Green travel to green places

In search of climate and wildlife stories…by bike

A day trip along the Solway Firth — August 28, 2012

A day trip along the Solway Firth

Fancy a day trip to the Solway Firth to see some birds? Why not go to the RSPB’s Mersehead reserve… but not at the end of August. I went today and didn’t see much, save for, what could have been, a female wheatear, being battered by the wind. I was well and truly battered by the wind as I wandered along the beach and on my cycle to the reserve. So spotting birds and cycling were both hard work. There were lovely views though, across the sand flats and the grassland and saltmarsh. Views were great along the ride too, especially across the Solway on the way back and a following wind.

The best times to visit are either in the spring when there are loads of bums on nests, especially waders or in winter. Both Mersehead and Kirkconnell Merse RSPB reserve on the River Nith, are important sites for barnacle geese from Svalbard which spend the winter there as well as good numbers of other swans, geese and ducks.

 I got there by train from Glasgow to Dumfries and then it’s a gently undulating ride along the A710 Solway coast road. The ride is about 17 miles each way to Mersehead but you could make a shorter ride to Kirkconnell Flow National Nature Reserve and Kirkconnell Merse, or just stop off there on route to Mersehead. Definitely a good day out no matter how far down the road you get.

WARNING: Steep hill; changing rainfall. — June 28, 2012

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.

Week 1 – nature in Scotland’s Central Belt — June 22, 2012

Week 1 – nature in Scotland’s Central Belt

RSPB Lochwinnoch nature reserve – Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

My first visit is on Monday, can’t wait. Here is a list of the RSPB reserves I will visit next week. Look out for my tweets @JimDensham

Monday – Baron’s Haugh near Motherwell http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/b/baronshaugh/index.aspx

Tuesday – Skinflats and the Inner Forth http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/s/skinflats/index.aspx

Wednesday – Loch Leven nr Kinross http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/l/lochleven/index.aspx

 Thursday – Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire  http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/l/lochwinnoch/index.aspx

Friday – Inner Clyde, downstream from Glasgow nr Dumbarton http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/i/innerclyde/index.aspx

Day trips without the car — June 21, 2012

Day trips without the car

I live in the Southside of Glasgow with my family. We love getting out into the countryside at the weekend so when the kids are in bed on a Friday night we have a familiar debate that goes something like this;

Where shall we go this weekend?

Let’s go to [insert location here].

Can we get there by train?

Yes, but it will take too long [or] No, we will have to go by car.

We love to think we are not reliant on our car but when it comes to visiting the countryside its difficult not to be. Our destination usually rules how we travel rather than the other way around, although we are getting more familiar with great places to go to by train. We are lucky because we can afford to run a car even though we mainly use it only at weekends. The 2001 Census showed that 45% of Glasgow households do not own a car so public transport and active travel is the only way from them to access the countryside. For us, the car is a semi-luxury, helping us to enjoy our relaxation time.

On the sunniest day of the year so far we decided to take our bikes by train to Largs and take the ferry to then cycle round Cumbrae. It was a fantastic day, and so it was no surprise that half of Glasgow were also at Central station headed for the west coast beaches. That trip took more planning than if we had jumped in the car but even with the bikes and all the people on the train, going by car, with the traffic jams and parking hassles, would have been worse. Breaking the habit of grabbing the car keys and making a different plan can be the hardest part. It’s so easy to say – lets go to RSPB Lochwinnoch for the day – and automatically jump in the car, but leaving the car at home can be rewarding too in so many ways.

I’m off on the first week of visits to RSPB nature reserves next week. They will all be done as a daytrip from Glasgow to show that there are places you can go for a day out without taking the car.