Plastic on our NNRs #1

Since the release of Blue Planet 2, we have all become more aware of plastic in our lives. More than ever before we are thinking about how we use plastic on a daily basis, how it enters our marine and terrestrial environments and most importantly what can be done to avoid plastic pollution. Like many people, now my eyes are open to the crisis and it’s hard not to see plastic everywhere I go!

To take action against the plastic crisis, this year the NNR team have pledged to reduce our consumption of new resources and re-use and recycle as much as possible. For example, we have started collecting rubbish in repurposed livestock feed bags instead of throwing away black bin bags each time we do a litter pick and we are increasing our effort to sort through and recycle what we pick up on the reserves.

A recent visit to Blawhorn Moss NNR got me thinking about another type of plastic which is often seen on nature reserves – tree guards. Tree guards are placed around young trees at the time of planting and prevent them from being eaten by herbivores such as deer and rabbits. They also offer protection from herbicides being used nearby and create a microclimate inside the tube, allowing trees to grow faster and reach a size where herbivores don’t pose as much of a threat. So they do an excellent job of making tree planting more efficient, saving the planter time and money by avoiding the need to replant trees that are killed or eaten. The issue is what happens to the plastic at the end of its use and all too often tree guards are found discarded in UK woodlands.

At Blawhorn Moss NNR an area next to the carpark was planted with birch trees 20 years ago. Although we do not own this land or have any management input, discarded tree guards have been appearing piled up next to the car park and looking untidy. With our 2020 pledge in mind we decided it was time to do something about them so we started looking into ways of repurposing or recycling them.. and so began my tree guard obsession!

Stay tuned to follow my series of blogs on this topic, covering the issue and impact of discarded tree guards, alternative materials to plastic and recycling options.

Also let us know how you reduce and reuse plastic in your garden or NNR – comment below or share with us on Instagram @flandersmossnnr or facebook @FlandersNNR.

And check out Dave’s blog from his time at Forvie NNR on re-purposing washed up beach rubbish https://forvienationalnaturereserve.home.blog/2019/11/12/the-great-forvie-beach-craft-challenge/.

To be continued..

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Willow Coppicing

This week we have mostly been cutting willows.

At the entrance to Flanders Moss near the car park there is a program of rotationally coppicing the willows (and as I found out after everyone had gone home; the Birch).

The purpose of this is to vary the age structure which creates diversity of habitats and allows differing levels of light on to the ground flora.

A closed canopy woodland full of mature trees has a very dark and humid floor which suits some floor dwellers: Eurhynchium praelongum and Mnium hornum (mosses, which like to lurk in dark places) but not others. Allowing a bit of light creates conditions for lichens and plants to flourish.

The trees will re-sprout in the spring and willows can re-grow remarkably quickly hence their popularity for harvesting and use for biofuels.

The willow is rotationally coppiced on an eight year cycle to make sure there’s plenty of flowering willow in the spring.  Willow nectar and pollen is a vital food source for pollinating insects early on in the year when there’s not much else in the way of food about.

Bumble bee on willow

Bumble bee on willow

Once the willow’s been cut down then there is the question “what to do with the willow”

Normally we would use that fine old technique ‘the habitat pile’ which is code for ‘let’s just dump it in a heap’! Not that there’s anything wrong with dumping it in a heap, as lots of bugs, inverts, worms and fungi just love a heap of rotting vegetation. We already have plenty of habitat piles throughout the woods (go visit the bug hut along the path). But plenty of beasties like a bit of open ground as well.

Therefore we burned a large portion of the willow on corrugated iron sheets to keep the burn nice and tidy although with the howling wind this was rather tricky – kudos to the fire team for keeping the fire in a small space.

As with all these tasks there is a process.

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Make sure you’re cutting the right trees; better to err on the side of caution, as this is not a mistake easily rectified (more on this later).

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Chop down trees and scrub

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Move to fire site

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Get fire going and burn willow

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Once fire’s gone down place potatoes in ash to bake and then eat potatoes with butter, cheese, olives etc

Any spare cut willow can be used to build mini bug huts and big stumps flattened off with chainsaw the following day.

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Almost finished

We have to come back and get the Birch (my mistake), but better to not cut trees that are meant to be cut than the other way round.

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Seven Spot ladybird

Even on cold breezy winter days, it’s worth keeping your eyes open.  This very early (and probably very chilly) ladybird had come out of hibernation and was having a little wander round.

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Andy Stewart visits Loch Lomond NNR ?

Loch Lomond NNR

We have been doing some sorting of files in the office. It is a fascinating insight to our reserves and gives an idea of the changes in reserve management that have happened over the 60 years. But there are some issues that don’t change much.
The other day, in a dusty Loch Lomond NNR file I came across 3 file notes that highlight this.
The first, from June 1962 notes that Reserve Officer, Mr Huxley has put up some new noticeboards on the island of Clairinch. Misuse of the island and littering was a concern even back then.
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A couple of weeks later and he noted that the noticeboard was still present and in good order. IMG_0717

A year later a Mr Huxley dryly noted that though one of the noticeboards was still intact the one at the other end of the island had suffered a a less pleasant fate.
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Assuming that it is the great Andy Stewart, Scottish singer, entertainer and songwriter, referred to (for those that don’t know him ask your Grandparents ),  in 1963 he was at the peak of his fame and popularity and still basking in the glory of his greatest hit “Donald Where’s Your Trooosers?”.  Definitely worth a listen to.

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Standing out in the crowd

Flanders Moss NNR

Thousands of pink-footed geese use the fields around Flanders during the winter. Each year I scan through them when I get the chance to look for any unusual goose species that might have tagged along with the crowd, or for birds with neck rings to read the unique code on them to find out a bit about their history.

Yesterday we were coming off the moss and stopped close to Littlewards farm to scan a few hundred geese that were feeding in a stubble field. As the geese started to shuffle away one stood out as being clearly very different. It was so much paler than all of the other pinkies around it. A closer look revealed what we think is a leucistic pink-footed goose. Leucism is when there is a partial loss of pigment, in this case in the plumage. This is because the cells responsible for the melanin (dark) pigment production can be missing while the pigment cells responsible for the production of carotenoids (yellow and browns) can be unaffected. The result is a pale, strangely coloured bird that stands out from the crowd. This can be a disadvantage as it becomes more obvious to predators and also sometimes it can mean the individual isn’t accepted or recognised by the rest of the flock. This bird seems to have survived predation and was right in the middle of this group of pinkies so so far so good. You can find out more strange bird plumages here.

And it was only when searching through some poorly and hastily taken photos that i noticed that close by the leucistic bird was a barnacle goose. These beautiful little geese mainly winter south on the Solway and on Islay.  Often individuals that have got separated from their own flocks join up with the pinkies for company so we occasionally see them on the Carse.  So a double bonus all round.

Apologies for the very poor photos. The leucistic bird is the pale blob in the middle of the flock – it wouldn’t stick its head up to give itself a proper goose shape.

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The barnacle goose is right in front of the leucistic pink-footed goose, it has a pale grey side. 

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Planning for pollinators

Come late spring our wildflower meadows at Flanders and Blawhorn Moss burst into life and fill the reserve entrances with colour. Besides being incredibly beautiful, these meadows offer crucially important habitat for insects, birds and small animals.

Worryingly, since the 1930s Britain has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows, leaving many flowering plants, and the variety of wildlife that they support, under threat. Pollinating insects are particularly at risk from the loss and fragmentation of suitable meadow habitat and from changes in land use, disease, insecticides and climate change. Across the world wild pollinator populations are plummeting, including bumblebees and other bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies. Pollinators are not only vitally important to our global food security, with 1 in 3 food crops being pollinated by wild insects, but they are also an integral part of our biodiversity and ecosystems. Urgent action is required to address the challenges facing pollinating insects and reverse the declines.

By creating and managing meadows at our reserves we can help to conserve both wildflowers and pollinating insects in Scotland. Our meadows contain pollinator-friendly flowers that produce lots of nectar (as an energy source) and pollen (for protein), including common knapweed, yellow rattle and tufted vetch. One of our prettiest wildflowers, Ragged robin, now rarely seen in the wild due to wetland scarcity across the country can be found growing in our meadow at Flanders Moss.

At the moment we have been cutting and raking the meadows in preparation for sowing seeds and I’ve been learning about the process of meadow management and how to ensure their success. I’m not a gardener (mostly owing to the fact that I don’t have a garden!) but it has got me thinking about what we can do as individuals to help pollinators. Now is the time of year to start planning for pollinators and there are loads of resources available to help you do just that!

There are an estimated 24 million gardens in the UK and the way that we look after them can make a huge difference to our wildlife. If you have space, why not make space for nature and create your own wildflower meadow – find out how to do so here and here. If, like me, your garden comprises a 2x1m balcony complete with mop and bucket then not to worry, you can still help pollinators by planting flowers in window boxes, hanging baskets and pots – find out how here. You can also manage your garden to help pollinators and other wildlife all year round – find out more here.

And don’t forget to look out for our pollinator trail at Flanders in late spring!

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Saving bogs in your spare time – be a composting hero

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Blawhorn Moss NNR and Flanders Moss NNR

2020 was meant to be a notable year in the conservation of peatlands. In 2011 DEFRA set a voluntary target that the Scottish Government also sign-up to for the phasing out of all retail sales peat used in gardens by 2020. And by 2030 horticulture would no longer be using peat.

The reality is that now we are in 2020, at the time of an escalating climate emergency and a declining biodiversity, peat mining in actually increasing rather than decreasing. Some 0.5 million cubic tons of peat is ripped out of bogs each year in Scotland and another 0.3 million in England. But that only accounts for a third of the peat used in the UK. Half of all peat is imported from Ireland and 8% from elsewhere in Europe.

Every gram of the 2 million cubic tons of peat that the UK uses every year has come from a peat bog just like Flanders Moss and Blawhorn Moss. Every gram of peat dug up releases carbon in the atmosphere so accelerating the changes in the climate. And every bog dug up means less habitat for special wildlife, less wetlands to help soak up rain fall and reduce flooding and less beautiful places for us to visit and enjoy. Flanders Moss was so close to being dug up just to be scattered across gardens. In the 1970s a large area was prepared for peat extraction before being saved by SNH. What could have been lost forever is now a recovering, wildlife-rich place, offsetting man’s impact of the climate and enjoyed by thousands of people every year.

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And it doesn’t have to happen. There are many modern peat-free composts that work just as well as peat for gardening purposes. There are nurseries that don’t sell plants grown in peat. And many people have the satisfying opportunity to make their own growing mediums by composting at home – saving money and saving bogs, so what is not to like?

So with peat harvesting companies, garden centres and plant nurseries ignoring the impacts of their actions and until the governments ban the mining of peat, it is down to us. We can save bogs by not using peat in our gardens but by becoming composting heroes. Market forces can change the business decisions at a very rapid rate. So how about a bit of direct action to save the bogs and go peat-free in the garden (more info here). You could:

– get your compost heap going and use what is produced for growing plants and as a soil conditioner – more info here.

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– when next at a garden centre of plant nursery ask for and only buy peat-free products and plants not grown in peat. A list of peat-free compost products is here ( just scroll down)

– better still if you are able use a peat-free garden centre. For list here.

You might not be Chris Packham or Greta Thunberg but you can do your bit and happily garden away at the same time.

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Every year we grow cut and come again salad on home-made compost. Very satisfying, and tasty too.

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Why do we survey geese?

Over the winter months we carry out monthly goose counts at Loch Lomond national nature reserve. Hundreds of geese spend the winter at this wetland site, roosting on the water overnight and flying out to the fields to feed during the day. To survey them we get into position with the scope before sunrise and count them as they fly out to the fields in groups (or skeins) after waking up. Several species can be found on the reserve, including Canada, Greylag, Pink-footed and Greenland White-fronted geese.

Dawn goose count at Loch Lomond NNR

We are particularly interested in knowing how many Greenland White-fronted geese there are as this species is in decline and is of the highest conservation concern among the UK’s geese. They breed in Western Greenland and migrate south via Iceland to spend the winter in Ireland and Britain. In Scotland their largest wintering site is on Islay and the remaining population overwinters along the west coast, including at Loch Lomond. Despite some conservation action in the UK to protect these wintering sites, and the banning of hunting in Iceland, their numbers continue to decline.

Since the 1990s population numbers have been falling due to poor reproductive success, meaning that too few young are produced each year to replace annual losses. It is thought that poor reproduction is due to changes in climate in Greenland as increased spring snowfall prevents birds from feeding and therefore reaching good breeding condition. In addition it is likely that competition from increasing numbers of Canada geese at their breeding sites is impacting reproductive success. Furthermore, in the future, melting inland ice is also likely to affect their breeding habitat. As just 13,000 Greenland White-fronts overwinter in the UK today, it is important that we continue to collect survey data required for the conservation of this species.

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