Scotland’s saltmarshes are mapped for the first time

The Habitat Map of Scotland Project has now completed the next step in mapping our coast with the publication of a map of Scotland’s saltmarshes – the data is now available to download here.

Saltmarsh pools at Scalasaig on the Isle of Colonsay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Saltmarsh pools at Scalasaig on the Isle of Colonsay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Between 2010 and 2012 all saltmarshes in Scotland larger than 3ha were surveyed to compile the first comprehensive national survey of this habitat. This data has now been digitized and made available on Scotland’s environment website as part of the Habitat Map of Scotland project.

Saltmarshes are usually restricted to comparatively sheltered locations in estuaries, and at the head of sea lochs. The development of saltmarsh is dependent on the presence of mudflats between them and the open sea.

Sea-lavender, saltmash creeks and pans by the Nith Esturay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Sea-lavender, saltmash creeks and pans by the Nith Esturay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

  • Saltmarsh is a rather rare habitat – there are only some 5,400ha around the Scottish coast – that’s slightly less than the area of the City of Aberdeen.
  • The greatest extents are to be found along the shores of the Solway Firth which holds 40% of the total, with 23% around the Moray Firth. Other important areas include the Uists and the Firth of Forth.
  • Scotland has approximately 14% of the UK’s saltmarshes.

Saltmarshes are important for helping to protect our coasts by stabilising shorelines and so preventing them from damage by incoming waves. Their benefits are particularly significant in light of the destruction caused to coastal communities by storms and flooding which are likely to increase as we experience climate change.

Oystercatchers on saltmarsh. © David Whitaker

Oystercatchers on saltmarsh. © David Whitaker

Saltmarshes also support a unique range of plants and animals which are adapted to regular flooding by sea water. They are especially important for a large number of specialised invertebrates and flowering plants. They also provide an important resource for wading birds and wildfowl, acting as high-tide refuges as well as breeding sites for terns, gulls, waders, skylarks and meadow pipits. In winter large flocks of swans, geese and ducks rely on saltmarshes for feeding and roosting.

SNH is leading a multi-partner project in producing a standardised Habitat Map of Scotland. This project makes a major contribution to the Scottish Government’s 2020 Challenge for Biodiversity which aims to provide an up-to-date and standardised picture of all of Scotland’s habitats and major land uses.

Habitat Map of Scotland – Saltmarshes.

Habitat Map of Scotland – Saltmarshes.

The addition of saltmarsh data makes an important contribution in documenting our fragile coastal habitats.

Professor Stewart Angus, SNH coastal specialist, said that the mapping provided an invaluable baseline for monitoring by SNH and SEPA, who were partners in the project. We expect the maps to have a wide range of applications and be of particular value as they provide a time-stamped snapshot of part of Scotland’s coastline at a time when it is subject to numerous pressures including sea level rise.

You can look at the full saltmarsh survey of January 2016 here.

Find out more about the mapping of Scotland’s machair here.



Posted in mapping | Tagged , , ,

Chainsaws, rotten wood and cages: the efforts to save the pine hoverfly

Athayde Tonhasca discusses the conservation efforts to protect one of Scotland’s most endangered species.

The pine hoverfly (Blera fallax). © Steven Falk

The pine hoverfly (Blera fallax). © Steven Falk

The ephemeral habitat of the pine hoverfly  

In a mature Scots pine forest, trees are often infected by the heart rot fungus Phaeolus schweinitzii, which decays and softens the tree’s heartwood and creates internal cavities (or rot holes). These weakened trees may topple down or break with the effects of wind and storms. This natural wood-felling process is important for rejuvenating the forest by allowing plant succession, and it also creates habitat for many saproxylic species (dependent on dead or decaying wood and other plant material).

The exposed rot holes in the stumps of felled or fallen trees quickly fills with rain water, creating the perfect habitat for the pine hoverfly (Blera fallax): their larvae grow and feed in the mixture of decaying organic matter and microorganisms contained in these water pockets.

A rot hole can provide a home for pine hoverfly for 8 to 10 years before it dries out and its resources are exhausted. The species therefore relies on the dynamic process of forest regeneration, where rot holes are continuously produced. However, areas of large, old pine trees have become rare in Scotland, and traditionally woodland managers have removed dead wood to protect trees from insect pests and pathogens, and for fear of accidents with falling timber. As a consequence, there may be not enough natural decaying wood to sustain pine hoverfly populations in Scotland. This species relies, perhaps almost entirely, on stumps cut as part of forestry operations. These are the likely reasons for the pine hoverfly being one of Scotland’s rarest species and therefore a priority for conservation efforts.

Giving a hand

Until our native woodlands recover and mature sufficiently to provide the necessary conditions for the pine hoverfly, it is essential to sustain its populations through management practices. Researchers have found it’s possible to replicate pine hoverfly breeding sites by cutting holes through the heartwood of pine stumps with a chainsaw . The holes are filled with pine chips or sawdust to provide hiding places for the larvae and a substrate for microorganisms to grow, which quickly fill with water and begin to show signs of decay. Experiments have shown the method to be successful, as several artificial holes have been colonized by pine hoverflies and other saproxylic hoverfly species. You can learn more about these experiences at the Malloch Society’s Management Actions and Achievements webpage and Forestry Commission Scotland’s New homes for the pine hoverfly.

A pine hoverfly larva recovered from an artificial rot role. © Athayde Tonhasca

A pine hoverfly larva recovered from an artificial rot role. © Athayde Tonhasca

Researchers have also made attempts to increase existing populations by rearing pine hoverflies in cages and in the laboratory, then releasing their offspring (larvae) into new sites. These attempts have been successful so far, and are being expanded. You can find further details at Translocating the pine hoverfly

The next step was to try to implement a breeding programme with the hope of rearing captive populations to serve as reserve stock. To this end, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has created a dedicated facility for rearing and multiplying hoverfly larvae received from Sweden. And the efforts have been encouraging: the Zoo has reported that the first pine hoverfly adult has emerged this month. Discover more at RZSS’s Pine hoverfly restoration.

These efforts to restore and create pine hoverfly habitat and breed captive populations are case studies of invertebrate conservation made possible thanks to the dedication of many volunteers and the support of The Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry Commission Scotland, The Malloch Society, National Museums of Scotland, RSPB, RZSS and SNH.

first hoverfly to emerge

The first pine hoverfly to emerge at the RZSS rearing facility. © Gareth Bennett

Have a look at more of Steven Falk’s pine hoverfly images on his Flickr album

Keep up to date with The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s projects through their Twitter and Facebook feeds: @RZSS (Twitter) and @rzssofficial (Facebook)

Posted in conservation | Tagged , , ,

A sensory onslaught in the Shiant Isles

SNH’s Chris Leakey and Glen Tyler spend time marvelling at the Shiant Isles’ seabird spectacular.



Every so often, when the swell meets the cliff at the required height and direction, a deep rumble resonates from a cave and the rock sends tremors up our feet.

Then we sense the rush of the wind across the surf and its rebound off the rocks, carrying the chatter of guillemots and razorbills groans on the updraft. An immature white-tailed sea-eagle soars with ease across our expansive field of view.

And the unlikely whirr of a puffin careering much too close to the back of your head catches you unawares, seemingly out of control on its perilous approach to land. At the last moment it tilts its wings and splays ridiculous orange feet for an effective, if ungainly, landing.


This is just the beginning of the sensory onslaught. Spectacular bird numbers, puffins and razorbills especially, reel in the sky, fuss about on the rocks, and rest on the water.  We catch the occasional intense sniff of guano, an inevitable experience in such places, but we are fortunate with the direction of the breeze on this day.

Shiant Isles.

Shiant Isles.

These are the Shiant Isles, a proud cluster of rocks in the Minch between northern Skye and Lewis.

We have spent a lot of time in and around seabird colonies, but the Shiants presented us with a different experience. The lie of the land puts you in places that make you feel like you are at the heart of the action. Here you are on a level and birds are often too close for a telephoto lens.

The seabirds may be the main attraction, but these islands have a subtler side as well, providing some calming respite from the cacophony of the colonies. Heath-spotted orchids are abundant on Garbh Eilean, fluttering in the breeze among the distinctive twitter of skylarks.


On Eilean an Taighe, where the intensity of sheep grazing has been vastly reduced, large swathes of willow are recovering well, patches of silverweed glisten and king cups, yellow flag iris and celandines enjoy the damp areas of ground.

The make-up of our group also added fresh perspectives. We are two ecologists from SNH, on holiday with three artists (Liz Myhill, Kittie Jones and Emily Ingrey-Counter) and a photographer (Gregor Menzies). Watching professional artworks come together in the field is fascinating.

Shiant Isles.

Shiant Isles.

Having these islands to ourselves for five days is also special. Well, almost to ourselves… some kayakers stopped to camp on our first night there, and RSPB Scotland currently has staff there.

We listened with interest to their accounts of life and work on an otherwise uninhabited island. They have been working hard, in partnership with ourselves at SNH and the Nicolson family, to eradicate black rats (Rattus rattus)  from the island under the Shiant Isles Seabird Recovery Project.

They are now monitoring for signs of rats and seabird recovery and are quietly hopeful that they have been successful. And we are glad not to have experienced the infestations accounted by others before us.

For the wonder of this wildlife spectacle let’s hope for that success and continued responsible stewardship of this special place.

All pictures and video by Chris Leakey except where stated otherwise.

Posted in Birds | Tagged , , , ,

Gorge ablaze – fired up for conservation at Ness Glen

The prolonged spell of dry, warm weather in late April and early May created the conditions for a number of ‘wild’ fires around the country, most or all of them started carelessly or deliberately by people. One of the more unlikely places to be set ablaze was Ness Glen, a dramatic wooded ravine at Craigengillan Estate near Dalmellington in East Ayrshire.  Estate owner J Mark Gibson tells us more.

Ness Glen. © J Mark Gibson

Ness Glen. © J Mark Gibson

Ness Glen is designated as an SSSI and notable for the variety of mosses and ferns that thrive in its (normally) damp microclimate. It is also a popular attraction for walkers, with a dramatic riverside path incised at the foot of steep cliffs draped with curtains of moss.  At the bottom of the gorge the air is (almost) permanently humid, supporting a diversity of lower plants that is normally encountered only in the rain-sodden West Highlands.

Fortuitously, at the beginning of this year SNH commissioned a new survey of the bryophytes of Ness Glen (bryophytes include mosses and liverworts, both diminutive and primitive plants that can’t stand too much dryness). The survey turned up 162 different bryophytes in total, and confirmed the presence of an unusually large number of ‘oceanic’ species which are especially dependent on the constant humidity typical of the western seaboard.  Four of these bryophytes are considered ‘nationally scarce’ because they are found in only a small number of locations in Britain.

The nationally scarce moss Bartramia halleriana (photo: Rory Whytock)

The nationally scarce moss Bartramia halleriana (photo: Rory Whytock)

Nature conservation is a key focus of how we manage the whole of Craigengillan Estate. At Ness Glen in particular we are working with support from SNH and the Scottish Government to carry out practical measures that will enhance the woodland, improve conditions for the important lower plants, and make the place interesting and accessible for visitors. Managing the glen sympathetically for bryophytes means removing invasive rhododendron bushes that shade out native flora, encouraging the regeneration of native trees, and controlling grazing.The threats to the site have therefore seemed slow-moving and manageable. What we did not foresee is that the site could be vulnerable to catastrophic damage by fire.

On the afternoon of the 9th of May, a walker alerted the Fire Service to a blaze in the gorge.  The fire appears to have been started deliberately at several locations along the riverside, from where it must have spread rapidly up the steep wooded cliffs.  On arriving, the Fire Service encountered an intense and fast-moving blaze sweeping up the slope, but despite the challenges of accessing the steep-sided ravine, they were able to prevent flames spreading beyond the top of the gorge and onto neighbouring woods and moorland. The riverside path is currently closed to walkers as we assess the damage done and the risk of falling debris. Certainly the west side of the gorge presents a rather charred scene.

Burnt cliff slope. ©Andrew MacGregor/SNH

Burnt cliff slope. ©Andrew MacGregor/SNH

It is too early to tell just how much harm has been caused to the woodland and its flora, but it looks as though most trees have been only lightly scorched and are unlikely to have suffered serious injury.  The fire burned through many normally dripping-wet carpets of moss clinging to the slopes but a good number of areas remained moist enough to be spared, and these probably include many of the more damp-loving species that are of special interest.  So there are reasons to be hopeful.  We will work with SNH to monitor recovery of the vegetation over the next few years, and hopefully confirm that the rarer mosses have survived.

Notwithstanding the occasional arsonist, we are fortunate to have support from many people in looking after the Estate and its wildlife.  We work closely with Doon Academy in Dalmellington and our three local primary schools, to foster respect for nature and a sense of wonder and awe.  And just a few days after the fire we had what is now an annual visit by pupils from George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, here to do practical conservation work as part of a week-long Scottish tour.  They found great satisfaction in cutting down rhododendron bushes and so opening up the woodland floor for smaller plants to find a home.  I believe that the key to conservation, not just of Ness Glen but all wildlife habitats in Scotland, lies with education and encouraging a love for the natural world, especially among young people.  The fire in Ness Glen caused anger from all quarters in the villages and we hope that it will never happen again.

Find out more about the conservation work going on at Craigengillan Estate.

There’s more information about bryophytes on the SNH website.

Posted in Bryophytes | Tagged , , , , ,

Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve

Reserve Manager Tom Cunningham reflects on events in and around Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. His regular newsletter will be winging its way over the wires soon, but here’s a taster of what Tom has to say.

Summer 2017 brings our 37th Tentsmuir Newsletter, now in its 18th year.  It is hard to believe we have produced so many since July 1999. This edition will be my second last one.


A big focus is on the amazing management work we have been doing since the turn of the year.  We have never stopped and it’s down to the hard work of the many dedicated volunteers, great work by contractors, and our own Reserve Staff.

Weather wise, this year has seen some long dry and sunny weeks and then endured an awful lot of rain!  The benefits of the rain, heat and sunshine throughout the Reserve sites and countryside is evident when you see the landscape greening up spectacularly.

As yet, the kingfishers haven’t been as showy when compared to last season’s amazing sightings. However, we have enjoyed several sightings of the sea eagles; as recently as last week, Alex & Ruari were lucky enough to have a good view of one around Morton Lochs – but neither had a camera or mobile phone handy!

2017 is going to be an especially busy year for Tentsmuir NNR and for me, the realisation of a dream project for Tentsmuir Point and the planning and preparation work for the annual Family Day event are all going on apace.

2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology by Kirsty Fisher

‘Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve (NNR) is undeniably a fantastic place for natural heritage, encompassing wetland, woodland and coastal habitats, which support a diverse range of plants and animals. Yet did you know just how significant this place has been for the history of people in Scotland?

My first experience of Tentsmuir NNR involved Morton Lochs, waders and a large pile of reeds which we were going to plant, but on this occasion, I was back on dry land to learn about the rich history of this diverse NNR.

Tentsmuir’s human history dates back to around 10,000 years ago with the arrival of Mesolithic man, who inhabited an island which is now part of fields at Morton Farm, just under 4km inland from the present-day shoreline. It is here that many archaeological artefacts have been found, including flints, grinding stones and cutting tools.

Throughout the years since then, Tentsmuir has played an important role in the lives of many people. Dr John Berry, an eminent Scottish naturalist and former director of the Nature Conservancy Council in Scotland, labelled Tentsmuir ‘Paradise’ for the special range of plants and animals found here, and its astounding natural beauty.

Tentsmuir’s name is thought to have been derived from ‘Tents on the moor,’ though a number of arguments about its origin have been put forth, ranging from ‘Tents lived in by early shepherds,’ to the Scottish name, ‘Densman’, in reference to Danes thought to have been shipwrecked off the coast.  Either way, the idea of ‘Tents on the moor‘ became ever more pertinent when World War 2 came knocking at Scotland’s door.

Hidden among the trees at the Forestry Commission-managed Tentsmuir Forest are the remains of WW2 buildings set among the quiet rustle of trees and the loud calling of birds. Yet during the war, these areas would have contained a bustling army camp. While there are many more interesting historical artefacts to be seen at the NNR, such as the March Stone delineating the fishing rights in 1794 and the Ice House dating from 1888, once used to keep the fish fresh, I will leave some of these relics to be discovered on your next visit to Paradise NNR.

Polish image

Polish Eagle emblem on the well

To end my day, much like Tentsmuir’s recurring ‘tents on the moor’ theme, I ended up back in waders at Morton Lochs helping with fencing to stop the grazing cattle from entering the loch. Along with all the fascinating stories I learned about Tentsmuir’s history, an important additional lesson from my trip to Tentsmuir NNR was never to assume, based on eyesight alone, that the water is not as deep as your waders…’

Thank you very much to Tom and Ruari for all your help and wonderful stories about the fascinating history of Paradise NNR.



The Limousin cattle will be returning to graze throughout the summer months and our thanks go to farmer Robert Lamont for providing the cattle. McIntosh & Robertson, with digger driver Bill Martin, cleaned out the Cleek burn on the north part during the spring months. The sea fences were repaired by Bob Ritchie and Mikey Smith and the south sea fence especially had taken quite a battering and this was repaired during the annual service.

Dave Mackie and his team will shortly start the targeted herbicide treatment of our invasive flora species. We also hope to trial a special Soft Track machine that will cut the rosebay willowherb before it seeds. This will be year 1 in this new management of the plant which has spread thought the dune system and in places is dominant. We are hoping that cutting will weaken the plant and reduce its vigorous growth drastically.



Educational visits are slowly picking up this term with High School visit numbers on the up.  Shonagh Barbour of Bell Baxter High School had 20 third year pupils on the Reserve for four days studying sand dune succession and carrying out the work towards their John Muir Award ‘Giving Something Back to the Environment.’

SEA EAGLES The sea eagles have been observed on occasions as they fly around Fife, and recently been seen around Morton Lochs.  Keep your eye on the local newspapers for a press release from the RSPB.

BUTTERFLIES AND MOTHS I am delighted to announce that SNH will publish long-term volunteer Gillian Fyfe’s research report “A Report on Butterfly Abundance and Flight Periods at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve, Fife from 1978 to 2015”.  We are obtaining maps and images to complement this wonderful piece of work by Gillian.


Green Hairstreak by Daphne MacFarlane Smith.

The butterflies seem to have had a better start this year with monitoring figures up on previous years.  Daphne MacFarlane Smith was thrilled to see the Green Hairstreak.

Student Placement Ruari Dunsmuir has started carrying out moth trapping and his ID skills are improving with each survey.  Ruari has kindly provided an article, which will include his mothing surveys.

MORTON LOCHS MANAGEMENT Large scale management projects continued at Morton Lochs with Bill Martin the digger driver for McIntosh & Robertson very skilfully creating two large areas within the Lead Burn inflow to the north loch to create a reed bed filtration system.  Bill was able to excavate reeds from the north loch margins and transport them to the new reed beds for us.  Bill also excavated the old railway line ditches along the south loch footpath.

We took advantage of the water levels which had been deliberately lowered to allow excavation work to go ahead, and a group of colleagues and volunteers helped us plant up reeds in the prepared beds.


Volunteers & colleagues planting reeds

DIFFUSE POLLUTION AT MORTON LOCHS The reed bed system will be a very important part of reducing the nutrients reaching the north loch.  Research by Dr Sascha Hooker and the student team from the University of St. Andrews continues into the water quality of the Lead Burn and in the North Loch.  We await the results at some point during the year.



VIEW FROM THE SQUIRREL HIDE This hide continues to be very popular and every day visitors can be seen watching the red squirrels on the feeders and trees.  You can see some fancy cameras with huge lenses poking out of the hide viewing windows, hoping to catch them in action!  In addition to the squirrels, you can observe woodpeckers, coal tits, blue tits, long-tailed tits, wrens, chaffinches and, if you are really lucky, spot badgers snuffling around at the base of the trees picking at the dropped nuts.

DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES Already during the sunny May days there have been damselflies observed especially around the ponds and on the footpaths.  Damselfly species observed so far include the Large Red, Blue tailed and Common Blue damselflies.

BIRDS AND OTHER WILDLIFE The hides have been very busy with visitors and photographers hoping to see the kingfishers and they have flocked to see them, which is wonderful.  Some visitors have been so eager to capture that special shot and have been walking in front of the hide and disturbing them.

Please be aware the Kingfishers are a protected Schedule 1 bird, and as a gentle reminder, we have put up signs reminding visitors that it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb at, on or near an active nest.

The squirrel feeders have been very busy, and it is wonderful to watch their antics and see the smaller birds, swifts, swallows, house martins, great spotted woodpeckers, long-tailed tits, blue tits, coal tits, great tits, wrens, chaffinches, jays, robins diving in and around getting a free feed.

On the lochs there are other notable sightings including otters, occasionally sea eagles, mute swans, gadwall, water rail, water voles, grey wagtails, little grebe, etc.

FAMILY DAY OUTThursday, 6th July 2016 – “Tentsmuir’s, TimeLine Treasures”.  Starts at 1pm.   The eighteenth FREE annual NNR event will be held on Thursday, 6th July and it should be another fantastic, exciting day out and will tie in with the Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology, and will be dedicated to the rich history and the flora and fauna on the Reserve and having plenty of fun.

The new-style shorter activity sessions will continue, so please squeeze in as many of the activities as you like, and learn all about the Reserve’s plants and animals and be creative AND see if you find the buried treasure? This new activity is linked with the history of the Reserve, where a Polish Army Officer invented the mine detector, which is effectively a metal detector.

You may have a moment or two to wait after one activity ends and the next one begins, but come and enjoy, learn and try several different ones.  Each activity will last 20 to 30 minutes.  Activity leaders, colleagues and the volunteers will help you all the way.

After last year’s hugely successful and fun time main attraction with Cat Frankitti I asked if she would like to come back this year.  Cat was so enthusiastic and you will all have so much fun and learn so much, I cannot wait!!  The attraction is called “Pirates of Paradise” Cat, her husband John and assistant Pete will provide food tasting, hunter-gathering and lots of pirate shenanigans – you’d better find out for yourselves on the day!

There will be small prizes for the best Pirate costume for a young visitor and parent!  Ship Ahoy!!  Oooo Aaaaarrrrrr Me Hearties!

The telescopes and binoculars will be on the foreshore and there are several activities.  We have two on which my colleagues are keeping me guessing, but so far we have:-

  • Folding Craft birds & animals – with David Mitchell, Caroline & Myra
  • Food with Fire – with Cat, Pete & John
  • Tentsmuir’s Top Ten Bug Hunt – with Gillian & Ailsa
  • Picture It – with Kathryn Green & Allison
  • Buried Treasure – Alex & Ruari and Kirsty
  • Sea Eagles Scavenger Hunt – with the RSPB Lauren Shannon & Richard
  • Telescopes on the Foreshore – with Hannah & Andy

Book early to avoid disappointment.  With the exception of the £2 charge for the car park, it’s all free! (It’s now £2 at the barrier – please have change ready.) Please be at the car park for 12:30 ready to board the coaches which will bring you onto the Reserve.

There are normally 120 places available and the event books up fairly quickly.  I also keep a reserve list, as there is usually a visitor or two who may have to cancel suddenly.  If you are unable to attend after booking, please contact me as soon as possible to let me know, so I can call and let someone else take up your place.  Please don’t let me or other visitors down.  Remember a responsible adult must accompany all children.

To book, please phone my office telephone and if I am not in, please leave a short message on the answering machine with your name and telephone number and I will contact you to confirm the booking.  If I do NOT contact you, you are not on my list!


This year we have thoroughly enjoyed having Ruari work alongside us; he is hard working and enthusiastic, a fast learner and an all-round brilliant colleague. Ruari wrote the following article about some of the management tasks & activities and projects in which he is involved.

‘Tentsmuir NNR consists of three sites: Tentsmuir Point, Tayport Heath and Morton Lochs. This diverse set of habitats and associated species make it a wonderfully varied and interesting Reserve. My time is spent performing a number of management tasks to improve the quality of the Reserve for both wildlife and people. Core tasks consist of practical conservation management, leading volunteer groups, visitor management, and species monitoring, and assisting with educational events. Being involved in such activities is highly rewarding, engaging, and for me highlights the complexity of the work and the number of tasks required to manage and maintain the Reserve.

As the year moves forward and the weather improves, the Reserve feels like it is wakening up after a long winter and with it come more opportunities to get out and do different types of species monitoring. This can include dragonflies, damselflies, squirrels, butterflies, moths, birds, and plants.

Surveying and monitoring wildlife at Tentsmuir is important to help us manage the Reserve in the best possible way for conservation. This will safeguard species and their habitats for future generations. Therefore, we need to have up-to-date information on the condition of the habitats, the species present on-site, and population trends of important plants and animals.

White Ermine

White Ermine

Many people are intimidated by the challenge of counting wildlife or worried about incorrect identification. Personally, I love the challenge and the opportunity to see as much wildlife as possible. Currently my passion is moths.

I find it really exciting walking up to the trap in the morning wondering what is going to be in it (if anything). I did not start moth recording until a few months into my placement at Tentsmuir so at the moment I am still finding species I have not seen before.  Additionally, moths really make you work and test your identification skills. Yes, there are many species which are brightly coloured or have distinctive, clear, helpful markings. But then there are the ‘small brown jobbies,’ as my college lecturer used to say, about any small brown seemingly indistinct species. These can be particularly difficult to correctly identify and more often than not, require a photograph and a trawl through a book or the internet. And even then, just to make it a bit more challenging, some species can look incredibly similar and wing patterns can fade over time. Correctly identifying these is extremely rewarding.

What got me into moths? I feel they are generally under-recorded and overlooked by many people despite having a great aesthetic appeal. They are beautiful and have the enigmatic appeal of all nocturnal animals while also having some fantastic common names.  Small Phoenix, True Lover’s Knot, Smoky Wainscot, and Chimney Sweep, to name but a few.  Moths also play a vital role in telling us about the health of our environment. They are widespread and sensitive to changes, making them particularly useful as indicator species. Monitoring their numbers and ranges can give us vital clues to changes in our own environment, such as the effects of new farming practices, pesticides, air pollution and climate change. In the end, though, I just really enjoy seeing these wonderful animals and as my work progresses at Tentsmuir I want to continue to learn as much as possible and gain more experience of Reserve work, in an effort to make a positive contribution both for wildlife and people.


Message from Tom Cunningham :  I will soon retire this year after 20 years working on “Paradise NNR”, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.  I have so many people to thank for supporting me and working for us on the Reserve over the years.  (I was not happy relying on my memory, so on investigating I found that I had started as the Assistant Reserve Manager in June 1997.)

From the fantastic teachers at the nurseries, primary and high schools who flocked along to the Reserve as we encouraged them to study in the Outdoor Classroom using the wonderful Tentsmuir NNR Education Pack: Life in the Sands.  From Moscow and La Vallée de la Loire in France and all over the UK to the schools on our doorstep, the schools loved studying here. Thank you all.

To the Colleges, especially Elmwood College and Stuart MacDonald in particular; to the great range of UK Universities, who used the Reserve to study, teach and carry out a massive amount of Research on this amazing National Nature Reserve. Thank you all.

Some very special thanks go to the following truly amazing people who supported me and the Reserve.

Professor Rob Duck. Professor Bob Crawford. Dr Jim Steward (Deceased and sorely missed) who set the bar at an incredible height, and was the first Poet in Residence in 2013.    Derek Robertson – the first Artist in Residence during 2013.  Bernie McConnell, Ailsa Hall, Professor Sir David Read, Stuart MacDonald, Jim Allan, Sheila Brinkley, Jean Stewart,      Donald Stewart, Tam Ross, Andrew Ford, Pete Cunningham, Professor John Rowan, Keith Skene, and all the special people who work in the various Geosciences departments; Gerald Lincoln, David Bryant, Duncan Davidson, Pat Dugard, Marek Malecki.  Thank you.

Other brilliant volunteers include: my first volunteer Maxine Reekie and her boyfriend Kevin Little. Then there is a whole host of Elmwood College Conservation Management students including the lovely Eve Schulte, Ian Jamieson, Alasdair McLeod, Craig Baxter, Mandy Dougal, Andy Smart, Robert Bell, Lee Robertson, Brice Coe, Lynda Oxley, Steve Fordsham, David Brattesani, Ali Campbell and Willie Doig. Thank you.

I also want to thank some more great volunteers including Elisa O’Hare, Karen Caddell Walker, Ana Viera, Julia Mifflin, Tom Stevenson, Anne Frost, Cath & Ron Warrender, Emma, Lesley, Jim McCann, Craig Ferries, Mary Bensted, Kirsten Campbell, Kirsten Brewster, Nicola Williamson, Corryn Christie and the late Jim Rougvie.  There are a good many more volunteers and groups who came along for a day or two and supported us, carrying out a massive amount of work.  I Thank you.

Lastly, but by no means least, a group of fabulous people who have worked tirelessly (and a good number put up with me for many years) carrying out vital monitoring work: Daphne MacFarlane Smith, Gillian Fyfe, Ailsa Malcom, Anne-Marie Smout, Paul & Ruth Blackburn, David Mitchell, Gerry Callaghan, Bill Alexander, Tam Ross, Alan Foulds – a massive thanks to you all.

Reserve Staff: I started as Assistant Reserve Manager to the great Dave Bonnet (RIP) and Gordon Wardrope, Alex Easson, Blair Johnston and Ruari Dunsmuir.  Thank you.

Forestry Colleagues – Alex again (job share FCS & SNH), Graham, John, Robin and in the past, Bid.  Alex and I have worked together for over 16 years and we have achieved a whole host of successes on the Reserve; it has been great.  Thank you.

A host of lovely people who send me wildlife data and images – Bob Willis, Steve Hubbard, Chris Reekie, John Cumming, Daniele Muir, Steve Buckland, John Nadin, Ian Ford, Jacqui Herrington and Andrew Hodgson.  Thank you.

A whole host of fantastic and hardworking contractors who carried out some amazing work on the Reserve sites include Dave Mackie with Moray Stewart, Jim Allan, McIntosh & Robertson especially digger driver Bill Martin, Jim & Valerie Downie; all have contributed hugely to the successful contracts.

The fantastic Cat & John Franchetti who have had many years of putting up marquees, flags, tables, etc, and then brought their magical activities and fun to the last three Family Day Events. Special people who also made the activities so much fun are Kathryn Green, Gillian Fyfe and Maggie Gay.  Thank you.

A very special mention to my darling wife Pete Cunningham who has had to put up with me, bringing work home; she is my editor, spellchecker and an extraordinaire wordsmith!  Thank you.

Oh my goodness “The Big One” I have much to thank – Caroline Gallacher, my boss for 20 years – what a team!  Thank you very much.

Thank you also to my other fantastic Cupar Office colleagues. Rosemary, Allison. Myra, Dave, Gavin, Elspeth, Iain, Kath, Sarah, Keith and in the past Elena, Eleanor, Julie, Catherine, Isobel and a whole host of fantastic SNH colleagues throughout the organisation especially David Rodger, Heather Kinnin and Vicky Mowat who helped me throughout and put Tentsmuir NNR on the map and also the NNR team Susan, David & Stewart.  Thank you

And to all the amazing, talented group of fantastic NNR Reserve Managers & Reserve staff … what a team we are! SNH should be proud of us and our Special Places.

Apologies if I missed anyone out, it was not deliberate, it’s just the grey cells aren’t as good as they were.

Way hey, I will miss you all.


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Bridging the science-policy gap, one conference at a time

Amanda Trask, a research ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology, is our guest blogger today. Here she reflects on a great experience attending the Scottish Ecology, Environment and Conservation Conference (SEECC) at the University of Aberdeen in 2017.

A key part of being a successful scientist is being able to effectively communicate and discuss your research findings with fellow scientists and policy advisers.

For researchers working in the ecological, environmental or conservation sciences, the latter group is a ‘must reach’ one to infleunce. Scientific conferences provide an ideal venue for such communication. For researchers at the start of their scientific career, conferences like the SEECC, held at the University of Aberdeen in April 2017, are ideal.

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Networking over coffee at the SEECC 2017. Photo by Svenja Kroeger.

What makes the SEECC different from other conferences?

The SEECC is that rare type of conference that manages to be small and highly social and yet packs a punch with an impressive scientific programme of plenary speakers, a panel discussion session and a diverse array of high-quality student talks and posters.  It is aimed in particular at PhD and Masters students in ecology, conservation and environmental science,  and provides a great opportunity for students from across Scotland to meet, and present and discuss their research findings. Here the small size of the conference is a strength, because the lack of parallel talk sessions means everyone attends the talks, and there are instant conversation-starters available!

The conference is jointly run by a Scottish university (in 2016 it was the University Of Edinburgh, at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and this time it was the University of Aberdeen) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and a variety of representatives from other organisations attend (e.g. RSPB. SWT).  This means that the SEECC is a great networking opportunity as delegates get to meet both academic and non-academic senior researchers and policy makers.

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The poster session at the SEECC 2017. Photo by Francesca Mancini.

A few of the (many) highlights from the SEECC 2017

The SEECC 2017 included a fantastic plenary talk by Professor (and Dame)  Georgina Mace FRS (Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystems at University College London) on the changing perceptions of nature conservation in an increasingly human-dominated world. The talk guided us through the ‘nature for itself’ viewpoint of the 1960’s, through the more utilitarian ‘nature for people’ focus in the early 2000’s, where the emphasis was on natural capital and ecosystem services, to the more nuanced present-day ‘nature and people’ perspective, where the dynamic two-way relationship between people and nature is acknowledged.

However, these changing perceptions make it difficult to measure conservation success and design effective management strategies, as what may benefit people may not always benefit nature conservation and vice versa. More on Professor Georgina Mace’s work on how we should value nature can be found in the link at the end of this blog.

The second excellent talk by Professor Des Thompson (Principal Advisor on Biodiversity at SNH) brought a more Scotland-orientated view of nature conservation. Des highlighted the work that still needs to be done to support Scotland’s biodiversity. This talk also included the first mention of Brexit at the conference, and the need to balance potential opportunity to improve on current environmental policies with the risk of attrition of protected areas.

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The panel discussion on ‘Applying ecological science to conservation policy’, featuring (from L-R) Andrew Bachell, Georgina Mace, Ruth Mitchell and Anne Glover. Photo by Jane Reid.

The discussion on the balancing of risk and opportunity in the future of nature conservation was further followed up during the fantastic panel discussion on ‘Applying ecological science to conservation policy’, featuring Georgina,  Professor Anne Glover FRS (former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Scottish Government and to the European Commission), Andrew Bachell (Director of Policy and Advice, SNH) and Dr Ruth Mitchell (Chair of the British Ecological Society Scottish Policy Group). A key theme of the panel discussion was the need for scientists to effectively communicate their research findings, to ensure that their research informs conservation and environmental policy, or as  Anne phrased it “you can’t generate knowledge and not find a home for it”.

Tundra teabag experiment

It was therefore particularly striking to see the high quality of both the science and the presentations throughout the student talks and posters at the SEECC 2017 – it seems that the early career researchers at this conferences are well on their way to becoming great communicators and scientists! The student talks ranged in topic from a ‘tundra teabag experiment’, exploring litter decomposition patterns across the tundra biome by Haydn Thomas of the University of Edinburgh (more on his research can be found here), to foraging decisions of rufous hummingbirds by Georgina Glaser of the University of St Andrews (more on her research can be found here). Winners of the first and second prize for the best talk went to John Godlee of the University of Edinburgh and Richard Whittet of the University of Edinburgh, while the winner of the best poster went to Robin Whytock of the University of Stirling (more on his research can be found here).

The SEECC is hosted by a different Scottish University each year and is a fantastic opportunity for researchers at the start of their science careers to present their work, hear about the great research coming out of other Scottish universities, and network with senior researchers and policymakers.  In particular, for PhD and Masters students who want their current or future research to have impact on environmental policy, the SEECC is a great place to start!  The 2018 conference shall be at the University of St Andrews.


Mace, G. (2014) Whose Conservation? Science, 345, 1558-1560.


Recently finishing her PhD at the University of Aberdeen on the conservation genetics and demographics of red-billed chough in Scotland, Amanda Trask is continuing her research in biodiversity conservation as a Research Ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology.

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How simple pleasures enhance wellbeing

John Muir Award Scotland Inclusion Manager, Lucy Sparks, spends time with an adult group who make the most of nature on their doorstep to help improve their health and wellbeing.

John Muir Day celebrations (15-23 April) this year saw John Muir Award participants from Operation Play Outdoors getting active and creative on the Kelvin Walkway in Glasgow. A photo walk formed the focus of the afternoon, with time for playing pooh sticks and creating Muir art to celebrate Muir’s 179th birthday.

John Muir 2

The group are participating in Branching Out, Forestry Commission Scotland’s innovative programme for adults who use mental health services in Scotland. Delivered in partnership with organisations in the environmental and mental health sectors, it aims to promote positive mental health and wellbeing, and improve the quality of life for participants by engaging them in activities set in woodland environments.

The John Muir Trust finds that the Scottish Natural Heritage campaign Simple Pleasures Easily Found offers accessible activity ideas that adults can respond well to. We see how people feel comfortable with picking brambles, cloud spotting, watching the sun set or making a daisy chain because they have positive memories of these activities as children, parents or grandparents. These activities are varied, non-threatening and encouraging.


Craig Thomson from Operation Play Outdoors explains more “We understand the importance of being outdoors and the positive impact it has on both our physical and mental health. We try to do something different each week, to offer some variety – that way people get a taste of lots of things they can enjoy outside. Our sessions usually begin with boiling the Kelly Kettles so that we start by sharing a cuppa.”

“It’s nice to get out each week together and enjoy the fresh air” – Award participant

The John Muir Award encourages people of all backgrounds to connect with, enjoy, and care for wild places. In Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage is a key funder of Award activity, and since 2008, Branching Out has been using the John Muir Award as a framework for its twelve week courses, providing valuable recognition of peoples’ achievements. In 2016, 265 adults from across Scotland celebrated their personal wellbeing and skills development through achieving a John Muir Award as part of a Branching Out programme.

Simple Pleasures 4

Currently we know that social isolation and loneliness can be a major cause of depression. Branching Out and the John Muir Award address this by bringing people together, under the ‘sharing’ challenge. For those who struggle with forming relationships with others this can be life-changing. The programme also enables them to learn new skills and give back to their woodland and community. This can lead to improvements in mental health and even employment opportunities. It is a massive achievement if your mental health was a barrier to employment.” Nathalie Moriarty, Branching Out Programme Manager, Forestry Commission Scotland.

The Forestry Commission Scotland’s Branching Out is an innovative programme for adults who use mental health services in Scotland. Delivered in partnership with organisations in the environmental and mental health sectors, it aims to promote positive mental health and improve the quality of life for participants by engaging them in activities set in woodland environments. 265 adults from across Scotland celebrated their personal wellbeing and skills development through achieving a John Muir Award last year.

Find out more about our Simple Pleasures Easily Found project.

All images courtesy of Lucy Sparks, John Muir Trust.


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