The Seeing Eye


Stirling NNRs

A great scientist died recently. Stephen Hawking said young scientists should “try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious”. He said this because we don’t do enough of looking, seeing and asking questions.
And this applies to the natural world as well. What do you see when you go for a walk? How much nature do you notice? Do you have friends that always seem to spot things when you don’t? It is all around us, there is loads to see and sometimes we just need to switch off the running commentary in our heads, turn our eyes from inward looking to outwards and start to notice what is around us. And the Stirling National Nature Reserves are an excellent place to start. Why not take a slow wander around the boardwalks at either Blawhorn or Flanders and really have a look at what is around you. It is called developing “a seeing eye” and takes a bit of practice but gradually your eye will see more and more, the nature around you will become more obvious and you will be the one showing others what you have spotted.

But seeing is only the start. Once you start seeing nature as Stephen Hawking said a bit of curiosity is a good thing. How about asking yourself well why that that plant look like that or why does that bird do that? Sometimes you can work out the answer yourself. Sometimes you might want to look up the answer when you get back home. By starting to make sense of what you see around us will help you enjoy the natural world even more. Though of course it will produce more questions than can be answered (as Johnny Nash once sung – ask your Grandparents !).


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Shanks’s Pony

P1050347Flanders Moss NNR

Working at Flanders Moss has its challenges. And one of them is getting around on the site. Basically it is like a giant blancmange, about the size of 2200 football pitches with the blancmange being about 4-5 metres deep and the consistency of muddy water. So getting machinery out on the site is tricky. It usually can only be specialist (and expensive) low-ground pressure machinery and even then movement has to be minimized to make sure the fragile surface isn’t damaged.

So in the end the only machine we use regularly on the site is an ‘iron horse’. This is a rather dramatic name is for what is really a motorized, low ground pressure tracked wheel barrow. So while other reserve managers are busy upgrading their quad bikes and argo cats to electrical Polaris and other fancy machines, at Flanders we are still on foot.

But we don’t mind (well, mostly). Being on foot keeps you fit. In fact as our volunteers know, walking on the moss is very hard work and keeps you very fit (one day we will develop a bog fitness video)!  But also when you are on foot you see so much more. You can get closer to the deer, hen harriers won’t shy away when hunting, snipe and jack snipe flush from close to your feet and ravens come to check on you to see what you are up to. You also get a feel for how wet the site is and how the carpet of sphagnum moss is recovering.

The important thing is that if you are on shanks’s pony then you should be well shod. So only the best wellies necessary for all that bog walking (line manager please note)!

Shank’s pony.  The expression — believed to be Scottish in origin — derives from shanks’ nag (shanks-naig 1774), referring to the use of shank to refer to the part of the human leg between the knee and ankle.






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New NNR Website – check it out!



Stirling NNR’s


Scotland’s National Nature Reserves – new website  launch – why not sit down and contemplate it!

On behalf of the NNR Partnership SNH has launched a new website for all of Scotland’s National Nature Reserves with a new URL (

It is a simple site and quickly transfers visitors to the managing organisation(s) websites for information.

Content for SNH managed reserves is now on – raising awareness of SNH and our role in managing NNRs. The site is in development and more information will build up on each site but it is a fine improvement on the old site with great pictures, clear text and links that work! You can check it out yourselves, for more information on the Stirling NNR’s you can follow the links below:

Blawhorn Moss NNR here

Flanders Moss NNR here

Loch Lomond NNR here

You might find something you didn’t know about these special sites.

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Flanders Moss NNR

I don’t want to get too excited but it seems that spring is finally starting to happen. A bit of sunshine yesterday at Flanders and adders were soaking up the welcome sun and our common gulls were back making a racket as they pair up to nest close to the boardwalk. Pinkies are in the fields surrounding the moss refueling before making that long flight to Iceland and the frogs’ spawn is developing. A close look and you can see the black dots are gradually becoming tadpoles. Thank goodness something is happening. All very welcome if about a month late!




Pink footed geese


Common gull


Tadpoles appearing


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A new camera at Flanders

Ben Ledi with a snowy cap

Ben Lomond wearing a snowy cap – March 2018

Flanders Moss NNR

Jane Petrie, our blog editor and SNH Stirling Admin officer writes about trying out a new camera:

Some time back, the Reserve Manager, David Pickett suggested that Flanders was a good place to try out a new camera – so, enjoying some glorious sunshine on an otherwise cold day, that’s exactly what I set out to do, toting a newish camera, with a multitude of settings I haven’t ever quite got the hang of.

So, here are the results of an enthusiastic but cheerfully hapless photographer, trying to persuade my camera to focus on small but interesting bits of plant and animal life.

Here is some cotton grass – Eriophorum vaginatum – with its heads yellow with pollen.  If you tap one of the heads with a finger a small cloud of yellow pollen drifts into the air.  Later on, the familiar white ‘cotton’ seeds will form, transforming many’s a wet and soggy bit of bog or muir with their fluffy heads that so often appear to shimmer and dance in the breeze on a bright summer’s day.  (See the blog posted recently by Dave Pickett for images of cotton grass seed heads).

Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum moss

A delightfully soggy and green mass of sphagnum moss, commonly known as peat moss.  This plant is one of the ‘building blocks’ that makes up the raised bog, and is important as it acts like a sponge to help the bog hold on to water.    However, this moss is not just a ‘pretty face’ – because of its absorbency and antiseptic properties, it was used historically for wound dressings.  During World War I, school children and adults were encouraged to collect sphagnum moss which was dried, processed and then used to treat soldiers’ wounds, and it’s credited with saving the lives of thousands of soldiers.   A tar extracted from the decaying moss is antiseptic and is seen as a valuable external application in the treatment of eczema, psoriasis, pruritus and many other forms of skin diseases. It’s also held to be good for calming down the irritation from insect bites and can also serve as a preventative to being bitten, although the jury is still out whether it works on Scotland’s summer time plagues of midgies and clegs (horseflies).


Dried sphagnum moss – if re-wetted, it will come back to life.

The thing I noticed about fiddling with camera zoom settings, is that it really makes one look in detail and appreciate the beauty and intricacies of the plants one is zooming in on.

And the water filled ditches and ponds are something akin to a rock-pool on the shoreline, in as much as they are just crying out to be gazed into (from the safe bounds of the boardwalk), to see what’s going on in their peaty depths…
The moss wth peaty pools

Not just plants to marvel at, though – this was my first viewing of frog spawn this year.  Flanders must be some sort of froggy paradise and masses of spawn could be seen in the deeper areas of water.   In a few weeks’ time, the small ponds will be a-wiggle with tadpoles.  There are quite a few white eggs in evidence – these are likely eggs that have been damaged by the recent hard frosts, and won’t develop.

Lizard - Flanders - 29 March 2018

Despite the chill wind, this wee lizard was out warming itself in the spring sunshine.  The great thing with lizards is, that if not alarmed, they are quite tolerant of the paparazzi.  This is a great boon to someone like me who ends up lying flat out on the boardwalk, practically nose to nose with the lizard, trying to get the blessed macro function on the camera to focus!  Get too close for comfort though, and in the blink of an eye, the lizard will skip off.   You can see that this little chap has regrown his tail no doubt after a close encounter with some passing carnivore.


And last but not least, all this lovely open space and big sky encouraged me to try out the composite image function!

A good day out!

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Dry feet to the bog – a new Blawhorn path

Blawhorn Moss NNR


Billy Craig, our Blawhorn Moss NNR voluntary warden writes about an improved path with a dry surface that leads from the village of Blackridge all the way to Blawhorn.

With the help of a funding package, the local community council has reinstated the overgrown Millennium Walkway that leads up to Blawhorn Moss from Blackridge. Community councillor, Clark Steele was at the forefront of this project and the work was completed by Millbank Landscaping. 

The walk starts at Langside Drive in Blackridge, EH48 3RP. There are plenty parking spaces in this area and in the surrounding streets. Take the road that leads up to Mathews Crofts and in a short distance you will see a side track that goes through a wooded gate.  This is the start of the path. Continue to follow the path through the trees and it will open out across some moorland towards Blawhorn Wood. Stay on the path until the path reaches a sharp corner, turn left, heading west along the newly formed path. The path gives very good walking under foot and drainage has been added to keep the path from flooding at certain points.  The ditch at the side of the path has also been cleaned which gives the local amphibian population a boost especially at this time of year. Continue along the path through the stand of pine trees and on until the bridge is reached, here the path now joins the main existing track. From here the car park can be accessed and the route can be made circular by heading back down to the main road and returning back to the start point but don’t forget to visit the boardwalk on the moss first, this will give a round distance of approx. 3 miles.

Personally I like to walk up the path, head to the car park, walk around the short red route, round the boardwalk then retrace my steps back to the village. This avoids the road and there is also the chance to see things like this handsome fellow on the boardwalk.


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Thanks to Amee

Stirling NNRs

We are very sad to lose Amee from the Stirling NNRs. She is moving to work at Loch Leven NNR from April which will be an exciting new challenge for her. For the last year and 3/4 she has been absolutely brilliant to work with on the Stirling NNRs. She came to the team with more keenness than knowledge but has sucked up information from around her, built up an impressive knowledge of the reserves and become an expert in freshwater sponges in the process. She has tackled everything thrown at her with enthusiasm and determination and a slightly suspicious level of enjoyment. And the 2 bogs, a swamp and some islands are not reserves for the fainthearted but she has dealt with the wet, mud, peat and weather with ease. From the first wet foot to the last bonfire Amee has been a pleasure to work with and you can see that from the pictures below, which also capture the amazing range of work, habitats, landscapes and conditions that we  deal with. Thank you Amee.
(SNH has decided that for at least the next year the Stirling NNR team will be just one (me) so apologies if blog posts become slightly fewer or responses slightly slower but I will try my best to keep the flag flying.)



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