Brilliant Biodiversity – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Due to other commitments, we’ve not been at Dinnet this week. So we’ve handed the blog over to Ewen Cameron – thanks Ewen- for a quick blast of biodiversity – and what you can do to help.

On any visit to Dinnet I alway try to spot what the reserve team have been up to in their work to help protect and restore Scotland’s Biodiversity.   The blog and the displays in the Burn o’ Vat Centre help by letting readers get a wee bit more insight into some of the work that goes on in the background that most people will never be aware of.   It might be some carefully planned heather burning to maintain the bearberry heath, maintenance work along the footpaths or yet another attempt to get visitors to keep their dogs under control!   The “restore” bit is very important because biodiversity in Scotland has taken a series of big hits over the last 70+ years.

Nature will take care of itself given half a chance and in many respects that’s what nature reserves do – they give Nature half a chance.   But nature reserves are few and far between so they cannot do it on their own.   And that’s where we all have a part to play; we can all help.   But I’ll come back to that later.

Mum mallard with 5 fairly freshly- hatched ducklings

Mallard ducklings finding something to eat under the watchful eye of mother duck

 Parkin’s Moss has often featured in the reserve blog and I clearly remember some of the first ditch blocking work we did there nearly 20 years ago.

The first ditch damming at Parkin's Moss

The first ditch damming at Parkin’s Moss c. 1998 (Note from reserve staff today: Flippin’ heck- it’s so dry and heathery and there’s so many trees!)

Lots of bogs have been drained for agricultural, forestry or other purposes over the centuries and we have only realised more recently that peat bogs play a really important role in capturing the carbon that pours into our atmosphere from cars, planes, fires, industry and so on.   When bogs are drained, not only do they stop storing new carbon, they also start to release all the carbon they have already stored back into the atmosphere – a double whammy in the climate change challenge.   And that’s partly why we took the steps to restore Parkin’s Moss by blocking up the ditches, getting the bog wet again so it can start storing carbon again – as well as being a better habitat for lots of wildlife.   Of course Parkin’s Moss won’t halt rising carbon in the atmosphere all on it’s own; but you know what that well known supermarket says………..!

Parkin's Moss

Parkin’s Moss from the air, 2016. You can see standing water and there are no trees on the centre of the bog….all thanks to that work in the late 1990s.

Bog restoration is now a countrywide activity and it’s estimated that Scotland’s bogs already store about 180 years worth of our country’s current carbon emissions.   Bogs are probably much more useful as carbon stores than they are for poor quality grazing or producing compost for our gardens.   The Government’s Scotland’s Biodiversity: a Routemap to 2020 is a very readable document, that you can see online, and it begins to explain how Scotland will contribute to the very ambitious international targets set to halt decline in biodiversity by 2020.

Scotland's Biodiversity Routemap

Scotland’s Biodiversity Routemap

Many people still think that Nature is nice to have, but it’s not really all that important when compared with the need for food to eat, water to drink and energy to keep our homes warm and our economy turning.   Sadly, that view couldn’t be more wrong – we don’t realize that trees and plants clean up the air we breathe, soils filter and clean water and insects pollinate our food plants.  It’s probably due to the fact that we have all become a bit detached from the natural world and what actually does for us.   We get plenty of TV on tigers and pandas (or those amazing snakes after the baby iguanas), but we get much less on the decline of the bumblebees and other insects that pollinate the crops that produce much of our food.   Perhaps we don’t have enough “real”, reality TV.   The decline has got so bad that farmers in the UK import some 50,000 colonies of wild bees from eastern Europe each year!   Wouldn’t it just be simpler and cheaper to restore some habitat on farms where bumblebee numbers could recover?

Devil's bit scabious with bumblebee

Devil’s bit scabious with bumblebee

Another very readable document is the Government’s 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity, and you can read that online too.   It helps explain the ways in which even modern and technological countries like ours are still very dependant on the natural world – I think you will be surprised.

2020 Challange

2020 Challenge

I was born and brought up on a farm north of Inverness in the early 1950s and I know how farming has changed our countryside since then.   I’m not suggesting all these changes have been for the worse, but they haven’t all been for the good either.   Changes in cropping and harvesting may have led to better yields, but they frequently lead to more bare soil during the winter months, which in turn risks more soil erosion and can increase flooding and pollution.   I don’t think anyone can afford to literally flush their most basic asset down the drain.

Eroded soil being blown into ditch

Eroded soil being blown into ditch

In 1979 I did some land use survey work and when I compared my results with an Aberdeen University survey done in the same area ten years previously; semi-natural habitats (wee bits of woods, rough grassland and so on) had declined by just over 30% and the area of arable land had gone up by just over 30%.   Over those ten years, the price of malting barley had gone up and it’s easy to understand how and why at least some of that change happened.   But it also meant that habitat for pollinating insects declined and the remaining semi-natural areas became even more isolated.

Of course it isn’t just farming.   All sorts of land use continues to nibble away at the wildlife reservoirs these semi-natural areas provide – new road here, land “reclamation” there, new buildings, more car parking – I’m sure all of you have seen lots of little bits that were once fine for Nature but have now gone to other uses, under concrete and tarmac or grass manicured to within an inch of it’s life.

Baby robin

Young blackbird sheltering in hedge

Over my lifetime I have heard many groups claim that they are “the real custodians of the countryside”.   In truth nobody is really entitled to that claim.   We have all played a part in the decline of Scotland’s biodiversity, one way or another, and we all need to play a part in helping put things right for the sake of our children & grandchildren.   We all can, and should, play our part in restoring what has been lost – what we all ultimately  depend on.

So – what can you do?

Bee on Thyme

Bee on Thyme in garden

  1.  Major global problems usually seem “too big & too complex” for us as individuals to do much about or to make any real difference.   But if everyone in Scotland did just one little thing for Nature, that would add up to a big change – mony a mickle maks a muckle! – as they say in Doric. Farmers, foresters, house builders, local councils and everyone with a bit of land (and that includes a garden) could sow a wee corner with (native) wildflowers or native, berry bearing trees or shrubs and so provide food and shelter for lots of wildlife.   Although many garden flowers are very showy they, often have little or no nectar or pollen.   And of course you can always get together and encourage others to join in to make an even greater impact – your school grounds, your community spaces, your local park.   And don’t wait for “them” to do something – be a trendsetter and lead the way.
Fox hunting for rodents

Fox engrossed in hunting for rodents

2.   Don’t just take my word for it – find out about biodiversity and how it is vital to even modern and technological societies like ours.   The 2020 Challenge and the Routemap to 2020 would be a good start.   If you are better informed, you will have a better understanding of why the “answers” that may seem like common sense often just make things worse.   And if you are better informed, you will find it easier to make sense of all the mixed messages that fly around.   For example, in Scotland we have a very strange and ill-informed relationship with predators.   Sure, foxes will take some chickens and lambs, but they will take far more rabbits, mice and voles – which are considered pests. As they are also scavengers, they clean up roadkill and other things they come across that are already dead.   So perhaps reaching for the shotgun is not always the best first step.

3.  The Internet is a wonder of our times and you will find lots of information out there on how you can help wildlife on your farm, in your forest, in your garden, in your school grounds.   Almost certainly, there will already be a group or individuals nearby who can help you with ideas and encouragement.   My top tip would be – don’t be too quick to “tidy up”.   Wildlife will benefit from the food and shelter where things are left for a while and it will shelter Leopard slugs that eat – other slugs!

Compost bins

30 year-old compost bins sheltering wildlife as well as recycle garden waster

4.  Please don’t ever dump plants or animals into the countryside – it won’t help, is likely to cause real problems and in some cases you will be committing a criminal offence.   I once met someone planting garden flowers on one of our nature reserves because they thought is was looking a bit dull!   Wildlife frequently likes dull – excitement generally consists of narrowly avoiding being eaten by something else!   If you really would like to help improve nature reserves, then offer to volunteer with some of the properly planned work. SNH, RSPB, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Local Councils and the National Trust for Scotland are just some of the organisations who may be glad to have your help.

5. Don’t be in denial!  We were and are all part of the problem faced by our biodiversity and we all have the responsibility to be part of the solution and help put things right. And, I’d like to think we can- if we all just try.

East Tullos Burn, Aberdeen

Wildflowers in the city. East Tullos Burn, Aberdeen

 

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