25 years of SNH – Reserve Manager at Tentsmuir NNR

After working for BT for 28 years, Tom Cunningham needed a change of direction which resulted in the job he’d been dreaming about: managing Tentsmuir NNR. He started as the Assistant Reserve Manager and nine months later he became the Reserve Manager. 20 years on he looks back over his time there.

Tom out inspiring a group of students at Tentsmuir Point. © Steph Haworth

Tom out inspiring a group of students at Tentsmuir Point. © Steph Haworth

Over the last 20 years there have been some wonderful achievements in all areas of our work.

Wildlife management

We started by felling and removing 95% of the tree and scrub from Tentsmuir Point to allow the regrowth and spread of the sand dune-rich flora. We still have to manage the growth of trees annually.

At Morton Lochs, when I started here, the reeds were so dense you couldn’t see the water. Since 1999, every year we manage the open water on all the lochs to keep them at the desired state. Last year we cleaned out the west loch for apparently the first time ever and we created two reed beds in the Inflow feeder burn.

Also at Morton Lochs we have installed four bird and squirrel hides over the recent years which are well used by visitors .

Wildlife hide on the North Loch at Morton Loch NNR.

Wildlife hide on the North Loch at Morton Loch NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH


We produced the first Education Pack for NNRs for Tentsmuir NNR – Life in the Sands, now in edition 2, created to meet the Curriculum for Excellence. Since 1998 we have had over 461 education visits which is well over 8000 students, liaising with nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary education establishments. The first Nature School in Scotland (the 3rd in the UK) was established here at Morton Lochs in 2001.

Research on the Reserve sites has been amazing with universities and colleges from throughout the UK visiting and carrying out research and we achieve approximately 14 studies annually.

Tentsmuir NNR openday 2004.

Tentsmuir NNR openday 2004. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

I also have provided talks in schools especially when the primary school cannot afford to hire a coach to bring them to the Reserve.

One of the best things about this job is meeting people, especially school groups, and leading them around either Morton Lochs or Tentsmuir Point revealing all the great places and observing the wildlife and watching their faces when they get that WOW factor – it’s priceless.

After ten or more years talking about a much-needed shelter for school visits to Tentsmuir Point which will be used by everyone, we have the architects drawings, all the planning and agreement from Historic Environment Scotland and others to go ahead. Now to see it hopefully built in my final year here at Tentsmuir NNR…


We have created a huge band of wonderful and loyal volunteers over the years and created great working relationships with Elmwood College students as well as Perth UHI College. All the staff here and the Student Placements studied at Elmwood. Without these fantastic volunteers we could never achieve all that that we do. Importantly, a good number of volunteers have gone on to full-time employment including two with SNH.

A great day's volunteering. ©Steph Haworth

A great day’s volunteering. ©Steph Haworth

Family Days

In 2000 I started the Annual Family Day event on Tentsmuir Point and this has attracted thousands of visitors. We have also run three joint Summer Family Days a year with Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) since 2010. My favourite big acts include Dr Bunhead performing his awesome scientific show of Burning, bubbling and exploding balls of fun stuff and Cat Frankitti who also creates amzing tailor-made performances. These events are made successful with the help of my wonderful colleagues from the Cupar Office running some fantastic activities.


We could be credited for being in at the start of wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan’s career when we filmed on the Reserve in 2004!

Tentsmuir NNR has featured on the radio and TV including Landward, The Adventure Show, and Out of Doors.

The arts

A fantastic achievement was engaging wildlife artist Derek Robertson as our Artist in Residence in 2013. Derek went way beyond what I had first expected and he has won many international awards for his wildlife art with some featuring the Tentsmuir wildlife. The same year, the late Dr Jim Stewart created some wonderful poems during his time as Poet in Residence; Jim was an amazingly talented wordsmith.


We have developed some excellent working relationships with the following people: Professors Rob Duck, Bob Crawford (who is in the process of writing a book on Tentsmuir and the NNR), Steve Buckland, David Read and many others at Universities throughout the UK. We now have a fantastic working relationship with local farmer Robert Lamont and his son Robbie who bring in their Limousin cattle to graze Tentsmuir Point and Morton Lochs every year and who assist with some management projects.

Another great partnership was working with Pammy Johal of Backbone, a fantastic woman who works to provide opportunities to marginalised groups, particularly black and minority ethnic women. We have had some truly inspiring and moving moments when we showed over 50 women and children from the Dundee International Women’s Centre around Tentsmuir Point. And many of these families continue to visit.

We have the only joint FCS employment of Assistant Reserve Manager Alex Easson. Alex has been here for 17 years.


In 1999 I produced the first Reserve Newsletter which is currently on edition No.37.

My own little gem is the Reserve Bibliography which I took on about 19 years ago when it was nine pages long with 300 odd entries, now it has 102 pages with 2,010 entries.

I developed a time line of Tentsmuir with facts going back from 27,000 years up to the present day. The Tentsmuir Time Line Trail along with sculptures throughout the 9km trail was born out of this.

Sand dunes and Marram grass at Tentsmuir NNR © Lorne Gill

Sand dunes and marram grass at Tentsmuir NNR © Lorne Gill

Everyday working on Tentsmuir NNR is different with a huge range of tasks and projects to be achieved, and of course the admin side of this post (and that of other Reserve Managers) has changed dramatically as the admin load gets heavier.

There are a good number of other landmark projects and stories but hey, I think that’s enough 🙂

Although retirement at some point beckons, who would want to change career when you have a great job like this?

Find out about visiting Tentsmuir NNR on our website.






Posted in National Nature Reserves | Tagged , , , ,

The strange appeal of cut and peel

Kenny Taylor, writer, naturalist, photographer and musician, returns with a guest blog that takes a look at West Highland woodlands. This is the second of four blogs he’ll be contributing relating to our National Nature Reserves over the next few months.

Oak woodland at Taynish NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Oak woodland at Taynish NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Even as branches bare after leaf fall, I can hear the faintest echoes of spring and summer in these woods close to western sea lochs. The cascade of a wood warbler’s song, spilling from the canopy like a backlit rain shower; the softer notes of a redstart. Both still shimmer in mind, though the singers have long since departed. Only the high skirl of a soaring buzzard holds across the seasons, wild and breezy and life affirming.

That, and the greens of moss and liverwort, lichen and fern, perhaps most vibrant in winter, now other tones have dulled to brown. More than any other forms of life, those simple plants give the oakwood NNRs of the west coast their special status and their particular ambience. They link Taynish, Glasdrum and Ariundle to the Atlantic oakwoods that soften some of the western fringes from Portugal, through southwest England and Wales to Scotland. In their different blends from place to place, they give each wood its tang, its savour, like the bite of tannin or the nip of a west-distilled malt.

Ferns in autumn colour. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Ferns in autumn colour. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Bark and smoke

Time was, the tannins that could be drawn from the barks of oaks in these west Highland woods were big business. This bark harvest was part of what made them a hub for human enterprise linked to industrial-scale production elsewhere. First had come the demand for charcoal, especially in the 1700s, made through controlled smouldering of cut stems piled on platforms within small, circular embankments. Over 80 of these have been identified in the Taynish NNR, widely scattered within the woods.

The charcoal was carted out and then taken, sometimes by barge and then further horse transport, to reach ironworks, principally at Bonawe in Argyll. Black lengths of it were fed into furnaces, then blasted to white heat by bellows to produce pig iron. Iron making on the west coast was in decline by the early 1800s, although Bonawe continued to produce smaller amounts until its fires were finally doused in 1876.

While demand for charcoal waned, the need for tanbark soared, boosted by a growing shoe and leather industry trying to meet the demands of burgeoning urban populations elsewhere. Like the production of charcoal, this meant that woods were cultivated and harvested in a particular way. ‘Coppicing’ was a key part of this management, and so a fundamental part of work in the western woods from the charcoal times to the tanbark boom of the early 1800s.

Coppiced woodland. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Coppiced woodland. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Sustainable sparring

Like many broadleaved trees, an oak cut near ground level will re-sprout many stems. By removing some of these, a forester can encourage the growth of a few sturdy stems per cut stump or ‘stool’. Coppicing in the western woods was done across small areas, which were then fenced to exclude grazing animals for a few years until stems were high enough to survive browsing. After twenty to thirty years or so, these could produce a harvest of poles to make charcoal and wheel spokes and yield tannin-rich bark for peeling and shipping to leather workers.

As with the coppicing still practised in some lowland woods elsewhere, such as the sweet chestnut groves of southeast England, this management was sustainable and repeatable, with different compartments felled and harvested in different years. But in the western oakwoods of Scotland, the times of coppicing would quickly fade. After the 1860s, this traditional form of management was no longer profitable. Demand for charcoal was slight, and both foreign competition and new chemical methods of tanning were ousting the old ways and the need for tanbark. By the start of the 20th century, commercial exploitation of Scotland’s western oakwoods had all but stopped.

The legacy that remains is an intriguing one, and by no means straightforward. That includes the dominance of oaks. During the peak period of industrial coppicing, from the mid-18th to the late 19th century, foresters would have increased the amount of oak through restocking in gaps, planting stands of pure oak and removing less valuable tree species. So what we now see – and enjoy – is very strongly part of both human heritage and natural heritage.

Mossy oakwood at Ariundle NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Mossy oakwood at Ariundle NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

I get inklings of that when I see how many trees within the oakwood NNRs are fairly similar in age, even as I’m astonished by the sheer lushness of lower plants growing on them. It’s not a negative feeling, but an inspiration. For although part of me still wants to view these places as timeless – soft green sanctuaries unchanged through millennia – the realisation of how they were shaped by cutting, burning, planting and peeling in past centuries makes them seem very relevant in the here and now.

Even ground once worked for industry can be nurtured to benefit nature. One day, it might even sing.

Explore the Altantic oakwood NNRs on our website: Ariundle, Glasdrum Wood and Taynish



Posted in National Nature Reserves | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

25 years back along the paths

Ron McCraw takes us on a whistle stop tour of path management over the last quarter century. Ron worked for SNH for 18 years in a range of roles including Access Projects Manager.

Launch of the new cycle path at Tyndrum. © Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Countryside Trust

Launch of the new cycle path at Tyndrum. © Loch Lomond & The Trossachs Countryside Trust

In 1992 I was Countryside Access Officer in Clackmannanshire Council, working mainly on protecting public rights of way. There were only a few similar staff in other local authorities, working in different ways, with little communication between, and little steer as yet from the brand new Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) body, which was soon to build on good foundations laid by the Countryside Commission for Scotland. Otherwise local access was looked after by Ranger Services with strong contributions from Countryside Around Towns projects, where these existed, and with Country and Regional Parks having important roles.

Ron at the start of the John Muir Way.

Ron at the start of the John Muir Way.

There were only three long distance routes and it was early days for the National Cycle Network (NCN) in Scotland. Good pioneering work had been done on upland paths through the establishment of Pathcraft. The 1967 Act provided the main legal basis for rights of way, paths agreements and long distance routes. But things were about to change.

In 1992, Scotways appointed a project officer to catalogue public rights of way. SNH published Public Access to the Countryside Law Guide in 1993 which helped to demystify relevant law for practitioners. SNH deployed consultants to identify mechanisms and needs for local access delivery and there was a gradual increase in workshops, all helping to raise the profile and improve dialogue between practitioners. This activity eventually led to the launch of Enjoying the Outdoors – A Programme for Action 1994 (led by John Mackay) which was instrumental in establishing the National Access Forum and the Paths for All Partnership, both in 1996.

The same year, the Scottish Countryside Access Network (then SCAN, now SOAN) was established as a forum for access staff. Disability legislation came into effect in 1995, advice on liability was published by SNH, and the concept of shared use paths was promoted by SNH and Paths For All (PFA). Then things took off.NWCN_image2

PFA promoted good practice in paths planning and facilitated the development of local access forums and access strategies. SNH supported the effort through its operations staff and grants for Local Authority (LA) access officers. From the early 2000s, many new LDRs became established as did the Upland Path Advisory Group. SNH led work on the new access legislation and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and, as part of this, established the Scottish Paths Record (2002) and undertook LA pilot projects. The Scottish Government provided £23M additional funds to LAs for preparatory work and SNH provided premium rate grants to boost access officer capacity. By the mid-2000s there were over 70 LA staff in post, supporting a huge effort in core paths planning and other functions, steered by good practice guidance by SNH and PFA.

Over the last decade, core paths have gradually been implemented, contributing significantly to Scotland’s 20,000km+ of signposted paths and to the growing family of Scotland’s Great Trails, in turn strengthening the National Walking and Cycling Network, which also comprises improved canal towpaths and the NCN.

This has marked a massive effort over 25 years by the whole sector and there is much to celebrate. Scotland is on the cusp of excellent paths provision, but to achieve this it will need to fully mainstream paths within national objectives to ensure commensurate funding and staffing for ongoing delivery, management and promotion. And let’s not forget the maintenance word! Can-do mind-sets at all levels, making strong links to wider agendas, will be essential to realising the full benefits of paths for everyone in Scotland.

The National Walking & Cycling Network is made up of 6,000km of paths offering active travel and recreational opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.  By 2035, this extensive network of routes and connections will extend to 8,000km. Check out our film and animation.






Posted in Access | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Saltmarshes on the fringe

The Eden Estuary is an important site for nature and is designated for its local, national and international importance. Dr Clare Maynard of the University of St Andrews explains her work in restoring the Eden’s saltmarsh habitat and its significance in helping combat climate change, while PhD student Ben Taylor discusses his research into the carbon storage potential of saltmarsh.

saltmarsh 1

This image of Kincaple Marsh on the estuary’s southern shore is one of the remaining healthy areas of saltmarsh in the Eden.

The amazing saltmarshes that surround the Eden Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest  and Local Nature Reserve do two very important jobs: they provide wildlife with habitat and also protect the hinterland from coastal flooding and erosion. Saltmarsh habitats are a treasure trove of rich and unique wildlife and are increasingly valued for the role they play in keeping our ecosystems healthy. Here are just a few of the benefits they give wildlife – and us:

Wildlife Benefits Society Benefits
High tide refuge for waders & wildfowl Stabilises and protects the shoreline
Feeding and roosting for a range of birds Absorbs excess run-off during high rainfall
Nursery and shelter for fish and amphibians Captures and stores carbon
Habitat for marine and terrestrial invertebrates Provides nutrients and sediment for the marine ecosystem
Haven for specialist salt-adapted plant life Provides recreation, such as wildfowling and bird watching

Unfortunately, shoreline degradation and climate change are placing saltmarshes under increasing threat. But a long-standing stakeholder partnership is trying to combat this habitat loss and strengthen the Eden’s shoreline against rising sea levels.

Saltmarshes have suffered on many semi-developed shores around the world, because of past land use decisions (land claim, installation of earth embankments and coastal defences). These extra pressures, alongside sea level rise and the resulting increased number of storms, raise concerns about the resilience of these important habitats.

Given how important saltmarshes are and all the benefits they give us, researchers, government advisors and coastal landowners have together developed a saltmarsh restoration strategy. This will improve our understanding of how to make these important habitats more resilient.

An area of die-back and fragmentation of fringe saltmarsh habitat on the shores of the Eden Estuary.

An area of die-back and fragmentation of fringe saltmarsh habitat on the shores of the Eden Estuary.

The Eden project began way back in 1999, by transplanting a range of saltmarsh species, dug from local healthy marshes, in field trials around the estuary’s shoreline. SNH supported the work with local operation officers in Cupar helping out. Restoring saltmarshes is a slow process, with the transplants taking a few years to establish as a functioning marsh, but once thriving the vegetation serves to soften wave energy and slow down tidal currents. We learnt a lot: for example, transplants can easily be washed away immediately following planting, transplants are vulnerable to stress from waves during the first two to three years of establishment, and the relatively small donor marshes around the estuary can sustain only of a limited amount of harvesting.

SNH funded the ‘Saltmarshes on the Fringe’ project, which ran from 2014 to 2016, with its principle aim to plant up to two linear kms of new saltmarsh and link degraded marshes on the Eden. This would improve resilience to climate change and reverse decades of decline.

More importantly, it helped us to investigate if it was feasible to grow saltmarsh grasses in a greenhouse to transplant and trial differing methods to reduce washout rates.

We found we could increase by tenfold the number of transplants yielded from one ‘plug’ (spadeful) of natural marsh. We also learned how to grow a variety of different species from seed. After salt-hardening, the ‘ready-made’ transplants could be transferred from greenhouse to field to make planting out more efficient and less destructive to the natural marshes, making the process more sustainable and successful.

Although this project is seasonally dependant and labour-intensive, it has restored nearly two linear kilometres of shoreline, resulting in about 2,000 square metres of saltmarsh habitat.

saltmarsh 3

From this project sprang a dedicated coastal plant hub project, called ‘Green Shores’, hosted by the St Andrews Links Trust. Funding support includes the Ministry of Defence, the St Andrews Links Trust, Fife Council and the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, which allowed the work to extend into the Tay Estuary and the Dornoch Firth. The community funder LEADER, in Fife (EU Rural Development Programme), is also on board, to develop opportunities and engage local communities in this latest spin-off.

Following on from the work on the ground, the Sediment Ecology Research Group at the University of St Andrews researches various aspects of the project and is now assessing how much carbon can potentially be captured through saltmarsh restoration. The ability of saltmarshes to store carbon is predominantly a product of long-lived, organic rich, anoxic sediment deposits which accumulate over time. Understanding how much carbon capture is increased after restoration will help measure both the changed rate and its monetary value. In the future, this ‘natural capital asset’ could help to subsidise such conservation initiatives – ensuring this important work continues.

July 2015 - a thriving plot of Sea Club Rush originally planted in 2003 in front of a rapidly degrading stand of natural saltmarsh, which has since recovered.

July 2015 – a thriving plot of Sea Club Rush originally planted in 2003 in front of a rapidly degrading stand of natural saltmarsh, which has since recovered.

A thriving linear plot of Sea Club Rush planted in 2015 rapidly expanded and the degraded saltmarsh in the foreground is now recovering.

A thriving linear plot of Sea Club Rush planted in 2015 rapidly expanded and the degraded saltmarsh in the foreground is now recovering.

This applied research project, unique to Scotland, provides a working example of how we can adapt our coasts. It sits alongside other Government-funded joint research which considers the changing exposure of our coastlines to erosion and flooding (Coastal Flooding in Scotland and Impacts of sea-level rise and storm surges due to climate change in the Firth of Clyde). Taken together, they show that climate change is affecting flood frequency and erosion on our shoreline, but ‘natural coastal defences’ (saltmarshes and dunes) play an important role in protecting over £13bn of assets (www.dynamiccoast.com). So, we must value and consider the defences nature provides within any future flood risk strategy and shoreline management plans.

The experience developed within this project demonstrates the considerable benefits to scaling-up saltmarsh reinstatement nationally. Restoration could be a significant tool to lower flood and erosion risks across Scotland’s vulnerable shores, now and increasingly in the face of growing climate change risks.

All images © Clare Maynard.

Posted in climate change | Tagged , , , , , ,

Scotland’s Geodiversity Charter: recognising and celebrating the influence that geology has on society

Scotland has a tremendous ‘geodiversity’, the essential abiotic part of nature: rocks, landforms, sediments and soils, and the processes which form and alter them. Angus Miller, Chair of the Scottish Geodiversity Forum, tells us more.

Kayakers take to the sea from Elgol, Isle of Skye, to explore a varied coastal and mountain landscape created by 58 million year old volcanic rocks intruding older sedimentary layers. © George Logan/SNH

Kayakers take to the sea from Elgol, Isle of Skye, to explore a varied coastal and mountain landscape created by 58 million year old volcanic rocks intruding older sedimentary layers. © George Logan/SNH

Scotland is widely, and quite rightly, recognised as the birthplace of modern geology, the study of the Earth, where many new ideas about the geological processes fashioning the crust of our planet were first demonstrated. But the story of Scotland, its geology and wider geodiversity, is not just about the past, it is also about how and where we live now, about the character of our landscapes, cities, towns and villages and about how we will cope with future changes brought by climate change.

Scotland’s Geodiversity Charter highlights the importance of geodiversity to Scotland, not just in its own right, but in its contribution to the environment, the economy, to cultural heritage and to future development. When the Charter was drawn up in 2012, it was the first of its kind internationally. Similar Charters have since been developed for other nations in the UK. In the last five years, the Charter has inspired and contributed to many successful projects that have celebrated our amazing geodiversity, and many positive steps have been taken to protect and manage important locations.

The front cover of the Charter shows the Highland Boundary Fault crossing Loch Lomond, creating a stark landscape contrast between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. ©P&A Macdonald/SNH

The front cover of the Charter shows the Highland Boundary Fault crossing Loch Lomond, creating a stark landscape contrast between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. ©P&A Macdonald/SNH

Much of this work involves Charter signatories working in partnership. For example, survey work carried out by Lothian and Borders GeoConservation with the support of City of Edinburgh Council, West Lothian Council and the British Geological Survey has identified sites with interesting geological exposures, that allow local people and visitors to fully appreciate the geodiversity of the area. These sites are now incorporated in Local Development Plans so that planners and local people are aware of their importance, and work is underway to promote the sites and tell people more about them.

Celebrating Scotland’s geodiversity is very much at the heart of the Charter, and another case study illustrates how this can be done in imaginative ways involving island communities and a range of small partner organisations. In 2014 and 2015, two sailing voyages on the west coast of Scotland paid homage to the great writer and geologist Hugh Miller (1802-1056). The crews involved were a rich mix of backgrounds and ages, enabling exploration of the many links between the geology of the area, Hugh Miller’s writing, and local communities past and present. These journeys were followed by a new writing competition which invited new poetry and prose inspired by Miller’s writing. The 2nd Hugh Miller Writing Competition is now under way, inviting entries by 15 April 2018.

Simon Cuthbert reading from Hugh Miller's ‘The Cruise of the Betsey’ during the 2014 voyage in homage to Hugh Miller. © Martin Gostwick.

Simon Cuthbert reading from Hugh Miller’s ‘The Cruise of the Betsey’ during the 2014 voyage in homage to Hugh Miller. © Martin Gostwick.

Scotland’s Geodiversity Charter is now being refreshed for the next five years, with new case studies that demonstrate what has to be done in different sectors to take forward the vision of the Charter. The launch takes place at a conference at Dynamic Earth on Thursday 16 November, and the revised Charter now has the support of 82 organisations large and small from across Scotland. These organisations will be working together to deliver the vision of the Charter, so that geodiversity can continue to contribute to our environment, economy and society into the future.

Find out more about Scotland’s rocks and landscapes on the the SNH website and the Scottish Geodiversity Forum website.



Posted in Geology | Tagged , , , ,

Postcards from a windy island

Stephanie Cope strives towards sustainability and financial viability for Tiree’s machair in her job with Tiree Ranger Service.


I open the van door. Immediately, items that are not stapled to the upholstery swirl up in an irritating vortex of grit and bits of paper.

On windy days, it’s best to wear eye protection when carrying out access works. Digging holes for signage is like sharing a sandpit with a leaf blower.

The overarching purpose of my job is to encourage and expedite the sustainable use of our machair landscape. To satisfy this remit, our work must be financially sustainable too.

Tiree Ranger Service is a one-man band with a bill of outstanding support acts. Achieving financial sustainability, and reducing our reliance on grant funding, is one of our key challenges.

Thanks to the diverse skills of our partners (SNH, RSPB, Tiree Community Development Trust and Discover Tiree) we’re developing some creative and successful solutions; ensuring that our work on Tiree continues to deliver positive results for people and nature.

Maintaining signage, tracks and parking areas can be time consuming and expensive – even with extra help from local volunteers.

However, these sites are instrumental in managing the cumulative erosion damage caused to machair and dune systems by leisure vehicles.

Tiree machair in bloom - a postcard from our fundraising collection. Original photo by Malcolm Steel.

Tiree machair in bloom – a postcard from our fundraising collection. Original photo by Malcolm Steel.

On Tiree, off-road driving and freedom camping is prohibited away from approved areas.

Thanks to CalMac Ferries, we can engage with freedom campers before their arrival; helping them to understand their vital role in safeguarding Tiree’s landscape and supporting our rural economy.

Guests wishing to camp overnight with a vehicle must use either the commercial campsite, or one of thirteen Tiree Ranger Service Croft Camping Sites.

The management of this scheme has provided a steady revenue stream for Tiree Ranger Service since 2010; in addition to diversifying croft incomes and offering improved protection for wildlife-rich Common Grazings. It therefore meets our goals for sustainability in both an environmental and financial sense.

Tiree Ranger Service prides itself on our inclusive approach. We want community members and visitors to invest in our efforts to conserve what people love.

Enjoying one of Ben Hynish's "Hiking Through History" archaeology walks. These were run to tie in with the VisitScotland Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017.

Enjoying one of Ben Hynish’s “Hiking Through History” archaeology walks. These were run to tie in with the VisitScotland Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017.

This year, Tiree Ranger Service provided 35 public events to help people to engage with nature. These included: welcome evenings, illustrated talks, archaeology walks, citizen science activities, natural history sessions, guided ranger walks and group sessions.

Some of these activities are chargeable, others operate on a donation basis.

To promote access and participation for all, we offer two adaptable beach wheelchairs for guest use – free of charge.


In partnership with Discover Tiree and the RSPB, Tiree Ranger Service distributes six printed information leaflets. These contain a measured balance of general and environmental information.

Three Look and See books, plus one larger publication Twelve Walks Through an Island Landscape, are available to purchase from local businesses.

We have also created an innovative (and rather slick) Tiree App – ideal for use on the go!

Such productions help us to meet our goals for environmental education, healthy living and responsible outdoor access, in addition to providing extra revenue.

In 2016, the Tiree Community Development Trust launched Friends of Nàdair Thiriodh – a membership organization dedicated to supporting the work of Tiree Ranger Service.

Members are updated on our conservation projects, people engagement activities and general operations with a quarterly newsletter. They are also entitled to join our summer Guided Ranger Walks free of charge, and to receive discounts on a selection of our printed goods.

For 2017, Nàdair Thiriodh designed a striking range of natural history car stickers, postcards, greeting cards and calendars. The featured images were generously donated by Tiree photographers.

So, as I watch our lapwings flying backwards across the cobalt sky, I think it’s fair to say that we’re working hard to futureproof the finances of this Service.


Tiree is a beautiful and richly diverse island. Above everything, we want to ensure that it remains this way.

All images © Stephanie Cope.

Posted in biodiversity | Tagged , , , , , ,

George learns how to be Sheep Wise

My name is George and as VisitScotland’s Ambassadog, it’s my job to show everyone (dogs and humans) the great places you can visit and explore on a day out in Scotland. In this blog I investigate what being ‘Sheep Wise’ is all about.

George, VisitScotland's Ambassadog. Photo courtesy of Duke photography.

George, VisitScotland’s Ambassadog. Photo courtesy of Duke photography.

I love going for walks in the autumn. It smells very different to other times of year and it’s really good fun playing in the fallen leaves. I’ve had my ear to the ground and hear that autumn can be a worrying time for sheep farmers, so I rounded up some experts to try and find out what it’s all about. It’s important for pups and their owners to be fully aware of the dos and don’ts when they’re outdoors in Scotland.

Firstly I met Inspector Jane Donaldson from the Scottish Police. Jane loves being in the outdoors and works with lots of farmers through the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime. She said that sadly, during November, there is a peak in incidents of sheep worrying by some dogs. This new November campaign is to make sure dog walkers know how to prevent sheep worrying at this time of year. It’s not down to us dogs – we need to let our owners know to keep us under control!

John Fyall and some of his flock.

John Fyall and some of his flock.

Next I met John Fyall, farmer and Chairman of the National Sheep Association Scotland. He told me that November is a busy time for sheep farmers as they prepare for winter and spring. He has a flock of about 900 sheep that are brought down from the uplands to lower fields for over wintering. Other farmers send their sheep to the rich pastures of dairy farms after the cows move inside for winter and hill sheep are brought down nearer to farms and urban areas for mating.

There is also a lot of buying and selling of sheep at this time of year, meaning that sheep are being moved around on and between farms, all across Scotland.

John explained that sheep are scared of dogs, so like all sheep farmers he wants to make sure dog walkers know not to let their dog get too close to sheep. The best thing dog walkers can do to help farmers at this time of year is to be alert to where sheep are as they may well appear in places you don’t expect them!

I then met Theresa Kewell who works for Scottish Natural Heritage. She wants people exploring Scotland to know that it is a dog owner’s duty to be aware of where sheep might be, and to make sure they keep their dog with them. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says it’s best to avoid going near sheep whenever possible. If your owner needs to take you into a field where there are sheep, they should keep you on a short lead or close at heel and well away from the sheep. Out on the open hill with sheep around, dogs still need to be at heel and kept at a distance from the sheep.

SNH's Theresa Kewell showing that sheep can be round the next corner.

SNH’s Theresa Kewell showing that sheep can be round the next corner.

I asked Theresa what ‘close at heel’ means. She said this is when I walk alongside my owner. It can be on or off the lead, but only if I can walk calmly off lead without showing any interest in the sheep. I can sometimes get a bit excited on a walk when there are other animals around, so my owners keep me on a lead when there are sheep nearby. I don’t mind as it’s not usually for a whole walk.

Next I met Gill MacGregor, from the Scottish SPCA, Scotland’s animal welfare charity. Gill said that darker evenings mean we should all look out our reflective hi-visibility gear, torches and lights! This helps make us visible to traffic on the road and to other walkers, dog walkers, joggers, cyclists and horse riders when we’re on paths away from roads. Attaching a light to us dogs really helps our owners to see where we are in the dark.

Gill MacGregor, Senior Inspector from the Scottish SPCA, out on patrol.

Gill MacGregor, Senior Inspector from the Scottish SPCA, out on patrol.

She said it’s terrible to see sheep caught in fences or with injuries caused by running away from dogs, especially when it’s totally preventable. All responsible dog owners need to take really good care of their pets outdoors. It is important to be aware that farmers are moving sheep around and to be prepared for the unexpected. Then everyone can have a great autumn walk!

Many thanks to Scottish Natural Heritage, Police Scotland, the National Sheep Association Scotland and the Scottish SPCA for their useful information. Now I’m a fully-briefed Ambassadog for good behaviour around sheep. Thanks to you all for keeping us in the picture.

You can follow my adventures as VisitScotland’s Ambassadog on their website.

And have a look at my Instagram page here.

You can also check out some of the top spots in Scotland for a walk (with your owner) here.

The link to watch the Sheep Wise video and find other seasonal advice is here.

Love, George

Paw print


Posted in Access | Tagged , , , , , ,

A sand quarry supporting biodiversity

Malcolm Fraser, an Operations Officer in our Forth Regional team, recently attended a CEMEX Biodiversity Stakeholder Event. CEMEX are a leader in the building materials industry and their commitment to environmental issues shows the value of partnership working, sharing best practice, and demonstrates that regular dialogue delivers solid environmental outcomes.

Mineral extraction and habitat creation at Cambusmore quarry.

CEMEX’s Cambusmore Quarry and its natural heritage

This is a sand and gravel quarry near Callander, current mineral permission consents cover 188ha. The main extraction area lies between the River Teith and Keltie Water just above where they meet. There are some additional current and proposed extraction areas on either side of the main area.

The site has been active for 20 years, and much of the main area is now worked out. As you’d expect water bodies and wetland areas now cover quite large areas of the site. There’s a main lake that is used for angling, alongside several settling ponds. Some areas are being reforested with a mix of species.

The River Teith is a Natura site, designated for salmon and lamprey, so water quality and the condition of the river bed habitats are really important. The watercourses also support otter.

The water bodies are well-used by waterfowl and other birds. Bats also use the water bodies, rivers and other habitats for foraging. Again, as you’d expect in a sand quarry, sand martins are a common sight.

Sand martin adult prospecting an existing nest burrow in an exposed earth bank on river bank. ©Laurie Campbell

Sand martin adult prospecting an existing nest burrow in an exposed earth bank on river bank. ©Laurie Campbell

But more generally, the site is large, fairly quiet (despite the heavy machinery) and has a good mix of habitats, so it’s got a lot of value for nature and people. That’s my guess anyway, on the day the rain was hammering down so hard that no-one was brave enough to take a look around!

The organisation and the event

CEMEX has a global partnership with Birdlife International. In the UK they are partnered with RSPB, and I got the feeling that this was a long-standing and successful partnership. RSPB have a Project Officer based within CEMEX who advises on site management and restoration.

Many of the speakers at the event were CEMEX staff. They all presented a unified front as conscientious wardens of their sites with a genuine interest in the wildlife they see around them.

CEMEX has prepared a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for this site and many other of their landholdings. These plans contain real, achievable actions to work with and around wildlife, and to improve the habitats on the site.

They also produce a series of ‘advisory information’ sheets, mainly to help staff understand the species they encounter and any relevant laws or other considerations.

For example their sheet on sand martins talks about:

  • when the birds are present, and their preferred habitats;
  • preparing sand bank faces (on active areas of the site) to make them less attractive for nesting;
  • instructions for working around sand banks that have been colonised; and
  • consequences of taking incorrect action.

These BAPs and advisory notes all sit underneath CEMEX’s Biodiversity Strategy. In short, I got a strong feeling that they really do take site management for biodiversity seriously. This also fits with my previous experience of other large mineral companies, specifically Tarmac.

Other stakeholders at the event included local community representatives, ecologists, NGOs and other ‘usual suspects’, the landowner. But importantly a good chunk of the audience were CEMEX site staff. It was a delight to see how CEMEX staff took a keen interest in the topic and several of them recounted with some pride seeing species such as red kite, osprey, and red squirrel.

All in all a positive event.

You can read more aout what CEMEX is doing to help biodiversity on their sites and download their species advice sheets here.

Posted in biodiversity, industry | Tagged , , , , ,

Lynbreck Croft- A day in the life …

For anyone visiting Lynbreck Croft for the first time, it is difficult not to leave with a sense of inspiration, understanding and a longing. SNH Graduate Placement Kirsten Brewster recently did just that in order to interview young crofter Lynn Cassells for the project “Engaging farmers with Biodiversity”.

Native woodland, fields and bog at Lynbreck Croft near Grantown on Spey. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Native woodland, fields and bog at Lynbreck Croft near Grantown on Spey. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Cairngorms act as a spectacular backdrop with rolling cloud banks and sun-dappled moorlands; winds abound with the sounds of the Highlands, with close proximity to transport routes and tourism spots. The sense of scale and opportunity is clear to anyone who follows the boundary fence across a variety of land uses.

Lynn, and her partner Sandra, acquired a 150-acre croft in early 2016 and have since set about working the land which has only had two family owners in the last century. Moving in to the area with fresh eyes has allowed both of them to identify many opportunities for development. The pair place a huge importance on starting from the ground up… literally; their interest in improving soil health, natural land management and good agricultural practice is apparent when listening to their future hopes and plans. In their own words they hope that:

“…every decision we make has to have a positive environmental impact. We don’t want to alter things in any way that isn’t ecologically sound.

One thing to bear in mind when exploring Lynbreck is the reality that this is a working agricultural business. With a wealth of experience in the field of forestry – both previously worked with the Borders Forest Trust and the National Trust for Scotland – the first objective was to secure grant funding to expand on the woodland inherited with the croft. They will create a further 14 hectares (17,500 trees!) of new native woodland and promote new natural regeneration. To do this they are fencing out and actively culling both deer and rabbit populations, Lynn recently completed her deer stalking ticket.

Native woodland, fields and bog at Lynbreck Croft near Grantown on Spey. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Native woodland, fields and bog at Lynbreck Croft near Grantown on Spey. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

To achieve their afforesting ambitions they have embraced livestock as a solution: three Oxford sandy and black pigs are moved around in paddocks, preparing the ground for the planting of a new shelterbelt. A small number of Highland cattle will graze the grassland to break up the tussocky grass, followed by chickens that will scatter the cow pats around spreading the natural fertiliser. These low intensity practices promote establishment of a more species-rich habitat. A helping hand to this process will be the introduction and development of several hives of native black bees, which are being brought in to further enrich ‘Team Lynbreck’.

The Oxford sandy and black pigs. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Oxford sandy and black pigs. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Lynn and Sandra, both Young Farmers and New Entrants, are making the most of agricultural and forestry grants available to them. These invaluable sources of funding will help them complete as many Capital works as they have time to manage. This includes the establishment of a 900-meter hedge funded through the Woodland Trust MOREhedges scheme. They also intend to enter the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme early next year to establish a grassland meadow.

Development of eco-tourism is also planned for future years with the diversification of the croft: they plan to renovate the original stone-built croft house into a holiday home with views out over Abernethy forest, for short-term rental, and use by visitors – appealing for those who want to reconnect with the Scottish Highlands. There is also the potential of incorporating further accommodation into the croft – but not too much as the real selling point of Lynbreck is its tranquillity. A traditional byre nearby will also be re-developed into a storage space for feed, produce and equipment.

In the longer term, the diverse mix of native broadleaf woodland will be used for grazing the herd of highland cattle in a silvopastoral system. The new growth will provide shelter, improved soil health and fodder for the livestock.

Lynn and Sandra recognise the merit of engagement: they hope to engage and educate the wider community about their new venture in croft management through demo days with the Soil Association, the Woodland Trust and other organisations. They also currently dedicate a significant amount of time to their online presence. They understand that to move forward and to inspire others, it is vital to narrate their journey, encourage enthusiasm and support diversity in crofting practice. They have already established a positive audience by posting updates, images and stories on the Lynbreck blog, Twitter and Facebook.

Lynbreck chickens. ©Steven Sinclair/SNH

Lynbreck chickens. ©Steven Sinclair/SNH

The sustainable, environmentally-friendly credentials of Lynbreck are important for generating necessary income from their produce: beef, pork, eggs and honey will be sold locally, and hopefully advertised to conscious consumers through their website.

Lynbreck Croft is the first in a line of exciting conversations Kirsten will be having as part of her graduate placement and stands as a great example of diversity within the young farmer and crofting community. Lynn and Sandra, as they confess are, “living the dream”.

Having successfully established themselves at Lynbreck, Lynn and Sandra can now focus on honing their model of croft management. The success of Lynbreck Croft, and the beauty of the site highlights how dedication, hard work and a little risk and experimentation can pay off.

Lynn, Kirsten, Sandra and Steven with Olive the black lab. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Lynn, Kirsten, Sandra and Steven with Olive the black lab. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Follow Lynn and Sandra’s progress at Lynbreck Croft on their blog, Facebook page and Twitter.

By Kirsten Brewster and Steven Sinclair, SNH Graduate Placements


Posted in Farming | Tagged , , , , ,

Holding the forts at Caerlaverock

The barnacle geese and whooper swans can see them as they fly in from the northlands: the patterns of mud, merse and channel where the fertile lands of Caerlaverock meet the waters of the Nith and the salt of the Solway. And more: the way a mark in the fields by Wardlaw shows a rectangular outline in darker soil, like a giant’s playing card tossed aside. It’s all that now survives of a Roman fort that once looked out across the estuary to the hills beyond.

Mudflats and saltmarsh on the Nith Estuary, Caerlaverock NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Mudflats and saltmarsh on the Nith Estuary, Caerlaverock NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

On the mound of that same hill, those wildfowl newly arriving can see how trees sprout on encircling ditches and ramparts of older earthworks. This boundary place was important to the warlords of the Iron Age Britons who dug those defences, as it would be to later garrisons fighting for the territorial rights of emperors, kings and nobles.

Barnacle Geese in flight. ©David Whitaker

Barnacle Geese in flight. ©David Whitaker

Caer givers

Caerlaverock sits at the southern edge of the Britons’ Kingdom of Strathclyde, looking south to the Kingdom of Rheged. Their Cumbric speech, which would sound like a strange form of Welsh to modern ears, gave this place the name that has held down millennia of human changes. It’s the ‘Caer’ that’s the give-away, meaning ‘fort’ to both ancient Briton and contemporary Welsh speaker. The last part is trickier. Some reckon it means ‘lark’ (a pleasing image in a National Nature Reserve); others that it signifies ‘Llywarch’ (pronounced ‘KL-UWaaRK’) a king of Rheged.

Whatever the original meaning, the outline of the castle building that sits between the old forts at Wardlaw and the sea is clear enough. Seen from swan’s-eye overview, its triangular shape combines elegance of geometry with an undoubted impression of power.

Caerlaverock Castle from the Air. © Simon Ledingham from Geograph.org.uk. Creative Commons

Caerlaverock Castle from the Air. © Simon Ledingham from Geograph.org.uk. Creative Commons

When it was built for the Maxwell family in the late 1200s, no other castle in Britain had its distinctive shield shape, designed to be defended by even a modest force of soldiers. This feature was put the test soon after the castle was completed.

Long legs, short fuse

It was the summer of 1300. Edward 1 of England – known as ‘Longshanks’ for his height and notorious for his fierce temper – had brought his army north. The previous year, soldiers from Caerlaverock had attacked the English garrison at nearby Lochmaben. Now Edward was determined to re-assert his authority as feudal overlord.

His army was 3,000 strong, including 87 knights. It must have been a fearsome sight, as men, warhorses, pack animals and wagons carrying tents and provisions moved across the flatlands to take up position across the moat from the newly built castle. The king’s 16-year-old son, later to be crowned Edward II and suffer defeat by the Scots under Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, was part of the English force. He was on his first military expedition, in command of the rearguard.

Amazingly, an account of the English army’s preparations and the attack that followed survives. It’s one of the most detailed descriptions of its kind from anywhere in medieval Europe, further adding to Caerlaverock’s historic importance.

Composed around 1300 and written in French verse (but possibly by an English Franciscan friar), ‘Le Siege de Karlavreock’ tells how Edward I besieged the castle: ‘Caerlaverock was so strong a castle that it did not fear a siege,’ writes the poet-monk.

‘Therefore, the king came himself, because it would not consent to surrender. But it was always furnished for its defence, whenever it was required, with men, engines and provisions.

‘Its shape was like a shield, for it had but three sides round it, with a tower at each corner; but one of them was a double one, so high, so long and so large that under it was the gate, with a drawbridge well-made and strong.

‘…And I think you will never see a more finely situated castle,’ he adds.

Caerlaverock Castle. © Kenny Taylor

Caerlaverock Castle. © Kenny Taylor

Going ballistic

But even Caerlaverock’s clever design couldn’t protect it from the missiles flung from huge wooden ‘siege engines’ over the castle walls. These damaged masonry, shattered shields and crushed the helmets of defenders. When the garrison surrendered after bombardment, the assailants realised that a mere 60 soldiers had withstood their army’s might of thousands.

Siege engine at Caerlaverock. © Kenny Taylor

Siege engine at Caerlaverock. © Kenny Taylor

That in itself is the stuff of heroic tales. But it’s the detail in the verse account that is breathtaking. Each knight is given a thumbnail word portrait, including a description of his coat of arms.

There was Roger de Montaigne, for example, ‘who bore yellow with six blue lions’ and William de Cantiloupe who ‘has at all times lived in honour’. He had a red shield with an alternating pattern on it, ‘with three fleur de lis of gold issuing from leopard’s heads.’

The list runs and runs, ending with an account of the fighting and surrender. As I look at the castle walls, on a day of bright sun, my mind’s eye fills with colours. Even at ground level, this place, and the history of the fields and mounds and hollows beyond it, is breathtaking.

Kenny Taylor is a writer, naturalist, photographer and musician and will be contributing four more blogs relating to our NNRs over the next few months.

Go and relive the battles of the past or experience the tranquility of the present yourself at Caerlaverock NNR. Find out more on the NNR website.

And to find out about visiting the castle go to the Historic Environment Scotland website.

Posted in National Nature Reserves | Tagged , , , , ,