Green travel to green places

In search of climate and wildlife stories…by bike

Watching for signs of climate change on Coll — August 22, 2012

Watching for signs of climate change on Coll

Imagine that Coll is shaped like a fish (stay with me on this), a fish swimming north east. The RSPB reserve is at the end of the body and the thin part before the tail starts. Got the picture? The land owned by the RSPB includes a variety of habitats; moorland, farmed fields, wet grassland, sand dunes and Machair. Some of it is managed by the RSPB staff and some is under tenancy agreements with farmers.

Today was my first ever experience of Machair, a habitat unique to Scotland and Ireland. In Scotland you find it on the Uists, Islay, Colonsay, Tiree and Coll, but as I found out it is different on each island, is farmed in different ways and the habitat has never been properly defined. Its character comes from the influence of shell sand which builds up into huge dunes and also gets blown onto other land making the unique flower-rich grassland which is Machair. In some places, like the Uists, the low lying Machair is at risk from erosion because of sea-level rise but seemingly not yet on Coll. This year, RSPB staff started taking photos of the Machair and dunes from fixed points and will retake photos from exacly the smae point in a few years time to see if the Machair and dunes are eroding.

The changing climate may be having other impacts, or it might just be the weather. April was the driest April ever experienced on Coll and thanks to the jet stream which temporarily sank southwards this year they have had a fantastic summer – sorry if you are reading this in England. The Machair plain 2 years ago had no flowers because the light sandy soils were too dry – it was nearly too dry again this year. Conversely, in the past 3-4 years increased rainfall in winter has meant that the land stays wet and means that the reserve staff can’t use machinery on it in March like they used to. Wetter winters, drier summers and unpredictable extremes of weather are all likely to be the way the climate changes in Scotland.

On Coll it’s impossible to say if climate change is having an impact now on the natural environment because there are no clear signs and no patterns emerging, but we are watching and waiting.

Sorry no pictures – I forgot to bring the lead which links the camera to the computer. Doh! I’ll post some on the blog at the weekend.

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.