Mar 242017
 

On March 12th, in California, a Trump Golf course was vandalised by protesters. By contrast, in this very British protest, the important issues were discussed over a cup of tea!

Dr Jo House, University of Bristol with Ms Yashinee Aulum, TIGLS.

With thanks to Martin Ford.

On Saturday 18th March, climate scientists travelled to Trump International Golf Links, Scotland (TIGLS) to present a copy of The Ladybird Expert Guide to Climate Change, authored by HRH The Prince of Wales, and a statement on the importance of science and evidence in climate change policy making issued earlier this week by the Royal Meteorological Society.

The climate scientists wanted to highlight concerns that recent rhetoric and decisions from the Trump administration are contrary to the overwhelming evidence base on climate change and how it needs to be addressed.

Unexpectedly, they were offered the opportunity to discuss their concerns over a cup of tea!

The Head of Hospitality and Guest Services for TIGLS, Ms Yashinee Aulum, was pleased to receive the presentation. TIGLS is a business greatly affected by day-to-day weather, and one potentially at risk from future climate change.

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The visit to TIGLS followed a public science meeting at the University of Aberdeen entitled ‘Science and climate change in an alternative facts world’ which was held as part of British Science Week. The meeting was chaired by Prof Jo Smith (University of Aberdeen), and talks were given by:

Prof Piers Forster, University of Leeds,
Prof Terry Dawson, Kings College London,
Prof Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen,
Dr Jo House, University of Bristol,
Cllr Dr Martin Ford, Aberdeenshire Councillor.

Before the meeting, Prof Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen, who has served as Convening Lead Author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said:

“Climate change, and the way to deal with it, has been accepted by 196 countries at the Paris Climate Agreement, but Mr Trump has appointed a climate denier as the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and has previously pledged to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The fact is, we need the US to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet the ambitious targets set out in the agreement.

“We all share the same atmosphere, so misguided actions in the US will not only affect Americans, it will affect everyone on the planet. We cannot allow decisions based upon ideology to replace those based on scientific evidence – and that is why we are holding this meeting today, during British Science Week – to urge Mr Trump’s administration to take the advice of its own climate scientists, and stick to US commitments under the Paris Agreement.

“The US will benefit from this. Failing to act when you don’t have the evidence is in some cases understandable – but failing to act when you are in full possession of the facts, which amounts to wilful ignorance, is inexcusable, and will cause great damage to the world we leave for our children and grand-children.”

Prof Piers Forster, Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate, University of Leeds said:

“The US is a democracy that I am not part of so they are entitled to pass what ever crazy laws they want. If they want to burn more coal it upsets me but it is ultimately not my call.  However, I worry when their policies threaten science.

“The US administration are really contradicting themselves, saying there is not enough evidence that carbon dioxide causes global warming, then promptly threatening to cut agencies that collect the evidence. Scientists around the world depend on NASA and NOAA satellites and on the efforts of many US colleagues. More than ever we should be basing decisions on evidence rather than ideologies, and I hope the US administration wakes up and realises this.”

Prof Jo Smith, University of Aberdeen added:

“The lives of people in low income countries are already challenged by extreme weather events; climate change will make this worse. We can’t gamble with their lives. Climate change will mean more droughts and floods, and more people will die. The science is clear, so climate policies must be based on this evidence.”

Prof Terry Dawson, Chair in Global Environmental Change, Department of Geography, King’s College London commented:

“This year, the United Nations predicts the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II with several East African Countries being severely affected by drought. The lack of rain has contributed to massive livestock deaths, food and water shortages, acute malnutrition and widespread famine.

“Future climate change is expected to increase the magnitude and frequency of extreme climate events, such as droughts or floods and it is the poorest people in society that are most vulnerable to its negative effects.

“Climate change is a serious risk to poverty reduction and we, as scientists, feel a moral imperative to urge our political leaders act now – inaction or delay is inexcusable.”

Dr Jo House, Cabot Institute, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol said:

“The Trump administration is choosing to ignore or deny the overwhelming scientific consensus on dangers of climate change to people’s health and well-being already, as well as in the future, and the urgency of putting in place long-term plans.

“We are affected in the UK by America’s emissions, but I have no voice there. Sadly similar denial or lack of action is taking place in our own country from a small number of newspapers, businesses and politicians.  UK governments since Margaret Thatcher have been at the forefront of climate action, as they, like the 196 governments who just signed the Paris Agreement, listened to the evidence and understood its importance.

“Climate change has recently slipped down the agenda of the Government. Many countries, states, and businesses have managed to slow or reduce their emissions while still increasing profitability. I am taking part in this meeting to stand up for evidence and for action, not just in America, but here at home.”

Aberdeenshire councillor Martin Ford said:

“Mr Trump is an environmental disaster. We knew that from his actions in Aberdeenshire over the last ten years, but now he can take decisions with global consequences. Mr Trump’s denial of climate change science will make progress with tackling the biggest threat facing the world immensely more difficult.”

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Mar 242017
 

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

European Beaver (Castor fiber)
July 2010

Conservation charity Trees for Life is seeking support in raising £15,000 for a project aimed at bringing beavers back to the northwest Highlands.

The charity’s Bring Back the Beavers appeal will fund site assessments, work with local communities, and beaver habitat restoration work such as tree planting and natural regeneration.

This will enable Trees for Life to prepare for a formal application for a licence to re-establish beavers in the Highlands.

“Beavers were a key native species of the Caledonian Forest before being hunted to extinction some 400 years ago. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to bring them back,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, Founder of Trees for Life.

“We are asking the public to help us pave the way for beavers to come home to the Highlands – improving the region for other wildlife, and providing a tourist attraction to boost the local economy.”

Last November, the Scottish Government announced that European beavers were officially accepted as a native species in Scotland.

Trees for Life has been preparing for the return of beavers for more than 25 years. This has involved creating suitable habitat by planting aspens and willows along loch shores and riverbanks. In 2015, the charity commissioned an expert survey of some of the key sites where it works, which confirmed that these locations could support beavers.

Beavers are superb ecosystem engineers. They create and manage wetland habitats ­– benefitting insects, fish, bats and birds. Their small dams help regulate water flow. Their felling of trees provides dead wood that benefits many organisms, and stimulates regeneration by causing new shoots to grow from tree stumps.

Beavers cannot colonise the northwest Highlands on their own, as the Great Glen is a natural barrier to beavers from the existing populations in Argyll and Tayside. So the only way to be sure they will return to the region will be to give them a helping hand.

In Europe, 24 countries have reintroduced beavers, with significant benefits. The official Scottish beaver trial in Argyll also showed substantial positive results, both for the local ecology and from increased tourism.

The Scottish Government has recognised that some residents may be concerned about the possible impact of beavers on their interests, and that this requires careful management.

Any surplus funds raised by the Bring Back the Beavers appeal will be used by Trees for Life to fund other activities to help restore the wild forest habitat.

For more details and to support the appeal, visit www.treesforlife.org.uk.

Pictured: European beaver © Laurie Campbell (N.B. One-time free use with this story; please delete image afterwards and for any future use contact Laurie Campbell www.lauriecampbell.com)

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Mar 242017
 

With thanks to Lisa Marley Press.

An award-winning Aberdonian wildlife filmmaker, hailed by renowned naturalist Mark Avery as ‘gifted’, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to produce a new documentary following an experimental human wolf pack in the Scottish Highlands.

Lisa Marley (25), from Westhill, has created an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to make the film, Project Wolf, which will highlight Scotland’s studies into reintroducing species and restoring ecosystems, known as rewilding.

The film will follow the activities of charity Trees for Life’s Project Wolf – a human wolf pack – as it investigates the environmental impact of reintroducing wolves to the Caledonian Forest in Glen Moriston, near Loch Ness. By recreating the behaviours of natural predators, the charity hopes to discover how this would affect the movements and grazing of red deer, in an effort to restore plant life and allow new growth to thrive.

Wildlife and conservation enthusiasts can donate to the campaign at www.indiegogo.com/at/projectwolf until April 19 to help bring the film to the big screen, in exchange for a series of perks ranging from guide books and gift cards to production credits and invitations to film festivals.

Lisa says,

“I have always been interested in rewilding. The idea of reintroducing species to an ecosystem in order to restore natural balance is inherently fascinating. It allows us not only to examine the interactions of flora and fauna, but also to evaluate our own relationships with nature.

“Trees for Life’s work in the Highlands is at the forefront of rewilding study in Scotland, and its work with a human wolf pack allows for a unique perspective on the issues surrounding rewilding. By following the wolf pack’s movements, and interviewing the key figures involved in the project, I hope to allow a greater understanding of the importance of this work.

“Project Wolf is something of a passion project for me: it’s a wonderful story that I feel is important to tell, and I’d love to be able to do that in my own way. But I can’t do that alone, and I hope that the wildlife and conservation communities will share my enthusiasm for learning more about this incredible project.

“By donating via Indiegogo, those with an interest in rewilding can help spread the word and bring the issue to the attention of a much wider audience.”

Alan Watson Featherstone, founder of Trees for Life, believes that the film will help to raise the profile of rewilding and bring it to the public’s attention. He says,

“Project Wolf is an innovative project run by Trees for Life, using enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers to patrol the edge of the native Caledonian Forest, to disturb deer that are grazing on native tree seedlings, preventing their growth.

“It seeks to mimic the natural disturbance effect of missing predators, such as the wolf, and has the potential to be replicated in many parts of Scotland (and elsewhere), greatly assisting the process of forest restoration.

“This film will play a crucial role in communicating the value, importance and effectiveness of the project, so please support it with a donation – you will be directly helping the recovery of the Caledonian Forest.”

Lisa’s last film, Red Sky on the Black Isle, also continues to make waves both in the film and wildlife communities.

Translated into multiple languages and screened around the world, it picked up the Little Audience Prize at the Raptor Filmz Short Scottish Film Festival last year.

This weekend it will be screened at the inaugural Wild Film Festival Scotland in Dumfries, and will be shown at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York in October.

The Project Wolf campaign runs on Indiegogo until April 19. For more information, and to donate, visit www.indiegogo.com/at/projectwolf

To follow Lisa’s progress, follow Project Wolf on Facebook at www.facebook.com/projectwolffilm or follow Lisa on Twitter @procuriosity

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Mar 172017
 

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

Scottish nature charity Trees for Life has won £376,800 of highly sought after funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) ‘Skills for the Future’ programme. The funding will enable Trees for Life to train 15 people over a three-year period in wild forest restoration skills.

Steve Micklewright, CEO of Trees for Life, said:

“There is a shortage of people who are able to manage estates to bring back natural forests and wildlife to the Highlands. This funding will help us train people in these skills, bringing new employment opportunities to local people and to fill the skills gap.”

Lucy Casot, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said:

“We know that our Skills for the Future programme is driving successful and lasting change. It’s providing a much-needed pool of talented people who will be the future guardians of the heritage sector, ensuring that it continues to flourish.

“By pairing trainees with experts, they gain access to specialist knowledge plus practical, paid, on-the-job experience. It’s simple yet highly effective, but requires funding which we are delighted to provide.”

Trees for Life will recruit five trainees each year for three years, starting in 2018. Over the course of a year, the trainees will have the opportunity to learn and develop the essential skills needed to save the Caledonian Forest ­– a type of woodland found only in the Highlands of Scotland. They will receive practical training in specialist tree propagation, deer management for nature conservation, native forest management techniques, wildlife monitoring and community engagement.

Trainees will also learn how to interpret landscapes through innovative sources of information such as Gaelic place names, which often describe which trees and other wildlife once thrived in an area.

Steve Micklewright said:

“We will be looking in particular for a broad range of trainees – especially young people from the Highlands, women, and people seeking a career change – to increase the diversity of people working in Highland estate management.”

The training will be based at Trees for Life’s flagship Dundreggan Conservation Estate and will be accredited by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Trees for Life is an award-winning charity working to restore the native Caledonian Forest and its unique wildlife to the spectacular Highlands of Scotland, including to its 10,000-acre Dundreggan Conservation Estate.

The charity’s work is about people as much as places. Much of this is carried out by volunteers and is funded by its members, and by charitable trusts, corporate supporters and other donors.

The charity’s rewilding activity also includes working for the return of rare woodland wildlife and plants, and carrying out scientific research and education programmes. See www.treesforlife.org.uk 

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Feb 242017
 

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

Peter Chandler sweep-netting for fungus gnats beside a lone Scots pine on Dundreggan in August 2016

Surveys at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate near Loch Ness have revealed a range of rare species, including a midge never recorded in the United Kingdom before – underlining the site’s growing reputation as a ‘lost world’ for biodiversity.
The discovery of the non-biting midge (Chironomus vallenduuki) by entomologist Peter Chandler last August brings the total of UK biodiversity firsts found at the Inverness-shire estate to 11.

Other key findings during the charity’s 2016 survey season included two rare gnats whose larvae feed on fungi.

One of these (Sciophila varia) is only known from four other UK sites. The other (Mycomya nigricornis) is only known in the UK from a handful of Scottish sites and had not been seen since 1990.

“Dundreggan is a special part of the Caledonian Forest that keeps on revealing beautiful, interesting and rare species. The surprisingly rich wealth of life in this corner of the Highlands highlights the importance of concerted conservation action to protect and restore Scotland’s wild places,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s founder.

The charity also found two parasitic wasps (Homotropus pallipes and Diphyus salicatorius), for which there are very few Scottish records, and – for the first time in Scotland north of the River Tay – a pseudoscorpion called the knotty shining claw (Lamprochernes nodosus).

A micro-moth, the small barred longhorn (Adela croesella) – only documented at three other locations in Scotland, and never before this far north – was found by volunteer Richard Davidson. Richard had been taking part in one of Trees for Life’s popular volunteer Conservation Weeks at Dundreggan when he found the moth.

“Our latest discoveries add to an already-remarkable range of rare and endangered species found at Dundreggan – some of which were previously unknown in the UK or Scotland, or which were feared to be extinct,” added Alan Watson Featherstone.

New species for the UK discovered on the estate in recent years were three sawflies (Nematus pravus, Nematus pseudodispar and Amauronematus tristis), an aphid (Cinara smolandiae), two aphid parasitoids (Ephedrus helleni, Praon cavariellae), three fungus gnats (Brevicornu parafennicum, Mycomya disa, Sceptonia longisetosa), and a mite (Ceratozetella thienemanni).

Parasitic wasp Diphyus salicatorius

Dundreggan has also revealed the second-ever British record of a waxfly species (Helicoconis hirtinervis); a golden horsefly (Atylotus fulvus) only seen once before in Scotland since 1923; and the juniper shieldbug (Cyphostethus tristriatus), thought to be the first Highlands record.

In total, more than 3,300 species have now been recorded at the forest restoration site.
At least 68 of these are priority species for conservation.

Members of the public can volunteer to help plant half a million trees at Dundreggan as part of Trees for Life’s award-winning restoration of the Caledonian Forest. The charity’s rewilding activity also includes working for the return of rare woodland wildlife and plants, and carrying out scientific research and education programmes. See www.treesforlife.org.uk.

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Feb 102017
 

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

Record numbers of three dolphin species off Scotland’s west coast were recorded by conservation charity Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in its marine research expeditions in 2016. 
From the trust’s specialized research yacht Silurian, volunteers and scientists recorded 2,303 individual common dolphins, 42 bottlenose dolphins and 94 Risso’s dolphins – the figures for all three species being the highest ever recorded in its annual survey seasons.

Average annual figures documented over the previous 14 years were 463 individual common dolphins, 14 bottlenose dolphins and 12 Risso’s dolphins. 

For common dolphins, these records range from 0 individuals encountered in a couple of the earlier field seasons to 1,862 during the 2007 season. 

Dr. Lauren Hartny-Mills, Science Officer of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, said:

“The reasons for the high number of sightings of these charismatic dolphin species – and the broader effects on the marine environment and other species – remain unclear. But the intriguing findings highlight the importance of on-going monitoring and research – to strengthen our understanding of what is taking place in Hebridean waters, and to ensure well-informed conservation action.”

The latest findings were made in a research season lasting from May to October 2016, as part of the trust’s unique long-term citizen science project monitoring whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – as well as basking sharks in the Hebrides.

These annual research surveys depend on paying volunteers, with 71 welcomed aboard in 2016 – working with marine scientists on visual surveys and acoustic monitoring with underwater microphones or hydrophones, and identifying individual cetaceans through photography.

The Isle of Mull-based organisation now holds data from more than 95,000km of survey effort. It aims to pass the 100,000km milestone during 2017, and it is currently recruiting volunteers to support this by working as citizen scientists onboard Silurian for periods of almost two weeks from April to September.

Alison Lomax, Director of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, said: “The impressive range of species documented in our at-sea surveys last year is a powerful reminder that Scotland’s west coast ocean environment is home to remarkable marine life. Long-term scientific studies of this globally-important habitat and its inhabitants are crucial if we are to ensure a secure future for the Hebrides’ spectacular cetaceans.”

During 2016, Silurian – previously used in filming of the BBC’s The Blue Planet series – covered more than 5,000 nautical miles, compared to an average of almost 4,000 miles annually over the previous 14 years. Its crew documented more than 1,300 cetaceans and basking sharks, and recorded almost 700 hours of underwater detections of cetaceans using specialist listening equipment.

Notable highlights included a wonderful encounter with a humpback whale in the northern Minch – an hour was spent with the massive creature lunge feeding, tail slapping and swimming under Silurian, alongside a large group of common dolphins.

2016 also saw Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s first expeditions running out of Ullapool, allowing for surveys in the more northern and western parts of the charity’s study area.

Western Scotland’s seas are one of Europe’s most important cetacean habitats. With a long, complex coastline, strong ocean currents and a variety of habitats, the Hebrides is one of the UK’s most biologically productive areas. So far 24 of the world’s estimated 92 cetacean species have been recorded in the region – many being national and international conservation priority species.

Yet marine ecosystems are fragile, and cetaceans face increasing stress from human activities – including climate change, entanglement, pollution, underwater noise and habitat degradation.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has been monitoring marine mega fauna in the Hebrides since 1994, and from Silurian since 2002. Its surveys are partly funded by a generous grant from Scottish Natural Heritage, which supports the training of future mammal scientists.

The charity is the only organisation collecting long-term data on such a large scale on Scotland’s west coast, and its volunteers and scientists have now recorded more than 12,000 cetaceans. A short film about surveys can be seen at https://youtu.be/M_3r-GKfh8o.

Participation costs for the forthcoming 2017 surveys cover boat expenses, accommodation, training, food and insurance, and support the trust’s research. For details of how to take part, contact volunteercoordinator@hwdt.org, call 01688 302620, or visit www.hwdt.org.

 

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Jan 132017
 

With thanks to Martin Ford.

East Garioch councillor Martin Ford has welcomed progress being made towards a cycle route between Inverurie, Kintore, Blackburn and Aberdeen.

“I’m keen to see a cycle route in place all the way between Inverurie and Aberdeen,” said Cllr Ford.

Aberdeen City Council is working towards provision of a cycle route between Bucksburn and its boundary at Blackburn.

Councillor Ford has been pressing Aberdeenshire Council for a cycle route between Inverurie and Kintore so cyclists do not have to cross or use the A96 dual carriageway.

More recently, he has called on the Council to identify then deliver a cycle route between Kintore and Blackburn. And Cllr Ford along with Cllr Paul Johnston (as the Democratic Independent and Green Group of Aberdeenshire councillors) secured an extra £250,000 per year for active travel (cycling and walking) in Aberdeenshire Council’s revenue budget from 2016/17.

Between Port Elphinstone and Kintore, a good cycle route was put in place some years ago between Port Elphinstone and the Thainstone roundabout.

Last year (2016), a new cycle path was constructed between Kintore and Kintore Business Park. Cllr Ford has been pressing for the ‘missing link’ section of cycle path (between the Thainstone roundabout and Kintore Business Park) to be constructed as soon as possible, thus providing a cycle route all the way between Kintore and Port Elphinstone which does not involve using or crossing the A96.

In response to enquiries from Cllr Ford, Council officers have advised the construction of the Thainstone roundabout to Kintore Business Park section of cycle path should go out to tender this month, with the new length of path due to be complete by May 2017 at the latest.

Commenting, Cllr Ford said:

“I will be delighted to finally see cycling provision in place all the way between Kintore and Port Elphinstone. Certainly, cycling on the A96 itself is not a good experience, so having a cycle route available instead will be a significant improvement for cyclists wanting to travel between Kintore and Inverurie.”

Council officers have also confirmed to Cllr Ford that Aberdeenshire Council has appointed infrastructure consultancy firm AECOM to progress delivering a cycle route between Kintore and Blackburn.

AECOM will look at feasible options for the route, from the site of the planned railway station in Kintore to the south end of Blackburn at the boundary between Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City. They have been asked to consider cyclists of all abilities when looking at the options. A report on the feasibility of possible routes, their respective advantages and disadvantages and indicative costs will be prepared by 31 March 2017.

Council officers anticipate a report to the Garioch Area Committee will follow on 18 April 2017 for councillors to take a decision on the preferred route. Detailed design will then proceed during financial year 2017/18 so bids for funding for construction can be made in financial year 2018/19.

Cllr Martin Ford said:

“I’m very pleased to see progress on a cycle route between Kintore and Blackburn. I look forward to engaging with the consultants working on the project over the choice of route, and agreeing a preferred option in the spring. I certainly want to see a route put in place as soon as possible.”

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Dec 062016
 
pupils-from-invergarry-primary-school-with-singer-and-harpist-claire-hewitt-medium

Pupils from Invergarry Primary School with singer and harpist Claire Hewitt.

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

Schools in the Highlands are working with conservation charity Trees for Life to learn firsthand about native woodlands and rewilding through a new project that combines tree planting with storytelling, folklore, history, geography, poetry and song.

Around 300 pupils in Cannich, Balnain, Drumnadrochit, Fort Augustus and Invergarry are taking part in the Rewilding the Highlands project, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“This is an exciting collaboration in which teachers and pupils are working together to discover more about our precious native woodlands and the importance of restoring Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s Founder.

Specially commissioned teaching resources written by Sallie Harkness and Carol Omand of Storyline Scotland – including stories, songs and puppets – are bringing the project alive for the schoolchildren. The pupils are also learning about past relationships between people and trees, Gaelic place-names, and the craft of the storyteller or seanachaidh.

Storyteller, singer and harpist Claire Hewitt recently visited Invergarry Primary School to share woodland folklore, songs and stories, while training upper primary pupils as apprentice storytellers.

Gaelic storyteller Ariel Killick also visited Invergarry Primary School and Kilchuimen Primary School in Fort Augustus, using her engaging workshop ‘Adventures with the Gaelic Tree Alphabet’ to explore environmental issues, Gaelic poetry and language, and the Highland clearances.

Kim Bentley, Head Teacher at Invergarry Primary School, said:

“This fantastic project is helping to strengthen our pupils’ appreciation and love of our native woodlands. It’s wonderful for them to be involved in the restoration of the Caledonian Forest, and to be part of something that will have a lasting impact on future generations.”

The project addresses a wide range of curriculum areas including outdoor learning, science, Gaelic, arts and literacy. Participating schools have visited Trees for Life’s acclaimed Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston to find out more about conservation and to help in the charity’s tree nursery. 

Plans for the schools also include community celebrations of the project, and walks in community woodlands with pupils who are to be trained as nature guides.

Next spring, poets Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn will work with secondary schools on a Gaelic place-name map, using linguistic archaeology to reveal lost woods and wildlife in Glen Affric, Glen Urquhart, Glenmoriston and Glen Garry. Pupils will carry out research, with their discoveries added to the map.

The Caledonian Forest has been an important part of the Highlands’ culture and natural landscape for millennia, but is now one of the UK’s most endangered habitats – largely because of over-grazing, which prevents natural regeneration of its trees. For details about Trees for Life’s award-winning work to save the forest, visit www.treesforlife.org.uk.

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Nov 282016
 

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

beaver-pixabay-nutria-1386446_1280 Welcoming the Scottish government’s decision to allow reintroduced beavers to remain in the country, Trees for Life said that it plans to move ahead with investigating possibilities for bringing beavers to areas north of the Great Glen, working with local communities to identify where they might live without perceived adverse impacts.

Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s Chief Executive said:

“Today’s decision means that beavers can naturally spread through Scotland in the future. There is a lot of space in the Highlands where they could thrive, improving the region for other wildlife and providing a tourist attraction that will benefit the local economy.”

However, the main obstacle to the natural spread of beavers to the Highlands is geography. Steve Micklewright said:

“The Great Glen presents a natural barrier to beavers colonising the area on their own from the existing populations in Argyll and Tayside, so the only way to be sure they will return to the northwest Highlands would be to give them a helping hand.”

Trees for Life has long been an advocate for the Eurasian beaver’s reintroduction to Scotland and has been working on the possibility to reintroduce them for many years. In 2015 the charity commissioned initial research by beaver experts, which indicated that places such as Glen Affric could support beavers.

The planting of aspen trees – a vital winter food for beavers – by Trees for Life in areas beside Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin and Loch Affric in Glen Affric, and beside the River Moriston at the charity’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston, has also improved the prospect of these areas being suitable for beaver reintroduction in the future.

Trees for Life is supportive of the return of beavers because they can improve the health of rivers and lochs, and also reduce flooding. They coppice and fell trees, letting light into the forest and enabling other plants to flourish, while stimulating new growth of the trees themselves. Their small dams create wetland areas, providing habitats for amphibians, invertebrates and fish, which in turn attract birds and otters.

While the benefits to other wildlife of beaver reintroduction are significant, the government’s announcement recognises that some residents may be concerned about the possible impact of beavers on their interests and that this requires careful management.

Acknowledging that some people might be worried about potential local impacts such as flooding and beavers felling trees to build dams, Steve Micklewright said:

“While it is certain that beavers could live in the Highlands, the next step is to ensure they would be a welcome addition to the landscape. That is why we plan to work out where they would be welcome. Then we plan to enter in to dialogue with the government to explore how we can help them to return to those areas.”

Pictures courtesy of Pixabay, used under creative commons permissions. Featured image credit: Elli60. Thumbnail credit: Antranias. Top right image credit: Peter Lösch.

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Nov 102016
 

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in mid flight in forest, Scotland.

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in mid flight in forest, Scotland. © Peter Cairns.

An innovative project to boost the number of the UK’s red squirrels by relocating individuals to woodlands they cannot reach by themselves is taking a major step forward this month.

Conservation experts at the charity Trees for Life will carefully relocate red squirrels from Inverness-shire and Moray to forests near Kinlochewe and at Plockton, where the species is currently absent despite there being suitable habitat for squirrels.

The Red Squirrel Reintroduction Project aims to establish 10 new populations in the northwest Highlands, significantly increasing both the numbers and range of the red squirrel in the UK.

“We are giving red squirrels a helping hand to return to some of their long-lost forest homes. Many Highland woodlands offer the species excellent habitat far from disease-carrying grey squirrels – but because reds travel between trees and avoid crossing large areas of open ground, they can’t return to isolated woodlands without our help,” said Becky Priestley, Trees for Life’s Wildlife Officer.

The next two releases follow a successful first reintroduction in March this year, when the charity relocated 33 red squirrels from Forres and Strathspey to native woods at Shieldaig in Wester Ross.

This new population has also bred during the summer, with several young squirrels observed – confirming that the area is excellent habitat with a good natural food supply.

There have also been regular sightings reported by local people, with the squirrels ranging widely as they explore nearby habitat. Trees for Life is continuing to monitor the population, with surveys planned for later this year.

Another success has been high levels of community involvement. Residents near the relocation sites have been monitoring the squirrels and carrying out supplementary feeding, while people from whose gardens the squirrels were removed have visited Shieldaig to see the expanding new population.

“Involving local communities is a big part of this exciting rewilding project. People love helping red squirrels and having them move into their local area,” said Becky Priestley.

In the next phase of the project, this autumn 70 red squirrels will be relocated to the privately-owned Coulin Estate next to Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve near Kinlochewe, and to Plockton, which is owned by landowners including conservation charity The National Trust for Scotland. These sites have good habitat with significant potential for the species to spread into surrounding areas.

There will be opportunities for people to help with monitoring the new squirrel populations, by reporting sightings and by taking part in surveys during the winter.

With animal welfare paramount, the project involves squirrels being transported in special nest boxes, lined with hay for comfort, and provisioned for food and hydration. Only small numbers of squirrels are removed from any site, so that donor populations are unaffected. Health checks ensure that diseased animals are not introduced to new populations.

At the reintroduction sites, the boxes are fixed to trees, with exit holes lightly filled with grass – allowing the squirrels to find their way out. Food is provided for several months while the squirrels become accustomed to their new habitat.

In the UK, red squirrels are now rare with only an estimated 138,000 individuals left – their numbers decimated by the reduction of forests to isolated remnants, and by disease and competition from the introduced non-native grey squirrel.

The Red Squirrel Reintroduction Project has been made possible by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and People’s Trust for Endangered Species. It involves volunteer opportunities, landowner partnerships, and research to strengthen conservation. All relocation sites require comprehensive habitat assessments, landowner agreements, and a five-year licence from Scottish Natural Heritage.

For details about Trees for Life’s award-winning work to restore the Caledonian Forest in the Highlands, visit www.treesforlife.org.uk.

Pictured: Red squirrel © Peter Cairns www.scotlandbigpicture.com 

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