Jane MacKintosh, conservationist and expert on Scotland’s grasslands

Jane Mackintosh, who has died after a brief illness, aged 64, led grassland conservation work in Scotland working for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).  She played a key role in raising the profile and importance of semi-natural grasslands and their conservation and ensured the survival of many of these flower-rich habitats.

Jane MacKintosh.

A graduate of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Edinburgh University, Jane joined SNH’s predecessor GB body, the Nature Conservancy Council, in 1979, having previously worked with the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (now the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). Joining the redoubtable Scottish Field Unit, Jane was the botanist in a team of four tasked with servicing a rapidly expanding programme of conservation site designation and habitat protection. However, then we knew very little about important areas of what are now called semi-natural grasslands, and many were given up to intensive agricultural use, forestry or other developments. They had become tiny fragments of formerly large swathes of flower-rich meadows, yet Jane, with her youthful, expert knowledge of plants (rather rare in university graduates in botany, even then) had an eye for seeing and advising on protection for some wonderfully rich areas for wildlife.

Initially working in agricultural and woodland Argyll, later on meadows in Shetland, machair and hay meadow in the Uists, and sea cliffs in Caithness, Jane honed an unrivalled expertise in identifying important grassland hotspots for wildlife. She supported the work of the Unit of Vegetation Science at Lancaster University, during 1980-95, in developing the National Vegetation Classification for grasslands, with the results of a huge team effort published mainly in volumes 3 and 4 of the landmark British Plant Communities (edited by Professor John Rodwell, and published by Cambridge University Press).

Quietly passionate about the conservation of species-rich grassland in Scotland, Jane led the establishment of the Scottish Lowland Grassland Database. Beginning work on this in the 1980s, with a programme of local grassland surveys (many undertaken by Jane) the database now has nearly 800 sites, containing information on location, extent and composition of sites. When she started out, tracing paper overlays of field maps served as the basis for detailed notes, but now we have a fundamentally important resource of digitised maps which is the backbone of grassland conservation in Scotland – something Jane was justifiably proud of.

For many of us driving in Scotland, 2013 is arguably significant, for in that year an 87-page SNH report overseen by Jane advised on improvements for wildlife along our 59,000 km of roadside verges. Typically detailed and well-illustrated, this pointed to management practices for diversifying what many of us take for granted. A year later, Jane co-authored guidelines, published by the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee, for the protection and conservation of lowland grasslands in Britain. This drew on her experience of field surveys, and collaborative work with a highly talented group of grassland experts. That year also saw her oversee the publication of a remarkable report on the species rich lowland grasslands of Scotland. Alarmingly, reporting on revisits to sites surveyed some ten to twenty years earlier, it found that just over 15% of grasslands had had been lost, and only around 40% were in a ‘favourable’ state. It was a wake-up call for urgent action needed to restore the richness of what were formerly rich and widespread habitats so accessible to many of us. It is the foundation for key work to determine the future of landscapes that so many of us take for granted.

Jane was a long term member of the Botanical Society of Scotland and was actively involved as a Council member from 2007, and as Co-ordinating Editor of its Newsletter from 2010. As Jane approached supposed retirement, in 2016, she acted as grasslands mentor for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers’ Natural Talent Grasslands Apprenticeship, influencing a cohort of skilled and enthusiastic grassland conservationists.

Though Jane raised the profile of semi-natural grasslands and their conservation in Scotland, and directly ensured the survival of many of these habitats, she had many other interests. She was active in the arts and cultural community of her home town of Penicuik as one of the early activists in its Development Trust (established in 2005) – promoting community activities and regeneration. Many converts to films owe a debt to Jane in cajoling them to join compatriots in the ‘Open House and Cinema’ in the Town Hall. Jane was a leading light in developing community gardening in the ‘Lost Garden of Penicuik’, and helped run the Pen-y-Coe Press, a traditional printing and stationary shop upholding the papermaking heritage of Scotland’s 41st largest town. For many first time mothers she was a wonderful adviser with the Penicuik National Childbirth Trust.

Caring, determined, concisely spoken, and skilled as a botanist, Jane won the hearts and minds of many of us through her modest charm, dependability and range of avid interests.

Jane is survived by husband Dr Chris Sydes, children Tom, Zachary and Katie, and sisters Caroline and Susan, and a brother, Simon.

By Kate Holl, Claudia Rowse and Des Thompson

Posted in Obituary | Tagged , , ,

Escaping the crowds

Prompted by his daughter’s plea for a ‘wild walk’ to escape Edinburgh’s festival crowds, Policy and Advice Manager Simon Brooks headed to Flowerdale in Wester Ross. One of Scotland’s 42 Wild Land Areas where the quality and extent of wildness is considered to be of national importance, Simon is reminded of two newly published SNH reports relevant to these wild places.

Baos bheinn in the Shieldaig forest from the Gairloch road. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Baos bheinn in the Shieldaig forest from the Gairloch road. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

We arrived to find a dozen cars parked at Red Barn, a popular spot from which to access the extensive area of wild land between Loch Maree and Torridon. From here we followed the rough track south to the base of Beinn an Eòin (meaning peak of the bird), before picking our way across bog and rock to ascend its ridge. Although a Corbett (a mountain of 2500’ to 3000’ in height, which are seeing increasing popularity), there was not much evidence of a path to the top.

The walk provided the experience that my daughter was looking for. From the summit we enjoyed a stunning 360° ‘wild’ mountain panorama, with little apparent evidence of human intervention. But is this really the case?

Looking north west from Beinn an Eòin to Loch Gairloch.

Looking north west from Beinn an Eòin to Loch Gairloch.

We looked back on our route. We had followed a track created for forestry and stalking activities. It weaved through a native pine wood planted in the 1990s as part of the Millennium Forest project’s efforts to increase woodland. Below us could be seen

Poca Buidhe bothy, used by the estate and Duke of Edinburgh Award groups keen to overnight amongst the mountains, and a boat house on Loch na h-Oidhche. To the north the new dam and draw-down scar of the upgraded 2MW Loch Garbhaig hydro scheme were visible.

Our journey demonstrated that much of Scotland’s wild land is by no means an untouched wilderness, but reflects its long history of past occupation and present use. It also illustrated the diverse use made of Wild Land Areas – alongside the ‘wild’ experience my daughter had sought out. These uses, and the benefits they provide, are captured in a new report[1] just published by SNH.

The path heads south from Red Barn, into Flowerdale Forest.

The path heads south from Red Barn, into Flowerdale Forest.

The report aids our understanding of the benefit of Scotland’s 42 Wild Land Areas. It bears out their economic value, particularly in relation to tourism and outdoor recreation where Scotland can offer a wild land resource distinct from other countries. It is therefore no surprise that wildness is the main draw for many visitors – not just those taking part in sporting activities and outdoor recreation (Wild Land Areas contain the majority of Munros and Corbetts), but also those participating in less active pastimes such as simply enjoying views from the roadside.

Wild land also provides a range of other ‘ecosystem services’, some of which underpin our daily lives. For instance they regulate water flows to reduce flooding, and provide power such as the Loch Garbhaig scheme, alongside capturing carbon in the bogs to help us mitigate climate change.

The report also recognises that Wild Land Areas can influence development decisions. This highlights the need for careful siting and design of development in these areas and the challenge that decision makers face in balancing social, economic and environmental interests.

To assist this balancing, SNH is preparing guidance for assessing impacts on wild land. The guidance will be finalised later this year, helping decision makers to consider how well planned development can be accommodated sensitively and ensure these nationally important areas continue to provide their many diverse benefits well into the future. An overview of the nearly 150 responses received[2] on the draft guidance has just been published.

Not that I was thinking about these technical reports as we picked our way down Beinn an Eòin – enjoying the wildness of Wester Ross and outstanding views was more than enough.

[1] You can download A review of the social, economic and environmental benefits and constraints linked to wild land in Scotland from SNH’s website.

[2] You can download SNH draft ‘Assessing impacts on Wild Land Areas – technical guidance’: overview of consultation responses from SNH’s website.



Posted in wild land | Tagged , , ,

Dragons of Beinn Eighe

I was tempted to title this article ‘Dragons of Wester Ross’, but didn’t want to mislead Game of Thrones fans. Alas, the dragons I shall be discussing here are not the mythical, fire-breathing reptiles of the imaginary land of Westeros, but the dragonflies and damselflies of Wester Ross in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland – more specifically those encountered during my surveys at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (NNR). Although our dragons are a little more mundane than their mythical namesakes, they are at least real, and once you see them up close, certainly no less magical.

A female highland darter. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

A female highland darter. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Dragonflies and their smaller, more delicate cousins the damselflies, are colourful, predatory insects belonging to the order Odanata. Able to hover, fly straight up, down, or even backwards, they are undisputed masters of flight. They make a valuable contribution to the ecosystem and to human health, by helping control populations of smaller flying insects, including the dreaded Highland midge. Freshwater habitats play an integral role in their life-cycle, as they can only thrive in un-polluted, well-oxygenated freshwater, so they are important indicators of freshwater quality and the overall health of an ecosystem.

Dragonflies have a three-stage life-cycle from egg, to larva, to adult. They lay their eggs, or oviposit, in freshwater, often in small pools or the rippled edges of streams, maximising their chances of success by choosing varied locations. Once hatched, the larva will spend the bulk of its life (anything up to 5 years depending on species) in its aquatic environment before emerging as an adult. The transformation begins with the larva choosing a warm, sunny day to climb out from its pool via a stalk, then its exuvia (larval exoskeleton) will split open, and from the tiny space within, the adult dragonfly will gradually emerge. It takes around three hours in this vulnerable position for the adult dragonfly’s body to fill out and for its wings to stiffen, before it can make its maiden flight. Once emerged, the adult dragonfly’s lifespan may only be a matter of weeks, during which time it will seek a mate to continue the life cycle.

Hawker dragonfly emerging from its exuvia as it undergoes transformation from larva to adult. © Stuart MacKenzie

A hawker dragonfly emerging from its exuvia as it undergoes transformation from larva to adult. © Stuart MacKenzie

Located at the eastern extremity of the Torridon mountains, on the edge of Loch Maree, Beinn Eighe NNR comprises a rich mosaic of habitats, from fragmented ancient Caledonian pine woodlands, to wet heath moorland and blanket bog. Numerous burns, lochans and pools provide the perfect conditions for a range of dragonfly species. Common hawkers, common darters and the golden-ringed dragonfly are most common here, while rare priority species include the azure hawker, white-faced darter, northern emerald and keeled skimmer.

Dragonfly species are split into five general groups – hawkers, darters, chasers and skimmers, with damselflies being the smallest, and the weakest fliers. The largest are the hawkers, typically seen patrolling back and forth along a water body as they hunt for prey. Occasionally seen at Beinn Eighe, the azure hawker is a particularly stunning blue dragonfly that is found nowhere else in the British Isles other than Scotland. It can be tricky to tell apart from the common hawker, but there are a few differences. While both species have alternating blue and black/brown stripes along the body segments, the front wing vein or costa on the common hawker is a golden-yellow colour, while the azure hawker has a brown costa and much thinner abdominal stripes. Although both species share similar habitat, the common hawker prefers deep pools for its breeding sites, while the azure hawker prefers small, shallow bog-pools thick with peat.

Easiest of the hawkers to identify is the golden-ringed dragonfly. Visually impressive with distinct black and yellow ring markings and bright green eyes, the female of this species is the longest dragonfly found in the British Isles due to her long ovipositor.

The female Golden-ringed dragonfly is the longest dragonfly in the British Isles. © Stuart MacKenzie

The female golden-ringed dragonfly is the longest dragonfly in the British Isles. © Stuart MacKenzie

Darters recorded at Beinn Eighe include the common darter, black darter and the much rarer white-faced darter. Comparatively small, darters make easy subjects for photography, as they tend to bask on light objects such as gravel paths and picnic benches, often returning to a favourite perch. Common darters present in this part of Scotland are a darker melanic variant once described as the ‘Highland darter’, and was until recently considered a separate species. These occur on lower ground along the western Highlands from Kintyre to the Hebrides.

Common darter – The dark melanic variant peculiar to the west Highlands was until recently considered a separate species. © Stuart MacKenzie

A common darter – The dark melanic variant peculiar to the west Highlands was until recently considered a separate species. © Stuart MacKenzie

The white-faced darter is an attractive dragonfly that favours deep, sphagnum rich woodland bogs. Though scarce, Scotland is the main centre of distribution in the British Isles for this species due to its specific habitat requirement. Seen from May to July at the reserve, both sexes have a white ‘face’ or frons, though males are mainly black with red markings, while females are mainly black with yellow markings.

Skimmers are small to medium-sized dragonflies, named for their tendency to fly low over water. Seen at the reserve from June to September, keeled skimmers are slim with a pronounced dorsal keel-shape to the abdomen. Often seen resting among low heather, male keeled-skimmers are light blue in colour, while the females have a pale-yellow abdomen with a medial black line.

Northern emeralds are a priority species found only in north-west Scotland on mainland Britain, as well as a tiny population in south-west Ireland. With a preference for shallow, acidic, sphagnum bogs scattered among ancient pine and birch woodlands, these beautiful dragonflies can appear quite mesmerising, shimmering in the sunlight with iridescent green and gold metallic hues. Tending to fly only on the warmest summer days, they can be hard to spot, hunting their prey high amid the treetops.

A northern emerald dragonfly. ©Laurie Campbell/SNH

A northern emerald dragonfly. ©Laurie Campbell/SNH

Much smaller than their larger cousins, and weaker flyers, are the damselflies. Often seen flitting above water bodies, as size comparisons go they are typically about the length of a matchstick, whereas a dragonfly may be about the length of your finger. Aside from size, the most obvious way to tell them apart is while they are at rest. A dragonfly always keeps its wings at right angles to its body, whereas a damselfly folds its wings close to its body. Another difference is the eyes. A dragonfly’s eyes will touch with no discernible space, whereas a damselfly’s eyes are located on either side of the head with a distinct area between. Of the damselfly species recorded at Beinn Eighe NNR, most common is the large red damselfly, while the common blue damselfly, blue-tailed damselfly, and emerald damselfly are less common but also present.

Common blue damselfly. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

A common blue damselfly. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Although the range of suitable habitat at Beinn Eighe NNR currently provides a wonderful haven for dragonflies, there is a significant threat posed in the future from the potential effects of climate change. The bog pools in which dragonflies lay their eggs are at risk of drying out as our summers get warmer. While this will undoubtedly impact upon many species, of particular concern is the azure hawker, as its decline is already being observed in southern parts of its range.

At Beinn Eighe NNR we are already doing what we can to benefit the dragonfly population with sensitive management of their habitats. There are however things we can all do as individuals to benefit dragonflies. One positive step we can take is creating small ponds in our gardens, with gradually sloping sides to vary the depth of shallow water. These ponds should be sheltered but open to warm sunlight from the south, with its northern bank planted with reeds to provide plentiful places for larva to emerge. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can still help by submitting records of any dragonflies or damselflies that you see using the dragonfly app that’s available on the British Dragonfly Society website. Submitting this data helps to show species distribution across the U.K., and helps to determine the success of conservation strategies.

We were very pleased at Beinn Eighe NNR to have recently staged events held by the British Dragonfly Society as part of National Dragonfly Week 2017, which ran from the 15th – 23rd of July. This gave members of the public, as well as reserve staff and volunteers, the opportunity to learn more about dragonflies and how to identify each species. During one of the events we were lucky enough to witness the magical sight of a hawker dragonfly emerging from larva to adult.

With more dragonfly events planned at Beinn Eighe NNR next summer, we hope to encourage even more people to discover these beautiful and enchanting insects. By increasing awareness of the threats posed toward dragonflies and the habitats in which they live, then the better chance we have of can safeguarding their future, so that we can enjoy them for many generations to come.

If you would like to learn more about dragonflies, then visit the British Dragonfly Society website.

If you would like to visit Beinn Eighe NNR have a look at the Scotland’s NNR website for more information.

By Stuart MacKenzie, SRUC Student placement at Beinn Eighe NNR. Stuart recently completed a one year residential placement at Beinn Eighe NNR, but is continuing his residency with SNH as a summer volunteer before returning to his studies in September to complete his degree in Countryside Management.

Posted in biodiversity | Tagged , , , , , ,

Sustrans Scotland – Greener Greenways

Scything workday, Blairhill.

Scything workday, Blairhill.

Lenka Sukenikova is an Ecologist for Sustrans Scotland’s Greener Greenways Project. We invited her to write a guest blog about the project, reflecting on what is timely in the wake of the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland (2017-2027) being published last month.

Greener Greenways is an SNH-funded initiative to deliver biodiversity enhancements to selected traffic-free routes of the National Cycle Network and engage people in wildlife recording and practical conservation.  By enhancing the green routes, we aim to encourage more people to explore their local routes and to get people to walk and cycle for more of the journeys they make every day.

For the last four years, the Greener Greenways team, comprising myself and Laura White, our Volunteer Coordinator for Routes, has worked relentlessly to deliver change and inspire people. We have created partnerships, convinced the landowners, prepared the habitat management proposals, recruited volunteers, delivered wildlife identification and recording training, and given volunteers practical habitat management skills.  We have planted hedgerows, created ponds and orchards, eradicated invasive species and we have sown and plug planted and scythed and raked numerous locations where we are creating wildflower meadows and networks of habitats for pollinators.

Blackridge, West Lothian, before the habitat creation project (taken in 2015).

Blackridge, West Lothian, before the habitat creation project (taken in 2015).

Blackridge, West Lothian, after the habitat creation project (taken in 2017).

Blackridge, West Lothian, after the habitat creation project (taken in 2017).

In the meantime, our volunteers have been busy recording the wildlife on the National Cycle Network and to date over 15 000 records have been submitted either through our custom iRecord form or via our partners’ own recording schemes.  Our volunteers’ data contributes to important research and species-trends monitoring carried out by several conservation charities in Scotland.

The project has also caught the attention of our peers. As well as speaking at SNH’s annual Biodiversity Stakeholders Conference in June 2017, the project has recently featured as one of the Green Active Travel Routes Case Studies commissioned by Central Scotland Green Network Trust, alongside green active travel projects in Copenhagen, Hamburg and elsewhere in the UK.

The peer recognition is an indication that we are doing something right. However, actions speak louder than words and what gives me great satisfaction is to see our wildflower meadows awash with flowers and buzzing with insects, and our volunteers caring about their places and acting as wildlife advocates within their local communities. We all know that places that are good for the wildlife are also places that are good for our wellbeing. In the words of the great John Muir, “In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks”.

Lenka Sukenikova is an Ecologist for Sustrans Scotland’s Greener Greenways Project.

All images by Greener Greenways Scotland.

Posted in biodiversity | Tagged , , ,

Summertime greens and blues

The tractorman comes by closer now, flailing at the rich vegetation below my canopy. The heat, the slight glimmer of sun and he sweats, luring the carnivores from the shade. Jim Carruthers, our resident gardener at Battleby, looks at the good, the bad and the ugly of summer biodiversity close to home.

Germander speedwell. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Germander speedwell. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

“Will you be going to Rewind?” a colleague joked on Friday afternoon. “No I’m going to unwind instead”, I retorted. It wasn’t working. That evening Rewind came to me. From 5 miles away across the Tay, the drone of bass and drums thumped around the house. Rewind is a nostalgic music festival for the middle-aged where tutus and wellies are de rigeur. What the women wear is even worse.

Nonetheless high summer is here and the trees at Battleby have turned an anonymous green, boring and homogenized, lacking any real verdancy and interest. After the hectic jolt of spring, it is holiday time for trees, they put down some wood and let the seeds ripen, don’t fret about the pests, the leaves have peaked, the living is easy and there’s nothing to worry about bar a lightning strike.

The meadow is lingering on, not quite going over, the rich display of orchids gone to seed. Interest persists here though, bees prosper on the leguminous clover and bird’s foot trefoil. Meadow sweet is in full bloom, the rattle is ripe in some spots but only coming into flower elsewhere. The wood betony has formed four new clumps and the scabious has moved 30 metres east. Come the gloaming, well past bedtime these blithe days, moths gather on the campions, bats sweep along the lines the martins took during the day. All feeding on the cornucopia of insects that have come with the summer.

The weather has changed. Springs now tend to be dry, summers damp, autumns braw and winters, well, blashie. This summer has been wet enough now for insects to thrive. Birds that struggled for food in the early part of the breeding season now have food galore. Vegetation has also thickened in this dampness and I exercise the tractor regularly to control this lushness in the necessary places. But the beasties wait for me. From the tiny berry bugs to the Heinkel-sized clegs, the throngs come to claim their all-you-can-eat all-day dinner. Voracious, incessant. I try not breathing. I am assured that this is the only fool-proof method of avoiding these attacks. But I just can’t manage the technique. Just when I think I have it cracked… I wear thick clothes, thin hair, long sleeves, tuck troosers into socks. Still they come, still they get through, the annoyance persists but I survive, bloody but unbowed.

The one thing that does get me down though is not midges, ants, wasps, ticks, clegs, no it’s sticky willy. It’s one of the target weeds alongside nettles, thistles, brambles and rasps. Of these others some are good here, some tolerable there, each of them capable of sustaining birds, mammals and butterflies. The rasps are wee and wormy, few ripening without mould. Blackbirds gorge on them, flitting off into the trees while a tractor or dog passes by. But sticky willy I go for wherever. It will bring down fences, I warn you. It is near the end of its vulnerable period, i.e. before it sets seed. These form in pairs, dry hard and persist for years in the soil. They are able to step in and out of dormancy but won’t germinate unless conditions are favourable. This year I have slaughtered them in their thousands, using machete, hedge trimmer and tractor. This fight has been waged annually for over 20 years. Every one of these has been a partial victory, never emphatic, always Pyrrhic.

The rain sets in, a far cry from the threat of brightness in the afternoon. The curse of Rewind, with its unseemly acreage of flesh, has struck again. Pick-your-own fruit farms will again despair. A wet Friday night and few will visit them over the whole weekend.

I retreat home, the drone follows. I think of cast kye and consider turning vegetarian. Home alone, the troops are away in a quiet and midge-free St. Andrews. I go to bed, the drone follows. Instead of picking up Tove Jansson’s Summer Book, I check under the bed for sticky willy and place as many pillows over my head as possible. It is hot and humid.

For what feels like hours, I thrash about trying to get comfortable enough for sleep. The pillows scatter and to my surprise and relief the drums have stopped.

A quick check under the bed just to make sure and I’m off to sleep. Sigh.

SNH’s Battleby grounds are open to everyone all year round so come and explore this wonderful example of a designed landscape. Battleby Centre is also available as a unique conference venue.


Posted in biodiversity | Tagged , , , ,

Enabling new ways to value and safeguard nature at the coast

An exciting new project was launched on Friday by Environment Secretary Rosanna Cunningham, in which SNH has a leading role. Dynamic Coast is the first survey of its kind to track the changes to Scotland’s long and varied mobile coastline since the 1890s. It is set to revolutionise our understanding and approach to nature conservation along our coast.

Skara Brae, exposed by coastal erosion in the 19th century has been defended since. Latest surveying techniques used to understand future risks of coastal erosion. (©Historic Environment Scotland)

Skara Brae, exposed by coastal erosion in the 19th century has been defended since. Latest surveying techniques used to understand future risks of coastal erosion. (©Historic Environment Scotland)

This CREW-funded Scottish Government project was managed by SNH together with a research team from the University of Glasgow. One million data points were used to analyse over 2000 maps to create DynamicCoast.com, a website with 20 reports and a series of online maps. The project supports the public sector, but is also free to view by the public and businesses.

We’ve compared historic maps dating from the 1890s and 1970s against modern mapping, including updates with the latest surveys, to understand coastal changes to a level never achieved before.

The results show that the Scottish shoreline is 21,300 km long, but almost  20% is soft or erodible (3,800km), the equivalent of six times the distance from John O’Groats to the Mull of Kintyre. Of this soft coast, 77% has remained stable and 11% has grown seawards – or accreted, since the 1970s. However, some 12% has eroded landward, the equivalent distance of Edinburgh to John O’Groats.

If we compare changes since the 1970s against the historical baseline since the 1890s, a dramatic picture emerges. The extent of erosion has increased by 39% and accretion has fallen by 22%. Rates of erosion and accretion have also doubled, with the average national erosion rate now at 1.0m per year.  If we project the recent increase in erosion into the future, we can see how economic and natural assets, currently protected by the beaches and dunes of the soft coast, may be at risk.

Some of the changes are spectacular and longstanding. The shingle bars at Culbin are growing at 20m a year and have been for millennia. The changes at St Andrews are also remarkable: the dunes have grown so much that almost a whole golf course has been built in land that was sea in 1890. But the positive story at St. Andrews has a catch – erosion now affects areas that have enjoyed growth in the past. Elsewhere, this is matched by rapid losses occurring along many of our large beach and sand dune systems (Montrose, Morrich More, Barry Links, Tentsmuir and in the Western Isles).

Beach feeding and dune planting at St Andrews uses nature to protect links and golf courses. (© West Sands Partnership)

Beach feeding and dune planting at St Andrews uses nature to protect links and golf courses. (© West Sands Partnership)

Scotland’s northern, western and southern shores are generally more enclosed, with hard geology protecting and moderating the changes on adjacent soft coasts. However, the relatively open east coast of Scotland has seen dramatic increases in erosion. Of course, since this is our busier, more developed and more populated shore, its properties, roads and infrastructure are more exposed to coastal risk.

These changes are consistent with our expectations of climate change. Much of our coast has been experiencing sea level rise for decades: Aberdeen’s tide gauge shows sea level rise for the last 100 years. So, it isn’t surprising that the dynamic parts of the coast are reflecting these processes.

Where there is significant erosion, we have projected the recent rate forward to consider the future implications. While there are undoubted local differences and nuances, the message is surprisingly consistent: based on current erosion rates, all coastal cells have infrastructure that will be affected by erosion in the coming decades. And all asset types are at risk: buildings, road, rail, water supply, septic tanks, harbours, runways, cultural and natural heritage sites. Of course, projections can’t account for any future coastal defences (which have yet to be planned, funded or built), nor do they include any climate change-related factors such as unknown accelerations due to sea level rise. But we already see enough evidence to suggest that any calculation of our vulnerable assets at risk is likely to underestimate the extent, numbers and costs.

Montrose dunes have eroded since 1890s and erosion is now at 2m per year, threatening one of the oldest golf courses in the country. (©J.Hansom 2016)

Montrose dunes have eroded since 1890s and erosion is now at 2m per year, threatening one of the oldest golf courses in the country. (©J.Hansom 2016)

The assessment found that over 35,000 buildings are within 50m of the coast, with as many buildings lying behind natural defences such as beaches and dunes as behind engineered coastal defences. The proportion of coastal road and rail track protected by natural defences is even larger. These natural defences protect at least £13 billion worth of buildings and infrastructure, while at least £5 billion are behind engineered defences. So, nature is already protecting a huge amount of infrastructure; this suggests that if we are to cope with climate change, we need to help nature to help us.

The results beg questions about our perception of past and expected coastal erosion. Future projections put a mirror up to our past changes. Many of our habitats and species have lived with slow change for decades or hundreds of years, but the pace of change is now quickening. Darwin’s maxim is a salutary caution: ‘it is not the strongest that will survive, but those most able to cope with change’. Can we cope with the challenge society now faces at the coast? Certainly, perceptions need to change about the way we use the coast and we need to plan for a future that embraces adaptation as a key strategy. DynamicCoast.com allows us access to the reality of present coastal change and to change our perception of the future.

Scotland's Dynamic Coast website.

Scotland’s Dynamic Coast website.

The need for adaptation is clear within the data and partnerships, but also when we consider the global picture. Countless communities around the world are facing up to the effects of rising sea levels, increased flooding and erosion. We should start to adapt where we can and start to appraise the future costs of protection where we can’t. But, in the process, let’s use the dynamism and resilience of our present natural coastal defences; they offer more value than we give them credit for.

Written by Alistair Rennie, Jim Hansom and James Fitton.





Posted in coastal erosion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

Football and nature?

The new football season in Scotland gets underway in earnest this week and in celebration we’ve been taking a look at the wildlife and nature you can enjoy while following your team. The link between football and nature may not be immediately obvious, but it is there … if you look closely.

Several club nicknames and crests point heavily to nature. Good examples are Alloa Athletic, known as ‘The Wasps’, or our oldest club – Queen’s Park – nicknamed ‘The Spiders’. Partick Thistle have long been associated with Scotland’s national emblem and their popular name of The Jags reflects this. But some connections are more obscure. For example, Kilmarnock have two squirrels in their club crest and there is a tree and a stag in the club crest of Forfar Athletic. The origins of the elephant that used to dominate the Dumbarton badge are harder to fathom!

Ross County are often called “The Staggie’s” but fans from further south might enjoy looking out for some special birdlife on their journeys north – the area between Inverness and Dingwall is known to be a good area to spot red kites.

Red Kite. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Red Kite. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Of course our most majestic bird of prey is the eagle and you will find it represented on the club crests of both St Johnstone and Inverness.

Wildlife spotting from grounds is always possible. The best examples are probably Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Arbroath where fans can peer out over vast stretches of water if the match isn’t grabbing their attention. From Inverness’s stadium it might just be feasible to spot a dolphin in the Moray Firth and of course Arbroath’s Gayfield Park has a seawall protecting the stadium from the ravages of the North Sea, so seabirds are never too far away.

Bottlenose dolphins, Moray Firth. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Bottlenose dolphins, Moray Firth. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Seabirds, and in particular gulls, are a likely sighting too for fans watching games at Aberdeen, Hibernian, Stranraer, Ayr United and Montrose – all of which are quite close to the sea. And for those who are keen to combine wildlife watching with their football, setting off early on a trip to Aberdeen affords a chance to look for dolphin action at the mouth of nearby Aberdeen Harbour, before goalmouth action becomes uppermost in fans’ thoughts

Some of our football clubs even have stadium names that reflect a link with nature. Motherwell’s Fir Park is a good example, as is Stenhousemuir’s Ochilview. The view from several of our football stadiums is one to savour. Allloa’s Recreation Park and Stirling Albion’s Forthbank both give great views of the aforementioned Ochils, whilst St. Mirren’s former home of Love Street gave fans in the main stand a wonderful view of the Kilpatrick Hills. Their great Renfrewshire rivals – Greenock Morton play at Cappielow Park and no drive to the ‘tail of the bank’ is truly complete without wonderful views to the Argyll hills and beyond.

Urban greenspaces shouldn’t be overlooked either. Visitors to Partick Thistle’s Maryhill home can enjoy the Firhill Basin that lies next to the stadium, Rangers fans could approach their ground via parts of the regenerating River Clyde and Stranraer’s Stair Park is sited in a large and attractive park.

Firhill Basin, Glasgow. By Roger Griffith This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Firhill Basin, Glasgow. By Roger Griffith. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Dropping out of Scottish senior football and glancing at the ranks of our junior football clubs throws up some nature inspired names including Linlithgow Rose, Irvine Meadow, and Largs Thistle. The Highland League is not without its nature links either. Strathspey Thistle’s very name has a strong link but the badge of Nairn County is the real star in this league, featuring as it does a dolphin.

Nairn County FC crest.

Nairn County FC crest.

So clearly the links between Scottish football and nature are there if you look closely. We’d love to hear about your stories of football and nature. Perhaps you could tell us about the most unusual wildlife you’ve seen whilst going along to a match – and we don’t mean any of the fans. In the meantime enjoy the game and the nature all around it.

Posted in biodiversity | Tagged , ,