Monday, 19 November 2012

Sometimes....

Sometimes I wish that we, as a country (and by that I mean the UK), and as a world, could just get on.

And by that I mean, personally as well as professionally.

So often you come across strong statements made by individuals against other individuals that are fighting the same battle. The. Same. Battle. Are we not collectively stronger than one strong opinion? If we all spent the same amount of energy working towards our common goal rather than wasting that same energy slagging other working groups off, how much more would be done?

The planet is heading into chaos, surely the best thing for us to do is to work as a team to try to change our fortunes. One man alone cannot make one difference, but one man plus all the others that would like to make a difference but do not know how to, can change the world.

But how many things have been changed by putting down other groups' efforts?
How can you change people's opinions by being bitter?
Do you not just come across as small minded and jealous?

The way to bring inspiration to people is to live with inspiration.

Instead of saying "XYZ is so rubbish..." why not say "Together, we're working to make a difference." "Between us we'll get there."

Creating bad feeling on groups such as Facebook and Twitter just turns possible interested parties off. Lead by example. Don't tar others with your misery brush.

We cannot change the world by sharing misery, doubt and fear.
The only way this battle can be one is by sharing INSPIRATION, HOPE, and ENCOURAGEMENT.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Past Month

Cannot believe that I haven't been on here since the tenth of October!! And so much has happened, though saying that maybe it's because so much has happened....

My project is still coming along nicely, the last sampling session was my best yet with 78 spraint collected, and with the analysis of bones in the lab started I'm actually getting a grasp on how long this is going to take me to do.

The lab work is brilliant fun, it involves dissolving the gelatinous part of the spraint away in washing powder (highly technical), sieving the results, letting them dry, and then checking species through a microscope. The vertebrae are the most common bones to use to distinguish between fish species, and I'm getting very good at checking out the eels and stickleback especially - at the moment these are definitely the most common finds. Mammal, bird and amphibian bones are easy to tell apart, and as I'm not taking them to species they're relatively simple.

Cool finds so far:

A whole foot belonging to some sort of small mammal
A bird beak (absolutely tiny - looks like a nestling lost it's life to an otter)
Fish eyes (which are pretty freaky!)
Jaws - eel jaws look pretty primitive, with peg like teeth, but salmonid jaws look vicious!! It's like Jaws the film in miniature, and even a trout's tongue has evil looking spines on it.

I've not managed to get many photos as the microscope doesn't have a camera attached, but I am seriously enjoying this work. Big thanks to Dr Carss and CEH for all their help with this.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Sightings

I'm feeling a bit desk bound at the moment.

Last time I was surveying I damaged a ligament in my knee, which is healed with rest and exercises. So I'm missing walking my dog, surveying, and just generally being out and about. Though I am writing a lot of my project, so I guess being forced to stay at my desk is an advantage!

Last time I was surveying I saw my first otter. Absolutely magical moment - it is so hard to describe just how amazing these experiences are - the first time you see a favourite animal in the wild is so fantastic that it'll stay with you forever. And probably not even a favourite - any animal that you can watch without disturbing, and that is active and interesting will always attract peoples attention.

There was a debate recently on LinkedIn about the role of zoos in the 21st century, and most people, even the ones that disagreed with zoos, per se, agreed that an important role of zoos is public engagement. Show a person a statistic and tell them that this means that tigers will die out in 50 years and they'll feel bad, but tell them that same fact while they're looking at the animal and they're many times more likely to a) remember it and b) do something about it. I wonder if there are any stats to show that this happens, probably not - but I'm sure that all of you remember the first time you went to the zoo, or something incredible that you saw there.

I have many zoo moments that I will always remember, two in particular were very special: one involved a Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) and the other a Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), and both times I felt utterly honoured to witness them.

These animal experiences are important for everyone, especially children, and there's no better feeling than being at one with nature; sitting watching an amazing spectacle and just not needing anything more than that one moment. That's a time that you don't take photos, you don't tell anyone else. You don't want to change the moment into something other than its simplest, purest form of right there and now.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

100 most endangered animals

The 100 most endangered animals have been published. You can see the full list here: Guardian, most endangered species, and see pretty pictures of a select few here: Most endangered in pictures.

As I was flicking through the pictures I became interested in how many of the species were from each biological group, as it seemed to be fairly biased towards mammals. And so I counted them all. (One species I cannot identify: Gocea ohridan, any pointers would be great.), and here's how it lies:

Amphibia - 9
Aves - 10
Bryophytes* - 1
Crustacea* - 1
Fish* - 12
Fungus* - 1
Insecta - 9
Mammalia - 21
Mollusca* - 3
Reptilia - 7
(Vascular Plants* - 23)

* - These species have been lumped together into larger groups than class for simplicity.

So there it is! Some of the groups are put together, but this is for ease of the reader as well as myself. I wish now that I had separated the vascular plants into at the very least flowering and coniferous, but I cannot face going through the list again! Sorry. Leaving those out at the moment, you can still see the clear bias towards mammals. And why not? Many people love mammals, me included (wannabe mammologist, yes...), but who really has that same passion for crustacea? Or fungi and bryophytes. They're just not such attractive groups to survey.

So while the list is interesting I really view it as being interesting for seeing what groups are the most studied the world over, and which ones don't attract so much attention. Even when the population sizes were being reported on, mammals and birds were pretty much the only ones which had conclusive estimates (is that an oxymoron?). Most of the others just had 'unknown'.

Our own 'Most Endangered'

And now we in Scotland are faced with the probable extinction of our beautiful Wildcat. And due to it 'only' being a subspecies it doesn't belong on the list, but for all that know of its peril it's sad indeed. In a matter of days it's estimated population level has fallen from an acceptable 400 to a completely shocking 35. And although they haven't surveyed Caithness and Sutherland yet it's not hopeful at all.

I said all this to someone the other day, and they asked what was being done about it. At the moment the Scottish Wildcat Association  are meeting with SNH to try and push for licenses to live-trap the cats. This is to build up a genetic story of what the cats are, and what makes a Scottish wildcat. But is there no other positive action we can take to help save this iconic (sub)species? 35 individuals. Do we have any other hope than to bring them in to safety, undertake a massive neutering programme on any feral and stray domestic and hybrid cats found in the wider area (remembering that cats looking for a mate can travel huge distances), and then release the wildcats to give them a chance? It's a scary thought that one day they'll be gone. The association are looking for volunteers of any kind to help them with their work. Will you help?  


I think the scariest thing about being alive today is that we are in the sixth massive extinction and there is so little that we can do to halt things. We can all make a difference in our own way, and change in action is the only thing that can save us, but even if all of us stopped driving, and eating meat, and throwing plastics in the bin and into the sea, we could not change the thing that is already in motion. We need to learn to adapt and to choose what is important and what we could live without. So while the whole world is needing to adapt to rising temperatures and more extreme weather we are not immune - we also need to change in order to allow both us to survive and as much of everything else as possible. Scary thoughts indeed.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Let us start with a quote...

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

I have, for many years, believed that, though I didn't know who had written it, or the whole thing - what I knew was "It's the things that you don't do that you will regret.". Same idea, and after these adventures that I've been having recently I wholeheartedly believe it once more.

Perhaps the reason that I've not felt like myself for the past three years or so is because I've put my wilder impulses to the back of my mind, saying that that's not how an adult behaves, and yet, why is it not? And I'm not that much of an adult yet! I'm relearning that I don't have to plan everything, that I don't have to have a solid life plan set out that I must follow. I'm relearning how to go with the flow and seeing what happens, something that you have to be able to do when your project experiences a hitch, or when you make a major mistake and end up doing something completely wrong.

So I'm starting to allow my dreams to leak out from my head, I'm allowing them to become a bit of a reality. For example, I want to work abroad, so I'm looking into doing that. Once I return I want to work for a consultancy, but I want to be able to do more plant surveys (Phase 1 and the likes) so I'm making moves to improve my skill set so opening me up for other opportunities. I'm stopping saying no, and instead saying "Yes!".

And I think these are all valuable things. Someone once said to me that I think too much, but you know, I really like thinking. And while I am pondering things over in my head more often than not I come up with a solution and solve the issue that's been bothering me. And who doesn't want to think now and again; actually life is pretty dang good?

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Fortitude of Trees

On my travels I always come across incredible, brave trees that are growing in conditions that you really wouldn't expect. It's these that show the strength of slow, patient growth and I always love them. Here's some recent finds: 

Alder and Rowan, Loch Shiel

This is actually a hard one to see. Basically the standing tree is an alder, and at some point in the past a bird has sat on one of it's branches and deposited a dropping which contained a rowan seed. This fell down a crack in the tree, and the Rowan has set seed, but grown at a very horizontal angle along the ground. Both trees are still living, although you wouldn't say thriving, but just completely intertwined with each other.

Collapsed Willow, River Gairn
This is fantastic. As well as being one of the biggest willows I have come across (I think it's a Goat Willow, which can grow to 22m), it has collapsed at some point in its history, fallen down the bank so it's uppermost branches are not it's downward-most, and has sent up hundreds of lateral shoots on the upward facing part of it's trunk. Soon this will be a thicket of straight willow stems, and will completely change the look of this bank as well.
Ash growing in Loch Shiel
Probably when this Ash started to grow the waters were lower, but now the waters have come up and the roots will be waterlogged. It looks healthy still, but unfortunately I don't expect it to survive for long. Ash's are beautiful, strong looking trees when they're full grown though so perhaps it might just find the courage to keep going.

I also often come across roots growing over rock until they reach soil that they can use, roots growing down fence posts until they also reach the soil, and roots growing from bits in trees, this Rowan has a way to go yet but it might get there. Fingers crossed anyway!
Rowan sapling in the nook of an oak, River Gairn

Funnily enough, often these intrepid trees are Rowan's, though it's not so funny when you think of how they travel. Because Rowan berries are eaten by birds, and germinate where the bird defecates, they often land in nooks of trees, on fence posts or on other such places. Generally they won't be able to come to much, but just now and again they succeed. And it's the same with other things if the seed lands where it should not, generally it'll struggle and be unable to grow properly, but just now and again you get magnificent Hollies, Oaks, Ashes, and others that are hanging onto rocks, tipping over the edge of a cliff or are squeezed into a gap too small for the growing trunk. And in these circumstances you come to see just how amazing trees are, in their slow growing patience they can conquer lands that a fast weed would consider unsuitable.

PS. I am of the school of thought that there are no weeds, just flowers growing in the wrong place. No offence was intended with that comment. 

The Wild Places


Recently I have been reading an excellent book entitled ‘The Wild Places’ by Robert Macfarlane, and it really is a truly inspiring read.

He wanted to find the truly wild places in Britain, and in the process walked, slept and swam in some incredible places. Sleeping in a bivouac bag, and swimming naked (a lot…) he adventured from the furthest north to surprisingly southern places, as well as in Ireland.

But it makes me want to wander, and that’s even when I have been wandering. Just to fling on a rucksack and go to some of these incredible places that we are lucky enough to have in our country. The book has inspired me as not only will walking in these places educate us but sleeping definitely will, especially in a bivouac bag.

Imagine sleeping on the beach, watching birds coming in over your head, or in a forest, being sung to sleep by the leaves whispering. Or in the snow, and waking to find a drift developing around you…. Yes, rather inspiring I say!  

The conclusion he comes to is that you do not have to be in a typically wild place (in the middle of uninhabited land with no person near you but for miles and miles), but that we can find wildness on different scales anywhere we go. And that's a truly exciting concept – elusive wildness is within reach, and in some ways the wildness is just waiting for the human occupation of earth to pass before it can reclaim what is rightfully its. 

Now…where's my bivouac bag…?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Lacking photos, but...

I need to take the time to figure out how to put photos on here, not exactly rocket science I know but not something I am taking the time to do at the moment.

Surveying was great this time. I feel like every time I go my ability improves ten-fold. I need to do this with plant surveys as well, practise does make perfect.

One of my favourite things about surveying is when you come across secret animal happenings. Like stumbling across a holt, where you almost feel like the ground would be warm from the recent presence of the otter. That's pretty magical. Another is finding a site where the otter has eaten its fish - this particular site was on a very large, fallen over tree. The flat, wide trunk provided the  most incredible views over the loch, but was also private. I can well imagine the otter relaxing, and relishing the consumption of its prey. I imagine it on its back, as they love to do this, rolling about and playing with its food. They're such personable animals that it really is a joy to be surveying them, and being privy to their secret spots is definitely a perk of the job.

So next week I head out again, this time to survey for SNH. It's different methodology, much much easier than my stuff, and should be good! Fingers crossed that the weather stays nice....

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Week Ahead (Heather's Ottering Forecast)

So...yesterday I arrived back from my wee holiday to beautiful Italy at half 2, and today, 23 hours later, having caught up on the thousand emails ("Heather, could you quickly prepare a progress report for the work you've carried out at such-and-such windfarm?" "Heather, we'd like to invite you to present your project at such-and-such conference...it's only £120 for the privilege." "Heather, buy this today and get this extra-ordinarily useless thing free, hooray!") that have flown into my inbox in my absence I am now preparing for heading north tomorrow morning to start another survey session.

While I was away I received a box of otter poo (oh, the joys!) from my supervisor which means that she has completed the Dinnet Lochs and some other outlying tributaries in my absence. This is good - even though the dinnet lochs were one of my favourite areas to survey in (it was the playing red squirrels that cinched it) they are a lot of extra work. And so it's only three tributaries of the Dee, the Dee itself and the Loch Shiel site in the west which I have to do.

A friend of mine, Rachel, is also coming to assist which is hugely exciting, as long periods of surveying can lead to a certain degree of loneliness. So I'll be picking her up on Fort William on Wednesday and then heading over the Corran Ferry to Strontian, and from there, over the extremely steep road to Loch Shiel and the River Hurich.

After the survey sessions (which I will aim to speak more about when I return) I'm heading to Knapdale to attend a Beaver Reintroduction course. Which I am very much looking forward to, but which I may be zombified for. Hopefully not. I shall be absent again for the next week though, before things calm down a wee bit.

Adios!

Monday, 2 July 2012

BOOK REVIEW:

 Life is Good: Conservation in an Age of Mass Extinction

Jeremy Leon Hance

Today for something interesting I am sharing with you something AMAZING. It's a book, but not just any book. It is a book that could very well change your life.

Okay, I may be exaggerating, but it is a very very good book that will show you the issues that face conservation today, and the battles that we have to fight. It also discusses the successes that have been had, but as the successes are minor compared to the fight that we still have ahead of us it just uses them as ballast; things to show what can be done with the right effort.

Jeremy Leon Hance is a journalist for Mongabay.com and as such has a background in environmental reporting. He aims to show everyone just some of the issues, and with chapters such as Language and Conservation: why words matter and Why top predators matter, he's covering a lot. But he does so in such a way that we're provided with just enough information to give us cause to fight, gives us cause to fight soon and also gives us cause to hope (but not enough of that to make us think the fight isn't needed, because it is, very much.).

I like this book not for it's style of writing, which is slightly too American for my tastes, but for it's passion and enthusiasm and most of all it's can do attitude. Take this example:

"...Perhaps we are realising that it is not enough to save just the tigers, elephants and whales; it is not enough to have a piecemeal environment. Such a place would be a decayed menagerie with humanity as apathetic masters. 

No. Instead allow us to be bold. Allow us to be optimistic. Instead of saving just a part of our planet - bits here and there - allow us to press ahead and preserve the whole wondrous thing, from golden-rumped elephant shrews to long-eared jerboas, from bumblebee bats to long-beaked echidnas."

Yes! Let's!! Let's blooming well do it!

I know that it's not that simple, and he does outline different work that people around the world are doing, but it is definitely what we should be aiming for and I love how he says it without saying such things as " we should save what we can" or "we can't save it all". He makes you want to fight for it, and refuse to let things die away. This is especially powerful just when George has died, the last of the Pinta Tortoises. So although another species has gone, let us face the onset of this age of extinction with hope in our heads and in our hearts and see if we can do as Jeremy says and "preserve the whole wondrous thing".

The book, if you're interested, can be bought from Mongabay here: Buy the Book
You can sign up to email updates from Mongabay here: Email Update
And here are Golden-Rumped Elephant Shrews, one of my favourite animals and indeed a mammal that we know very little about indeed: Arkive - Elephant Shrew

And yay, go forth and let's do something about this saving the world business!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

I've recently received funding from the charity People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) to carry out research into whether eels are a declining prey for otters in Scotland. I'll explain the background to the project here and also what I'll be doing to fulfil my new role.

The reasoning behind the project is that fisheries across Scotland are reporting a decline in eel numbers, an issue which could have an effect on otters, as eels are a very important prey item due to their high calorific levels. What I aim to find out is whether eels actually are declining as prey, and if they are then whether otters are taking alternative high energy prey such as salmonids (salmon and trout), or whether they're being forced into taking low energy prey.

I have a paper (Jenkins and Harper 1980) which studied otter diets in the late 1970's, when eel populations were stable. So I will be able to gain an accurate view of whether otter diets have changed in the last three decades.

I shall be following Jenkins and Harper to decide my River Dee route, which involves 53km of survey. As I'm still working my notice at my previous job I only have four days (monday to thursday) to do this survey...four days which include travelling to my other survey site (which is thankfully only 14km) on Loch Shiel, surveying there, travelling over the Cairngorms to the River Dee, surveying and then driving home. I'm gonna be hard pushed to do this!

Anyone here who has carried out otter spraint surveys knows that it's not just a stroll along the side of the loch, it's an intensive clamber to make sure no part of the shore, and no tiny patch of spraint, is missed. It's like doing an obstacle course through brambles, bogs and sometimes in a loch, but you know what? It's going to be a-maze-ing!

And what do I do with the spraint once I've found them? I'll be bringing them home before identifying all the bones and remains that are in them, and through this I'll gain my dietary analysis.

I've got 6 monthly surveys which will be carried out between now and the end of November, and in between those times I'll be working at a local ecological consultancy carrying out various surveys for them, and then the paper is due in in December.

As the land that I'm working on is mostly private estates et al., I'm phoning round asking for permissions from everyone and anyone. Most people are very VERY interested and most are asking for updates and to see the report once it's finished. It's very exciting, becoming bigger than I imagined it would and is also rather scary! Wish me luck!!!!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


What can I do that makes me stand out from the crowd? I volunteer a lot, I work where I can, and I have just been offered consultancy work on a contractual basis. But what’s that thing that could just make me stand out? That’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, and I do feel that in this I need to follow my heart and let it take me to places that my head may stop me going to.

In a battle between head and heart everyone says you must follow your head; not lose money, don’t quit a job before you’ve got another one, don’t do this, that, anything. But I am definitely feeling that following my head so far has done me wrong, and that maybe my heart sings the true song.

So now I just need to learn how to hear its message. Anyone who’s ever read The Alchemist will know here what I’m talking about. That book is my bible. But if only it was as easy to follow it’s teachings as it is to read its pages. I think, right now, that this contract work is not really the answer, but is it daft to look a gift horse in the mouth? You tell me. All I know is that I have a lot to offer, and I just need to figure out the best way of showing that and carrying it out. Wish me luck :) 


A friend and I went to visit the beavers at Knapdale last week. It was a fantastic wee road trip, but mainly I'd like to explain about the beavers, why they're here, and what they do that we want. 

Beavers were an important part of the European ecosystem until their land and fortunes were changed by humans. Our ancestors discovered that the fur is deliciously soft, and that an excretion from their scent glands, castoreum, was suitable for use in perfumes and medicines. At that time (the 1500’s) the landscape was also changing hugely and it is probable that this lack of habitat had a huge effect on population stability as well. 
And so Britain has been devoid of Beavers for around 500 years, and now the trial is underway to decide whether they should be brought back.

We went as part of a guided tour led by SWT (Scottish Wildlife Trust) in order to educate and inform people of the beavers. Led to a pool which is now five times the size it was originally, we were immensely impressed with the changes that they have put upon their landscape.

This family originally were released onto the large loch on the other side of the banking, but it apparently wasn’t long before they nipped over and made a new home in the pond, and started the laborious process of building a dam and making it more suitable to their use.

The area that’s now flooded is alive with arthropods, amphibians and others. Otters have been spotted on the pond, and we ourselves saw a duck family using it as well. The trees that were flooded will die, but by doing so create dead-wood habitat which is essential in a healthy habitat. The trees round the edge are showing fantastic coppicing activity. Broadleaved trees have evolved to cope with being cut down by beavers; they are the original coppicers. And so it comes to show how the landscape used to be.

There were a couple of very nice stories about archaeologists having found strangely marked sticks, and evidence of weird flooded areas, neither of which they could ever put an explanation to. And the answer to both is beavers: the markings on the sticks are left by their teeth after they’ve fed on the nutritious bark, and the flooded areas are the remains of the area that I just talked of. They shaped our landscape, and now hopefully they’ll remain forever to continue shaping it in their own way, bringing the health of the landscape back to the place that it should be again.  

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


The House Martins and the Swallows are back. Which means it’s officially summer!

When I was walking back down towards the house two days ago (I’d been out for a lovely walk with Jill), there were two. Now there are a ridiculous number of birds swooping and whirring through the air, taking sheer pleasure in being alive.

Most animals we take care not to anthropomorphise, but these birds are certainly an exception. The amount of poetry and literature written with these wonderful birds in mind does show that they are some of the most beloved of all our lovely birds.

It’s something about their carefree nature, the skill in their flight. And also, I think because their nests are so visible, thus allowing us all to see a row of wee faces keeking out at you when you pass. And there’s nothing people love more than a baby animal!

This time of year is great, especially with the recent sunshine after the rain as everything just leaps on so quickly again. But things do come on at different rates, sheltered, but sun-drenched trees coming out before those that have to battle with the chill wind each and every day. This makes spring walks more interesting, it brings variety to our lives, and there’s nothing quite like seeing a favourite tree coming in to bloom with all its leaves almost translucent in the sun. Ahh, days like that are few and far between, but are well and truly wonderful.  

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Not long back from the most wonderful weekend in beautiful Wales.

I booked myself into a Mammal Society course a while back and that was what the trip was all in aid of. Unbelievable good, I have immersed myself in all things mammal for one weekend and returned just full of it. It has also added to my ambition, as one day I shall run courses like them. The leaders, Kate Williamson, Chris Hall, and Sam Dyer were all so passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects that they were a joy to spend time around.

It was extremely intensive, over the weekend we worked for 22 hours, with a 14 and a half hour day the first day. Not all of the activities were compulsory, with the setting of the traps (polecat, small mammal (both Longworth and a new type of trap which is designed as a competition to the Longworth), and hedgehog footprint tunnels), and the harvest mouse survey completed by only some of us on the course. I did both, as what’s the point in not?! Though I think it’s floored me now, feeling quite rough today!

But it was fantastic, apart from the trapping and the harvest mouse surveys we also surveyed for otter spraint, fox, pine marten and mink scat. Looked at badger sett surveying and bait marking (this involved a very difficult scramble through fallen trees and brambles. Fantastic!), and viewed hair tubes designed for squirrels and for pine martens. We also did a lot of work on bats which I’ve never done before and which was so fascinating.
Firstly we checked the bat boxes, studying the bats that were found, and we also put up harp traps which are completely amazing. We also detected the bats flying about via their calls, which was completely brilliant to hear.

Finally we practised using radio tagging at night time, which was, again, brilliant to do.

I would absolutely recommend anyone interested in mammals to take a course such as this as the range of things that we looked at was just brilliant. It really opened my eyes to all the different types of surveying there are out there, and I really want to get involved now! What a fantastic weekend.

PS. I was going to add pictures but can't seem to get on. I'll put them on facebook instead! :)

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Osprey Volunteering

This morning was spent at the Osprey centre at Glentress, best known as the mountain bike centre just outside Peebles. Now, after you’ve tired yourself out on the trails you can come into the Wildwatch room and see what else uses the forests in the local area.

The star attraction is, of course, the magnificent ospreys. These wonderful birds draw huge crowds to the different visitor centres distributed around the UK, because they are just so irresistibly charismatic.
At Glentress and Kailzie Gardens we have a high definition camera set up on the nest, which means that any activity can be observed by us, the volunteers, and then explained back to you, the public. Although there were no visitors in this morning (the main draw is the chicks once the eggs have hatched) it was a fabulous morning for me.

The female that regularly nests at that nest is unringed but identified by the distinct concord shaped marking on the back of her neck. She was sitting on the nest when I got in but quickly relinquished her position to the male.

The nest that they use was artificially built by humans. There are several reasons for this though. Firstly, it allows things such as the cameras to be assembled as we know that that nest is going to be used (30% of all ospreys in Scotland use artificial nests). We can also then take measures to protect the nests from egg-collectors, that particularly vile breed of human that steals eggs from nests. It also protects the nest from being dislodged from the tree in high winds, and allows very sturdy trees to be chosen.

When the female came back she chirruped and chirruped at the male in an increasingly agitated voice, quite obviously saying “hey! It’s my turn now, shift!”. Shift he did, flying off on his huge wings and as he did so his wife started to check the egg(s) over, moving one enough so that I could see it, and o things like that do send a shiver down your spine! I say egg(s) because I only saw one, but a clutch of one is very rare. It’ll normally be two or three, rarely four.

Keep your fingers crossed that they hatch soon, I shall keep you all updated, and maybe see you along there at some point! 

So it was quite magical. I am enjoying this, and then I had a nice walk from Glentress to Peebles, making it to the bus stop just as the bus came round the corner, a lucky day indeed!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Missing Mammals

During my master’s studies I developed my own dissertation on one of my favourite subjects: Scotland’s missing mammals.

For some reason I have always been attracted to bringing back our missing mammals; the beaver, the boar, the wolf and the lynx. The beaver is back(ish), with the trials on-going, but hopefully once the five year trial is up they’ll find success. Speaking to an employee from Edinburgh Zoo after a talk he gave to the Lothian and Borders Mammal Group, he said that the change in the landscape would be more noticeable, had there been lower deer numbers. This is because when beaver coppices a tree it doesn’t actually kill it, but the deer grazing on the new shoots can do, or can at least severely inhibit growth. I’m heading to Knapdale in May, so I’ll be finding out more then.

Every mammal in the UK has a role to play, and most of the missing mammals had roles which were unique to themselves. This means that there are links missing in what makes a healthy habitat.

Beavers slow rivers, create ponds and coppice trees; wolves keep deer numbers under control and help to move deer herds on, so no one area is overused or overgrazed. Lynx keep smaller mammals under control, from rabbits to roe deer they’ll hunt pretty much everything in between. But they have the same role as that of the wolf, that of dispersing and moving prey and keeping the numbers down.

For deer are meant to be here, the issue is in their huge numbers. I shall write about that at a later date, but ecologists no more want to eradicate deer than we do want to cut down all the oak trees.  

Boar are a species that are very special to me as they were the actual subject of my project. I was looking at the effect they have on their habitat, in this case a bracken-covered forest floor which very few tree saplings were able to germinate in. I found throughout my survey that the boar successfully broke up the bracken cover, and created bare patched where seedlings could germinate. Although there would have been some casualties via the rooting process I did observe small saplings standing alone in recently rooted areas which will definitely be at an advantage for growth.

Deer also assist in breaking up the immense layer of dead bracken as well just by moving through it. Without disturbance this thick, dead layer can lay there for ten years and beyond.

I would one day love to bring all these species back, as it is only once we have a healthy animal guild that we can be sure that we could bring back the stability that our forests need. Many of our native forests are now being managed in a way where there is no regrowth, bringing back these different species would bring back another dimension to the story, and thus help to create a healthy, complete habitat.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Wonderful Weather of Spring

Just a short wee post today, just to say how absolutely wonderful this weather is. We’ve got rain showers and then sunshine. The rain is that lovely, intense, spring rain that the plants just love, especially after the recent weather which has been ridiculously dry. Weather like this, you stand outside and can practically hear the plants growing, the leaves unfurling and the xylem drinking it all in. And the sunshine just adds to that, I fully expect to stand outside to a new world, lush, green and beautiful.

That is all, this is a good day.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Frustrations

I’ve just been rejected for another job, which brings the grand total to 17 rejections with the total of interviews at a grand total of zero.
Sometimes I feel like giving up, but what else would I do with my life other than what is in my heart and my soul, and that is this; this conservation of natural environments which I am absolutely crazy about. I need to find answers as to what can be done and taking advice from all the people around me I have now:

a) Volunteered. Firstly with an environmental consultancy, the owner of which I know from working with in the shop. I was great working there, the trips to camera trap sites near the Cairngorms, visits to survey rivers for otters, surveying a badger sett. And over the five months I’ve volunteered for them there have been whispers of opportunities coming up but none of which have come to fruition. Frustrating.

So now I am looking at other volunteering opportunities. I am starting volunteering at the Glentress Osprey Project on, ee jings, Monday. And a friend and I are hoping to start a forest garden at my work place. 

Another volunteering activity I’m undertaking is to raise money for Trees for Life through doing a leg of their Treelay. I’m currently trying to get this into the local newspaper. Watch this space!

So that’s volunteering.

b) Shown that I am IT literate by having started a blog (this one!) and developing a Linkedin page. Early days yet, hopefully it’ll open some doors, or even just enable people to see the real me behind the CV. 

Linkedin was recommended so as to become a part of the community, but how can you do that when people don’t know who you are?

I know that all I’m doing is growing frustrated, but when I’m hearing about people left, right and centre getting jobs it is hard. Especially when you start to question “why not me”? I’ve got the undergraduate degree, the masters, the volunteering. I’ve got the passion, the enthusiasm, the love of the outdoors, the knowledge. How can I show people this? Sometimes I’ve just about at the end of my tether for knowing which way to turn next.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Trees for Life

Last night I attended the Millionth Tree lecture held by the charity Trees for Life in Glasgow. The speaker was Alan Watson-Featherstone, almost definitely the most incredible person. Ever. He is such an inspiring speaker as well, he’s funny and quick and obviously so passionate about the work that he does that I could listen to him forever. He started off with an engineering degree and has formed this unbelievable charity that is single-handedly restoring the Caledonian forest.

I was lucky enough to spend two weeks up in the forest at Dundreggan doing research for my master’s project. The subject was the effects that two large mammalian herbivores have on the biodiversity of the forest. Ah, those halcyon days. Even now when I hear a Tree Pipit’s song it transports me back to that oh-so-magical of forests, and to think that that is it in its denuded state. Alan had lots of fabulous pictures showing what the forest should look like and one of the features that Dundreggan is perhaps lacking in (due to over-grazing all these previous years by sheep and deer) is an undisturbed understory. Some of the pictures he showed us were of marvellously bumpy ground, made up of a succession of hummocks. These hummocks are examples of succession in miniature. Occuring on top of rocks which are initially colonised by lichens, then mosses and finally blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilus), creating little mounds ,or hummocks, throughout the forest floor.

The research itself was the bees knees. It was just great being out and about all day, seeing the natural world with my own eyes, and getting properly involved in it. Absolutely fantastic. There is also a great satisfaction that comes from having identified the item and to be able to rattle off both its names, common and scientific, without much thought. Even better if they are characteristic of pine woodlands, or any area which you are in.

As such I have decided to take part in the Trees for Life sponsored walk – the Treelay. As this is the year that they will be planting their millionth tree there is a variety of different events going on, one of which is this Treelay. The tree itself, or a representative of it, will be carried round by the participants which will be walking a route which encompasses the main body of the Tfl project area. The whole route is 279 km, and the leg that I will complete is 23km long, going from Attadale to Inverinate. I shall be walking on the 15th of May and am hoping to raise £175. Please help! All the money raised goes straight into rebuilding the forest and this is something which is so special. It won’t be yourselves that get the full result of the forest replanting, or even your children, but rather their children. And is that not a wonderful thought in itself?

Here is my fundraising page, please do help, even if it is not much that you can donate, everything is something and many little things do build up to something big. Thanks, http://www.justgiving.com/Heathers-Treelay

And here’s where you can find more about Trees for Life if you want to see where your money goes: http://www.treesforlife.org.uk/

Blackthorn vs the Hawthorn

Walking along is always an adventure. Getting outside clears away any lingering cobwebs and brings fresh thoughts to your head. Sometimes things can become stifling sitting indoors, sorry, scrub that. That should be that things always become stifling after sitting indoors too long and thought processes become warped. Stepping outside the front door changes that and helps make everything clearer.

I walk my dog, Jill. She’s a great happy-go-lucky dog. I never have to worry while walking her about her wandering off or just disappearing while I’m pausing to study some interesting fungi or to identify a previously unseen tree that’s coming into bud or to use my binoculars to identify which one of those birds is singing that particularly lovely song.

Today’s walk took us on our usual route but I love seeing the changes that spring is a-bringing. The birds were singing and the hawthorn leaves are emerging.

It is curious how they emerge at different times. One bush in the hedge can be almost in leaf when the one next may still have tightly curled up winter buds still intact. The difference between the trees is interesting too. The blackthorn in the hedge is still dormant, and none of them show any sign of life. I love the differences between the hawthorn and the blackthorn. The Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa (Draoighinn in Gaelic) has a wonderful saying associated with it: “Better the bramble than the blackthorn, but better the blackthorn than the devil”. Very evocative! And those thorns are sharp; they’ll tear your clothing with any provocation and tear your skin even worse. But what I love is that the thorns are only young twigs. You can tell the difference between a hawthorn and a blackthorn (while not in leaf) by checking the thorns. The blackthorn’s thorns (this could get confusing!) have buds on them, and when they are around 5 inches long the thorny tip breaks off and they become a bona fide twig! Hawthorns thorns are true thorns, and that is what they are destined to be throughout their lives.

Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, is native to Scotland and northern England (the south of England has its own species, C. oxyanthus). It is widespread and an early coloniser, so if any forest canopy opens up, or an area is allowed to re-wild itself you are sure to find hawthorn. And that’s great because it is a lovely tree! It’s very popular as a hedge, and features in my own chaotic hedge, but as a tree it is absolutely beautiful as well. And it can be ancient, living to 300 years old. Thorns don’t develop on the hawthorn unless it’s subjected to grazing pressure, like the Holly, and presumably that must be because thorns are expensive. Hmm, I wonder if that’s why blackthorn has dual purpose thorns: makes it less of a waste of energy growing these things if they are going to have another purpose later in life. Interesting! I like hawthorn though, in part perhaps due to the ancient lore associated with her (she’s definitely a lady tree species). The hawthorn is marked as the ultimate symbol of all that is wild, sacred and untouchable.

Within the hedge there was a pair of Bullfinches, such a beautiful bird. They were flitting about from branch to branch but I couldn’t get a clear view of what they were doing. The male did wipe his beak off the branch quite a lot and I was wondering at the significance of that. I saw a male chaffinch doing it the other day, and although I’m thinking it may have some significance (display??) it may just be that they’re cleaning their beaks!

It is really incredible what thought processes your mind can go through on a walk, and this fits in nicely with a new charity event I’m going to be taking part in…Trees for Life Treelay. More about that later. For now, cheerio!