Green travel to green places

In search of climate and wildlife stories…by bike

Machair under threat — August 24, 2012

Machair under threat

On the ferry crossing from Coll to Tiree I saw basking sharks and a pod of dolphins – amazing. Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the ocean, second only to the whale shark. They are slow moving filter feeders, opening their huge mouths to take in gallons of water and filter out the nutritious tiny plankton. I saw them some way off so just the dark dorsal fin above the water – but it was my first ever sighting. John Bowler, my RSPB colleague on Tiree, said he counted 250 off the west cost of the island on one occasion this year and that it has been a good year for them because the sea has stayed relatively cool through the summer and this has been good for plankton.

John showed me ‘The Reef’, a large flat Machair plain to the east and south of the airport, almost bisecting the island, land that he looks after and manages. It’s a sensitive spot so not a reserve that the RSPB advertises. In April and May there are large numbers of lapwing nesting and in the winter rain flood the lowest point before draining to the sea. Whooper swans, geese and other water birds use this area. Whooper swans migrate to Tiree from Greenland and stay for the winter but in the past 10-15 years their arrival date has got later and later. They used to arrive in September or October but nowadays they delay until November because Greenland is getting warmer.

Between The Reef and the sea is a stretch of sand dunes. John showed me that these are eroding and I could easily see the steep seaward edge in many places. This might be due to the storms which seem to come in a more southerly direction these days. This winter was the wettest ever winter and very windy, often force 8, 9 and 10. The storms have battered the beachhead in places on the island and roads have to be repaired after each. At The Reef the sand isn’t blowing inland to create new dunes but rather washing away at a rate of approximately half a metre per year and in some places the dunes are now very low and narrow. If the sea did wash through the dunes it is hard to say how long any inundation might last or how nature would respond and adapt. Some Machair would be lost as the saltwater wouldn’t be favourable to it, instead saltmarsh might take hold permanently.

Machair is under threat throughout the Hebrides because of climate change causing sea level rise and extreme weather. Machair is unique, delicate and vulnerable, and we can’t create lots more in other places in Scotland. All we can do is manage the Machair that we have so that it is in the best condition possible for the wildlife that depends on it and for us to enjoy. The best thing to avoistop the erosion of Machair is to cut our carbon emissions and put a halt to climate change as soon as we can.

Outward to Coll — August 21, 2012

Outward to Coll

When I was 11 my family went on a holiday to Mull. I remember we took the short ferry journey across from the Morven peninsula to Fishnish Bay. The thing I remember most clearly was looking down into the inky black water and seeing thousands of huge bulbous jellyfish, the ferry cutting it’s way cutting through them.   My ferry to Coll today passed through the same waters of the Sound of Mull, but no jellyfish this time. A solitary porpoise was the highlight, and I nearly missed that save for a friendly passenger nudging me in the back to show me. No white tailed eagles circling over Mull, no exciting seabirds (none that I could identify). It was windy up on the observation deck and not sunbathing weather so I did retreat to the lower decks before we reached Tobermory. So I didn’t see much wildlife today but I’m sure I will not be short of wonderful things to see this week on Coll and Tiree.

Corncrake
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

I’m looking forward to visiting the RSPB reserve tomorrow and finding out what impacts climate change is having out here on the islands. And perhaps, if I am very lucky, I might see a secretive corncrake.

 

The nuthatch moves north — June 28, 2012

The nuthatch moves north

Watching from the Aird Meadow hide

Today is the first day of the school holidays so I decided to take my 6 year old son with me on my visit to RSPB Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire. After all, this blog is all about showing that you can enjoy nature and get there without the car – even with the family. We hooked his tag-along to the back of my bike for the ride home.

The journey there by train from Glasgow Central couldn’t be easier because Lochwinnoch station is almost opposite the reserve. The hard part was getting our long vehicle over the footbridge. It was a dreich morning but we got a warm welcome and a nature spotting activity for kids which we did as we wandered the path alongside Aird Meadow to the hide. The wildlife seemed to be hiding from the weather, but we did see a sedge warbler in the reeds. An otter had been spotted earlier in the day but no luck for us.

Nuthatch                                                               John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

 

No sign of nuthatch either. The first unofficial sighting of a nuthatch in Renfrewshire was in 2001 and now this small bird, which walks head first down the trunks of trees hunting for insects, is regularly breeding in the Clyde area. It has moved steadily north from England and this year one was recorded on the reserve on May 10th. My wife saw one this year in Linn Park, in Glasgow’s Southside and this year they have been breeding in Inverclyde. Changes in the range of species is likely under climate change scenarios – the suitable climate for many species is likely to move north and birds will change their range accordingly. This is OK where birds like nuthatch have woodland to move to but other species may not be so lucky. We need to make sure there is sufficient habitat in the right place to keep up with the changes.

Our cycle back from Lochwinnoch was along National Cycle Route 7. It’s amazing and so rewarding because it follows an old railway line north all the way to Paisley so it’s pretty flat and therefore constantly fast – always helpful, especially when pulling a tag-along. It’s also a great surface – well done to Sustrans. After Paisley there are some on-road sections plus some along the White Cart before the route enters Pollok Park. We did approx 18 miles [must check and update] and much quicker than expected.

We made it
WARNING: Steep hill; changing rainfall. —

WARNING: Steep hill; changing rainfall.

The nice people at Loch Leven reserve did warn me about the steep hill on National Cycle Network Route 1 near Cleish; but I took the chance and now my legs may regret it. I’m not too proud to admit that I had to get off and push at the last steep section.

My bike at RSPB Loch Leven

I took the train from Edinburgh to Lochgelly and cycled the 5 miles to RSPB Loch Leven – formerly known as RSPB Vane Farm. On the way back I wanted to take in National Cycle Route 1 so had to head west out of the reserve, over the M90 and then pick up Route 1 (heading over said steep hill) and down to the station in Dunfermline. In hindsight I would have done my route the other way round. Check out the Sustrans network (to make a proper plan!) at http://www.sustrans.org.uk/map#292000,678000 .

A less strenuous way to get to the reserve without a car is to go by bus which has a limited service to the reserve on a Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday from Kinross and elsewhere. The scenic route is to walk or cycle clockwise the 8 miles around the edge of the loch along the Loch Leven Heritage Trail from Kinross.

RSPB Loch Leven reserve features a variety of habitats, It overlooks the open water of the loch, has a wooded hillside, meadows, a raised bog and wetlands. I spoke to Vicky Turnbull, the Warden, who explained to me the work they have done on the reserve in the past year to better control water levels on the wetland, especially for lapwing. Being on sandy soil, the wetland drains quickly but can also flood easily. Managing the water levels seems to be a stressful business because the RSPB does not have control of the water level in the Loch or when and how much it rains. With climate change projections showing less summer rainfall in future it is essential to try to store winter rainfall on the reserve for keeping the wetlands wet through the year. Building resilience to changing rainfall patterns is essential if the wetland habitat is to continue to support the numbers of lapwing that I saw today, and hopefully more. We must do all we can to halt further climate change but we also have a responsibility to help wildlife adapt to the impacts that the climate will have on them and their habitats.

The long-term trend in the east of Scotland may be for less summer rain but I did get a soaking today – that is the difference between climate and weather.