildlife though as the book also gave an insight into the ways of life of many local communities and individual characters. Nature conservation practices have of course moved on considerably since this collection era.  For me Zoo Quest shows just how far we have come from collecting individual species, to understanding their ecology and status, to in situ conservation techniques and now whole landscape-scale conservation approaches.”

Susan Webster ( Communications Team) … “A friend gave me a copy of Kathleen Jamie’s ‘Findings’. Kathleen lives in Newburgh on the River Tay so the Scottish references were extremely resonant with me. I would advise anyone keen to explore nature writers to start with Findings. It is a double cream book, a dollop of richness at a time, worth reading and reflecting on – particularly if you can take a walk in nature yourself. She makes you stop and look at things in a new light – ‘finding’ your way into the richness of nature and language. Also Aldo Leopold’s ‘A Sand County Almanac’ which ( combined with Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ and Barbara Ward/Rene Dubos’ ‘Only One Earth’ – now I am giving my age away!) took me from a literature student to an environmentalist overnight.”

Catriona Reid, (Muir of Dinnet, NNR Manager) … “Firstly, let me say my favourite book is Lord of the Rings. And my favourite author is the late, great Terry Pratchett. Not too much to do with nature there, you might think, and, to a great extent, you’d be right. But these books got me reading and that’s the important bit…they equip you to find that book that may truly inspire you. Although, I must admit, my choice is going to be a slightly sentimental one, with ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrrell . This was probably the first ‘nature’ book I ever read and I loved it. Here was someone else who actually looked at the world; saw all the small details like insects on a wall, described sunset so beautifully it hurt. I didn’t know other people felt like that too and it made me feel less like I would scare the normal people if I tried to talk about my love for nature! It is wonderfully descriptive, gloriously eccentric and funny in places, much like real life can be. So I’d pick this as my favourite ‘nature’ book, with probably Simon Barnes’s ‘How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher’ in second place.”

Iain Macdonald (Biodiversity Team) … “Difficult to pick the first book that inspired me. The first would have been one of the Ladybird series. ‘Chicken Licken’ was a favourite, so was ‘Three little pigs’. I guess I liked the fox and wolf as well as the chicken and pigs, but then I also liked ‘Three Billy Goats Gruff’ and there aren’t that many trolls out there, are there? I just liked animals and that led onto ‘nature’. From an early age I can recall reading over and over ‘How to watch wildlife’ by David Stephen. I can still remember reading it, wind whining, feet on a hot water bottle and moths bouncing off the bed-side light.”

Jim Jeffrey (Social media team) … “One of the first books I can recall dipping into time and time again was the Observer Book of Birds. Later I really enjoyed the writing of Tom Weir with his seamless mix of natural and social history, and he had a lovely knack of making what lay on your doorstep exciting.”

Caroline Anderson (Planning & Renewables and Argyll & Outer Hebrides)….”As a small child my great aunt gave me a copy of Para Handy by Neil Munro, the stories made me laugh and it was made all the more special as quite a lot of it was set in local villages very familiar to me. More recently I absolutely adored ‘The Yellow on the Broom’ by Betsy Whyte.  Betsy born and brought up by the travelling community, living life according to the seasons and the work that came along as a result – berry picking and tattie howking.   It describes a way of life she loved and how hard it was to live in a house over the winter months waiting for the ‘yellow’ to appear on the broom. The signal for her and her family to take to the road for the summer months once again.”

Nicola Tallach (Area Officer, South Highland)….”The Learning tree by Ian Page was one of my favourite books when I was growing up. I can still picture the big cheery smile on the wise old chestnut ‘learning’ tree, although he sometimes frowned if the children in the story did something that might harm the environment (like pouring lemonade into the river!). The stories were all about looking after the environment and wildlife and ‘doing the right thing’. I’m sure one of the stories was about why we shouldn’t throw away rubbish which probably explains why my pockets were always stuffed full of empty wrappers when I was a kid and I still pick up rubbish when I’m out for a walk today!!”

Stewart Pritchard (Protected Places) … “As a child I wasn’t much into books – preferring to be out and about.  Whilst still in primary school I met a museum taxidermist and entomologist who gave me some (even then) old books including Maxwell Knight’s (1955) ‘Letters to a Young Naturalist’ and others on collecting butterflies.  Nearly forty years later I still haven’t read them!  If pressed to pick one that inspired me, I’d say the ‘AA Book of British Birds’ – a substantial book (more ‘coffee table’ than pocket guide) with lots of detailed bird drawings, and (importantly!) short informative texts on habits, nesting and identification.  I spent hours just flicking through and absorbing the pages.  Perhaps as a lasting effect of that fascination and effort, I have surprised myself on several occasions since by instantly recognising and naming birds I had never seen and didn’t know that I knew of.”

Des Thompson (Principal Adviser on Biodiversity) – Many books fired my imagination as a youngster. The Observer’s and Ladybird books on birds were special, and I have to confess matters came full circle in 1998 when, some thirty years on, I put the then then budding authors of The Observer’s Book of Observer’s Books in touch with the publisher of said book (a wonderful read for all ages, dealing with the 98 titles in the Pocket Series 1937-1982). In Christmas 1966 I got British Birds (third edition) by Frederick Kirkman and Francis Jourdain, wonderfully written with sumptuous paintings by Seaby (Plates 1 and 131 of raven, brilliant) , Lodge (Plate 145 of golden eagle carrying a mountain hare, terrifying) and the Danish naturalist Grönvold’s magnificent plates of life-size eggs.

But one book has been my constant companion for fifty or so years, first read to me by my mother, and later devoured when deep in solitude. Borne out of human endeavour and tragedy, The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, published in 1922, documents many aspects of Captain R.F. Scott’s 1910–1913 ill-fated British Antarctic Expedition.  The ‘worst journey’ was the quest for Emperor penguin’s eggs at Cape Crozier collected in the most awful conditions The book is remembered best for its devastating portrayal of the futile attempt to be first to reach the South Pole. Yet ironically, it is the scientifically worthless value of the eggs that is most poignantly revealed in the book. I’ve met several descendants of the Scott expedition, and each time pondered the circumstances of their history, so brilliantly told by Cherry-Garrard.

TO GET INVOLVED … we are asking readers of our blog and followers of our facebook page to simply visit our facebook page and tell us about the books that inspired your interest in nature.

Visit the SNH facebook page @ https://www.facebook.com/ScottishNaturalHeritage

Book image by Lorne Gill / SNH



Posted in Natural history books, Projects | Tagged , , ,

Healthy soils for a healthy life

Healthy soils are the foundation for our food, fuel, fibre, and even medicines. That’s why the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation earmarked 2015 as International Year of Soils.

The launch was worldwide and celebrates the value of soil for the environment and society. Did you know that 95% of the world’s food comes from soil, or that up to half of household waste could be composted to nurture our soil?

Our soils and their sustainable management are fundamental to improving and protecting our food production and the ecosystems that rely on soil.

It is easy to take soil for granted but it is a natural resource that is increasingly under pressure from our expanding cities, unsustainable land use and, of course, climate change. Soil can easily be eroded, compacted, depleted of nutrients, and polluted. The best way to tackle these issues is for us to be more aware of the consequences of our use and management of land.

Climate change is arguably the biggest challenge facing the human race today, and soil’s ability to capture and hold organic carbon will be crucial in that battle.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in our vast peatlands which store 25 times more carbon than the rest of Scotland’s vegetation. If all the carbon stored in the soils of Scotland was released at once this would be equivalent to over 180 times Scotland’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Nutrients, biodiversity and carbon

Increasingly viewed as ‘the silent ally’ soils also mitigate against the impact of climate change by helping to store and filter our water and provide a natural defence against flooding.

Those who manage the land understand the importance of ‘knowing your soils’ and how care of land is our legacy for future generations. Soils also provide sources of water, nutrients, and the physical support for crops and trees.

And there is a greater diversity and number of living organisms in a spoonful of soil than there is in our species-rich woodland. Soil microorganisms and other larger soil dwellers are busy transforming the complex components that form our soil (dead organic matter, pollutants, minerals) into elemental forms more accessible for other plants and organisms to use.

In Scotland the International Year of Soils will see a range of events. Why not follow our Facebook page to receive regular updates on what’s happening throughout the year.

Further reading at http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en

Posted in Projects | Tagged , , , , ,

News from St Cyrus National Nature Reserve

Therese Alampo is the Reserve Manager at St. Cyrus National Nature Reserve. A coastal reserve near to Montrose and fairly handy for both Aberdeen and Dundee it is one of our most popular sites and there is plenty to keep the team busy. Here’s a flavour of what has been happening of late.

St Cyrus NNR

No matter how busy, stressful and full of decisions life can be, events like a full solar eclipse can’t help but to put into perspective how connected we all are to nature. We can sometimes become detached from the fact that we are all completely and utterly dependent on the most obvious things in nature and take for granted things like our sun and moon and the powerful effects they have on us and our planet.

Our ‘circadian’ rhythms, even though in modern life seem so far from importance actually rule our lives. Forget your wrist watch, ‘Circadian’ rhythms relate to your natural body clock, a ‘clock’ which we share with most other living organisms and one that effects our moods, sleep patterns, energy levels and so on.

The day of the eclipse was by any standards one of the most remarkable I can remember at St. Cyrus:

  • a near total eclipse cast its eerie shadow across the reserve
  • it was the spring equinox, when day and night became equal, and
  • topped off by a supermoon.

Of extraordinary clarity to me were the reactions of our crepuscular (more active at dawn and dusk) song birds who started to sing as if it were dusk, and the reactions of crows and rooks as they noisily cawed as they flew back to roost sites in a moment of bewilderment. A murmuration of starlings even came in to roost in a nearby tree.  How lucky to experience this

The reserve is literally bursting into life. The first primrose flowered on 12 March and golden lesser celandine are now in full bloom. These flowers were all in time for the queen bumblebee’s emergence from hibernation. It’s great to watch them as spring takes hold, clumsily buzzing around us looking for their first meal of nectar since the autumn. Remember to give them a little honey/sugar in water if you find a cold/tired queen to help her on her way.

We have been busy planning a summer full of great events for you all and have really pushed the boat out for 2015. We have bush craft experts to teach you how to discover which animals have been using the area, expert outdoor wild food foragers and cooks to teach you how to cook and find some of the wonderful wild Scottish foods, the Feis Rois orchestra are back, we even have a shipwrecked boat being installed on the beach, equipped with sound and video for you to experience what it may be like to be set adrift alone on a boat lost at sea.

If you plan to come along to anything remember to check dates/times have not changed and contact us at the office or check out our facebook page.


We have also been collating comments made by you during our visitor surveys of 2014 into a plan to improve the reserve, thank you for your input. This feedback will help us plan new and exciting interpretation, walks and so on. Our new wild flower trail – or ‘flooery meads fish box trail’ interpretation has just been delivered! We will be installing it very soon, the signs are mounted on bespoke fish boxes & aim to give you more info about our great flowers!

We have carried out lots of repair works on the Woodston/Donkey path and we will be officially re-opening this great path very soon.

Raven ( Corvus corax)

The ravens are back on the cliffs and the battle to be king of the cliffs has begun. What a spectacle as ravens, buzzard, peregrine, jackdaw and at times fulmar, all clash noisily – with some feathers being lost in the conflicts!

A young grey seal pup keeps appearing on the beach, it’s one the pups from last autumn/winter. It has been fully weaned and left to fend for itself by mum. These weaned pups, affectionately known as ‘weaners’, are still learning how to hunt and need time to rest so are often found snoozing on beaches. I have just sat with this pup for an hour, letting passers-by know to give it space and to warn unsuspecting dog owners too. At this time of year, after bad weather and rough seas they are often exhausted, so best thing is to give them room for a nap, but please let us know if you find a pup so we can check that it is not unwell.

Seal pup

I’d like to end with a note of thanks to our lovely regular dog walkers for sharing all the interesting finds and sightings over the past few months and for helping me to try and combat any dog poo issues. And with the spring brings the start of the breeding bird season! Can I ask you to help to spread the message amongst other dog walkers please, that within the reserve all dogs must be on a lead or to close heal and that there is a longstanding sanctuary area to the South of the reserve that includes the cattle field (you can still visit the hide via the path). Dogs can run on the beach. The bird populations are struggling so we need your help. Thank you as always.


St Cyrus events 2015 – please phone to book and to confirm dates and times

  • 12 April, 12-4pm … Spring beach clean with free cakes
  • 16 April – John Muir Week 2-4pm …Birding for kids, explore and discover the wonder of birds!
  • 24 May … Tracks and Signs with Willow Lohr 10:30-15:30pm
    Discover ‘who made that track’, get an insight into different animals behaviours, what they eat and how they live their lives, look at their tracks, their poo, fur and anything that we can find!
  • 19 July, 12-4pm …St Cyrus discovery day!  Join us to learn about wild foods and drink! With expert Mark Williams of Galloway foods cooking throughout the day and offering tipples and tasters galore! Then why not try your hand at some bushcraft and make your own food bowl with Williow Lohr the bushcraft expert. A chance to make fishing nets and other activities by the Scottish Fisheries museum. Learn all about our Whales and Dolphins with WDC, taste the local church ladies famous cakes! Have your face painted, make a bug hotel and much more.
  • 22 – 27 July, all day events, a once in a lifetime opportunity to be cast away on the beach at St Cyrus. This Installation will be set up on the beach and was Inspired by the story of Betty Mouat, A crofter from Shetland, Who spent eight days drifting alone in the North Sea. Drift Is an attempt to immerse audiences in an insubstantial world, isolated and soluble. This Is a place where time and memory have been caught on the strand, between land and sea.
  • 30 July, 2-4pm … the magical Feis Rois orchestra, providing the best of Scottish music.
  • 16 Aug, 2-4pm … Bracken Bash and volunteer get together
  • 12 September, 9pm till late … Join us for national moth night
  • 17 September … SCRA advanced tracks and signs with Willow Lohr
  • 19 September … National beach clean weekend … (Time to be confirmed)
  • 20 September … 2-4pm … Fungal foray with Liz Holden and the Angus mycology society, with a few fungal tasty treats at the end!
Posted in National Nature Reserves, St Cyrus National Nature Reserve | Tagged , , , , , ,

A year of walking the John Muir Way

Vicki Mowat, SNH Media Relations & PR officer, has recently completed the John Muir Way. Here she reflects on a journey that included both scenic and cultural highlights.

Over this past year, my husband and I decided to walk all 134 miles of the John Muir Way – but we were in no hurry. Some people have walked or cycled the whole trail in days or weeks. But we decided we could manage it in a year. In fact, we managed it in nine months and were quite pleased with ourselves.

New waymark signage on the John Muir Way. March 2014. ©Lorne Gill/SNHThat’s the beauty of the John Muir Way: you can complete the whole thing, or not, however you like, in whatever time you have. You can walk your own local stretch every day – or do what we did and walk a different section every few weeks.

The John Muir Way, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, celebrates its first anniversary in April. It’s a coast-to-coast route which runs from Dunbar, where John Muir was born, to Helensburgh, where he left as a young boy for America. John Muir helped set up the first U.S. national parks, founded the Sierra Club, and wrote books which have inspired readers for almost 150 years.

The usual advice for the John Muir Way is to walk the trail from west to east, so the wind is behind you. But as we live in Edinburgh, we went piecemeal, guided by where it was easiest to take the train or bus. So we started off heading west from the pretty town of Dunbar, gazing at the dramatic red cliffs tumbling down to the sea.

We had so many amazing and varied highlights from there – too many to mention really, but I’ll give it a try anyway! From spotting eider ducks in North Berwick as we devoured a fish and chip reward after one of our first walks ; to wildflowers crowding East Lothian farmers’ fields; to the luck of arriving on an open day for Corstorphine Hill Tower during our Edinburgh walk for an amazing 360-degree view; to wafting along the lovely River Almond in Cramond; to enjoying spooky Blackness Castle and elegant Linlithgow Castle; to wandering among the magical woods in Callendar Park in Falkirk; to staring way up at the two Forth Road bridges and the Falkirk Wheel – who ever tires of that?; and all this, interspersed with wanders along the Union, Forth and Clyde Canals.

The most special part of the walk for us, though, was early this year when we had built up our fitness enough to tackle three days at the end of the Way in a row, staying at bed & breakfasts as we went. We walked about 40 miles from Kirkintilloch to Helensburgh, through snow, ice and sun – but with completely dry skies – and we’re now thoroughly hooked on long-distance walking.

The snowy slopes of Barr Hill

The snowy slopes of Barr Hill

One of our first sights was the Roman Fort at Bar Hill. We struggled up a snowy hill for a great view, then clambered down, making our way along the canal and roads, with the Campsie Fells surrounding us. Joining part of the West Highland Way for a several miles was a fantastic moment which made us feel like real walkers.

And the scenery just got better from there, taking in mountains, lochs, and forests. Balloch Country Park was a wonderful surprise just before we reached our second bed & breakfast at Balloch – what a lovely spot, and one we’ll definitely go back to with a picnic one day. But the scenery (and the hills) only got better on our last day, as we explored Scotland’s first national Park in the Loch Lomond area. The view from the top of Gowk Hill is breath-taking – and not just because of the steep incline to get there! Then it’s down, down, down to get to Helensburgh, where you can reward yourself with a cuppa and a nice trip to charming Hill House.

View from Gowk Hill on a hazy day - still spectacular!

View from Gowk Hill on a hazy day – still spectacular!

So would we do it again? In a nanosecond. But we figure why not try something new first? Next up for my husband and me: St Cuthbert’s Way – a mere 62.5 miles. It should be a cakewalk compared to the grand John Muir Way.

For more on the John Muir Way, see www.johnmuirway.org. For more on Scotland’s Great Trails, see www.scotlandsgreattrails.org.uk . I also write a blog on shorter walks in Scotland and elsewhere – check it out at www.bootsandbrews.wordpress.com .


Other ways to do the Way

We’ve heard some interesting and odd tales of how people have traversed the John Muir Way over the past year. One young man walked the length of the country, including the Way, writing a sonnet a day. Another man completed the Way quickly along with his stuffed toy duck, which he photographed in different locations along the trail. And we’ve also heard from lots of US visitors, walkers and cyclists, families, couples and people of all ages complete the Way.

The lovely shore and view at Balloch

The lovely shore and view at Balloch



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