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3rd September 2009

Recent wildlife sightings by members of the PNHS

What seen
How many
3rd September 2009
Painted Ladies
Brownside Braes
Red Admirals
Small Tortoiseshell
Blackhall, Paisley
Speckled Wood
Paisley Museum
Mandarin Duck
Chapelfarm, Houston
Male in eclipse
Whooper Swan
Castlesemple loch
Did not migrate


The RSPB in Scotland   Paula Baker

Paula, who is the Visitor and Publicity Officer for the RSPB in Scotland, gave us a most interesting and enjoyable talk on the history, and some of the major achievements, of the RSPB, focussing especially on Scotland.

She started off, intriguingly, by showing us some examples of the fashion for feathers at the end of the 19th century, and explained that the feather industry at that time rose to be worth around £20 million. The RSPB movement started in 1891 to combat the threat to extinction that this trade engendered, and the organisation received its Royal Charter in 1904.

Since then it has grown to be one of the largest nature conservation organisations in the UK, with Scotland hosting 70 of the 200 reserves in Britain. She referred to the pioneering work of George Waterstone on the Osprey platforms at Boat of Garten in 1954, and to the establishment of the first Scottish reserves, there and at Vane Farm in the 1960s.

Much of the work of the RSPB has been to counteract threat to, and decline of, species such as the Capercaillie and Black Grouse in the Abernethy Forest., which are now thriving better. In the 1990s they fought the destruction of peat bogs by tree-planting in the Flow Country, and were successful in getting the law changed.

Education and public involvement forms an important method of encouraging conservation; Paula gave examples of educating farmers in Islay on how to preserve conditions for Choughs and to leave stubble for the 40 thousand over-wintering geese. The story of how the RSPB stopped the 100 year decline in Scotland’s Corncrake population is now renowned - by teaching farmers how to mow fields in a manner that does not trap the birds in the centre.
The re-introduction of species, like the Red Kite and the White Tailed Eagle, count as recent successes, but some species remain under constant threat, particularly birds of prey such as the Golden Eagle and the Hen Harrier. She showed the dramatic decline in farmland birds also by human practice, with a 72% drop in Skylark population and similar in Tree Sparrow and Turtle Dove in recent years.  She described how the RSPB are tackling this, with cooperation from farmers, such as in the Volunteer and Farmer Alliance in 2002, which undertakes surveys of farms.

Seabirds fare no better, although this may be more a result of climate change. The low reproduction rate of Puffins because of the drop in Sand-eels is well-broadcast. 70% of the world population of Gannets breeds in Scotland, most on Ailsa Craig. Paula praised the work of Bernard Zinfrillo on eradicating the rats on the island and allowing the return of Puffins. The RSPB have also been successful in obtaining a ban on Sand-eel fishing.

Climate change programmes such as wind farms pose a problem for birds and their supporters, with often conflicting interests. Alternatives to the proposed wind farms on Lewis peat-lands have yet to be worked out, for example.

Paula ended on an up-beat note, by talking of the surge in interest in bird conservation that has arisen as a result of both education of the public and the arrival of the internet; the Big Garden Bird Watch for example was a great success. Thus the RSPB’s  joint aims of protecting, researching, educating, improving and influencing all come into play.

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