The Hot Topic!

A rather disorientated adult female Soprano Pipistrelle. Photo courtesy of Kirstin Mair.

Hi folks! The extreme temperatures have been a major concern here recently and their impacts on wildlife have not gone unnoticed.  During the last week, the temperatures soared to over 30°C at the Burn O’Vat; we were actually the hottest place in Scotland on Monday 18th July! The consequences of the prolonged heatwave have ranged from considerably lower water levels on the lochs, to the erratic behaviour of Pipistrelle bats. We have a roost of 244 Soprano Pipistrelles, resident in the eaves of the Visitor Centre and office. This exceptional heat is proving to be extremely uncomfortable for them and some individuals have migrated into the relative coolness of the main room of the Visitor Centre! Kirstin even spotted an adult bat make a hasty retreat from the roost to the forest, in broad daylight; it really must have become unbearable in the roost. I really do hope that the switch back to cooler temperatures persists longer than forecast, as these little guys are extremely prone to over-heating and even death by heat exhaustion and dehydration. Unfortunately, roosts can experience quite high mortality rates during heat waves.

The plant life has also suffered in the punishing heat. Flowers wilted very quickly, which obviously can have a knock-on-effect for pollinators such as bumblebees and honeybees. They really depend on healthy, blooming flowers; especially at this time of year, when they provide them with the necessary nectar for an immediate energy boost and for the production of honey, but also the pollen provides some fats and proteins to take back to the hive for the young and non-foraging bees. So, some respite from these temperatures is essential, we really need some prolonged rainfall soon. This will help to revitalize our meadows and top-up our lochs and of course the River Dee.

A Harebell beginning to wilt on the Bearberry Heath.

The presence of Blue-Green Algae (scientifically known as Cyanobacteria) is always concerning to people who exercise, live or work by or near the water. SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) have recently reported to us that it is on Loch Davan. It is toxic and in extreme cases, exposure to high levels of it can cause various health issues, such as nausea and breathing difficulties in humans. Sadly, for dogs it can be lethal, leading to liver failure. If you are walking your dog by Loch Davan, no matter how hot it is, please keep your much beloved ‘best friend’ away from the water, doing that could save a life. When algal blooms spread across waterbodies and persist, they can have detrimental effects on resident waterfowl and fish populations as well. It’s an ongoing concern that SEPA and NatureScot will be monitoring. Blue-green algal blooms arise when water temperatures stay consistently high, in combination with persistent sunshine in nutrient rich waters. These potentially dangerous, hazardous blooms could become a more common sight in Scottish waters as climate chaos intensifies.

Cylindrospermum (Blue Green Algae) as seen under a microscope. This is a genus of filamentous cyanobacteria found in terrestrial and aquatic environments. Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

These climate driven issues, witnessed on the reserve, provide just a snapshot of what must be happening nationally and internationally to our biosphere due to climate change. Sadly, we can’t turn back the clock to a time before human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, began this dangerous new cycle. However, we can all do our bit to help the environment now, and our combined efforts can have an enormous impact. Taking care of our wild spaces for example, by simply respecting the basic countryside etiquettes, is something everyone could do and would have such far-reaching positive outcomes.

Roe Deer doe enjoying a cooler summer evening in the meadow.

We recently hosted a very successful pop-up event; jointly hosted with the CNPA rangers on the north shore of Loch Kinord. The public were invited to pond-dip and discover some of the fascinating mini-beasties that inhabit the loch! Insects such as Greater Water Boatmen and Common Blue Damselflies, were among just a few of the diverse array of species that people of all ages were able to observe and enjoy. We welcomed questions about all the local wildlife and were able to answer any queries regarding the water sports access, camping, and the general outdoor recreational activity etiquette, in accordance with SOAC (Scottish Outdoor Access Code), in the context of a nature reserve.

Pop-up event, The CNPA rangers Kirsty and Andy on the left (and Judy took the photo) and Jennifer, Kirstin and myself on the right.

The tragic Avian Flu (H5N1) outbreak, reported in the news, is having a devastating and long-lasting impact on a number of sea bird colonies, particularly species such as Great Skua and Gannet. The world population of Great Skua is about 16,000 and research is now indicating that Avian Flu could have killed between 64% and 85% of these birds in their most important breeding sites on Orkney and Shetland. Seabirds are especially vulnerable because they are typically long-lived birds, which often take five years or more to reach breeding age. They also have small broods so population recovery is slow. The UK has about 8 million sea birds and over 300 outbreaks of flu have been reported. So, it’s possible that hundreds of thousands of birds may have died across these colonies. Aberdeenshire council alone, has reported over 1,000 dead seabirds washed up on beaches across the region. In response, NatureScot has set up a new task force to combat this severe outbreak and have recommended that 23 islands ban tourists from public landings in their waters, to combat the spread.

Despite having two large waterbodies and significant waterfowl populations, the Muir of Dinnet NNR has escaped the worst effects of the Avian Flu for now.

This is beginning to transfer to other species such as raptors, like Common Buzzard, but fortunately not here, so far. These bulky ‘Tourist Eagles’ (an affectionate nick-name for them, as tourists often mistake them for eagles) were a common sight in the UK during the 1800s. But populations of these raptors swiftly declined due to persecution, as was the case with many birds of prey. They were considered vermin by landowners and a threat to game bird interests. The two World Wars saw a temporary upsurge in buzzard numbers until the mid-50s when myxomatosis wiped out rabbit populations, a significant food supply for them. Organochlorine pesticides then reduced their ability to reproduce (as was the case for other species) this continued until the late 60s, when they were banned. Finally, by the 1990s, these birds had the opportunity to rapidly recolonize, and they made the most of it. In 2000, the UK population soared to a staggering 44,000 pairs! But in the wake of Avian Flu, could the Buzzard’s reign and status as the UK’s most numerous and successful breeding raptor be under threat? Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD), is a highly contagious virus currently sweeping across UK rabbit populations and this will once again impact on Buzzards and other predators that rely on them as a food source. My concerns could be unfounded, but I have seen fewer buzzards in recent years. Have other people noticed the same thing or have others observed the opposite? What do you think? It would be interesting to hear our readers thoughts on this, and for that matter, their thoughts and opinions on all the other issues raised in this blog post. Looking back over it, I realise that there is not a lot of positive content, sorry about that; a sign of the times perhaps? On a lighter note, I will now be going off to do a rain dance; now that should raise a smile! Take care everyone. Danny

A Common Buzzard watching its prey in the nearby undergrowth.

About dannyfabianharvey

Danny works for NatureScot as an Assistant Reserve Officer, at the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, in the Eastern Cairngorms National Park. He graduated in 2019 with an MSc in Ecology and Conservation from the University of Aberdeen. This has provided him with the scientific rigor required when dealing with issues of Ecology and Conservation, coupled with a profound respect for wildlife and habitats. He directs his own short films, two of which were Highly Commended in the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2018. Currently, he is co-directing and filming a documentary feature called, 'The Bough Beaks', with independent production company, Mousehole Films, due to complete in the summer of 2023. Danny is regularly booked for his lively talks on Wildlife Filming, where he discusses the joys, challenges and techniques. Recently he has started working as a freelance bird surveyor, having conducted multiple farmland bird surveys for the James Hutton Institute for their Framework program. Previously, he has worked with the RSPB, Trees for Life and Aquila Ecology.
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