Scotland’s saltmarshes are mapped for the first time

The Habitat Map of Scotland Project has now completed the next step in mapping our coast with the publication of a map of Scotland’s saltmarshes – the data is now available to download here.

Saltmarsh pools at Scalasaig on the Isle of Colonsay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Saltmarsh pools at Scalasaig on the Isle of Colonsay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Between 2010 and 2012 all saltmarshes in Scotland larger than 3ha were surveyed to compile the first comprehensive national survey of this habitat. This data has now been digitized and made available on Scotland’s environment website as part of the Habitat Map of Scotland project.

Saltmarshes are usually restricted to comparatively sheltered locations in estuaries, and at the head of sea lochs. The development of saltmarsh is dependent on the presence of mudflats between them and the open sea.

Sea-lavender, saltmash creeks and pans by the Nith Esturay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Sea-lavender, saltmash creeks and pans by the Nith Esturay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

  • Saltmarsh is a rather rare habitat – there are only some 5,400ha around the Scottish coast – that’s slightly less than the area of the City of Aberdeen.
  • The greatest extents are to be found along the shores of the Solway Firth which holds 40% of the total, with 23% around the Moray Firth. Other important areas include the Uists and the Firth of Forth.
  • Scotland has approximately 14% of the UK’s saltmarshes.

Saltmarshes are important for helping to protect our coasts by stabilising shorelines and so preventing them from damage by incoming waves. Their benefits are particularly significant in light of the destruction caused to coastal communities by storms and flooding which are likely to increase as we experience climate change.

Oystercatchers on saltmarsh. © David Whitaker

Oystercatchers on saltmarsh. © David Whitaker

Saltmarshes also support a unique range of plants and animals which are adapted to regular flooding by sea water. They are especially important for a large number of specialised invertebrates and flowering plants. They also provide an important resource for wading birds and wildfowl, acting as high-tide refuges as well as breeding sites for terns, gulls, waders, skylarks and meadow pipits. In winter large flocks of swans, geese and ducks rely on saltmarshes for feeding and roosting.

SNH is leading a multi-partner project in producing a standardised Habitat Map of Scotland. This project makes a major contribution to the Scottish Government’s 2020 Challenge for Biodiversity which aims to provide an up-to-date and standardised picture of all of Scotland’s habitats and major land uses.

Habitat Map of Scotland – Saltmarshes.

Habitat Map of Scotland – Saltmarshes.

The addition of saltmarsh data makes an important contribution in documenting our fragile coastal habitats.

Professor Stewart Angus, SNH coastal specialist, said that the mapping provided an invaluable baseline for monitoring by SNH and SEPA, who were partners in the project. We expect the maps to have a wide range of applications and be of particular value as they provide a time-stamped snapshot of part of Scotland’s coastline at a time when it is subject to numerous pressures including sea level rise.

You can look at the full saltmarsh survey of January 2016 here.

Find out more about the mapping of Scotland’s machair here.



Benchmarks – the value of collaboration

A blog by Lorna Harvey, Acting Senior Education Officer
for Numeracy and Mathematics

Last year ( August 2016), we published draft Benchmarks for literacy and English and for numeracy and mathematics with the aim of providing clarity on the national standards expected at each level of the Broad General Education. We wanted to make clear what learners need to know and what they need to be able to do to progress through the levels, and to provide guidance that would support consistency in teachers’ and other practitioners’ professional judgements.

By publishing the Benchmarks in draft, we wanted to ensure we had time to consult with the very people who would be using the Benchmarks. We were committed to developing guidance that would hit the mark and achieve our aim of providing clarity.

From the outset we were keen to hear from as many practitioners as possible and we wanted to make sure anyone wishing to provide feedback felt confident that they could be as open and honest as they wished. To achieve that we set up an anonymous online consultation, but we also planned a number of face-to-face sessions allowing for more depth to our discussions and the opportunity for people to ask questions.

A number of National Network events provided opportunities for practitioners from across Scotland to contribute to this consultation process. This included the National Literacy Network, the National Numeracy Network and the Principal Teacher/Faculty Head Forum for Mathematics. Colleagues from SQA were involved in many of these discussions.

Some people decided to get together with colleagues and offer suggestions, while others wanted to provide their individual response. Whichever way people chose to provide feedback, it was extremely valuable. It was great to receive insight based on practitioners’ engagement with the Benchmarks in their education setting.

Together with my colleagues across Education Scotland , I worked on collating the results and analysing the feedback before making relevant changes to the Benchmarks. A number of stakeholders had offered to be involved in further consultation so we shared the updated Benchmarks and gathered more feedback as part of the process.

And then we had them. The final Benchmarks, shaped by practitioners and providing the clarity that we had been aiming for. A real collaborative effort.

We have now published the Benchmarks on our National Improvement Hub and would encourage practitioners to familiarise themselves with the documents before they begin using them in their setting. It’s also worth having a look at the ‘change’ documents we developed which clearly show where changes have been made from the drafts. There is also a frequently asked questions document.

We have uploaded a broadcast on the National Numeracy and Mathematics Hub which provides background information, advice and guidance on using the Benchmarks. The majority of this broadcast is relevant for all practitioners and there is a specific numeracy and mathematics input also. This broadcast could be used at an In-Service day in August to raise awareness of the Benchmarks and support professional discussion and planning.

We will be providing seminars at the Scottish Learning Festival in September as well as a Yamjam – where practitioners are invited to engage in an online discussion about the Benchmarks.

We would like to say  a huge thank you to all the practitioners who supported the consultation process, working with us and engaging with the drafts to provide valuable feedback to help shape the final documents

Chainsaws, rotten wood and cages: the efforts to save the pine hoverfly

Athayde Tonhasca discusses the conservation efforts to protect one of Scotland’s most endangered species.

The pine hoverfly (Blera fallax). © Steven Falk

The pine hoverfly (Blera fallax). © Steven Falk

The ephemeral habitat of the pine hoverfly  

In a mature Scots pine forest, trees are often infected by the heart rot fungus Phaeolus schweinitzii, which decays and softens the tree’s heartwood and creates internal cavities (or rot holes). These weakened trees may topple down or break with the effects of wind and storms. This natural wood-felling process is important for rejuvenating the forest by allowing plant succession, and it also creates habitat for many saproxylic species (dependent on dead or decaying wood and other plant material).

The exposed rot holes in the stumps of felled or fallen trees quickly fills with rain water, creating the perfect habitat for the pine hoverfly (Blera fallax): their larvae grow and feed in the mixture of decaying organic matter and microorganisms contained in these water pockets.

A rot hole can provide a home for pine hoverfly for 8 to 10 years before it dries out and its resources are exhausted. The species therefore relies on the dynamic process of forest regeneration, where rot holes are continuously produced. However, areas of large, old pine trees have become rare in Scotland, and traditionally woodland managers have removed dead wood to protect trees from insect pests and pathogens, and for fear of accidents with falling timber. As a consequence, there may be not enough natural decaying wood to sustain pine hoverfly populations in Scotland. This species relies, perhaps almost entirely, on stumps cut as part of forestry operations. These are the likely reasons for the pine hoverfly being one of Scotland’s rarest species and therefore a priority for conservation efforts.

Giving a hand

Until our native woodlands recover and mature sufficiently to provide the necessary conditions for the pine hoverfly, it is essential to sustain its populations through management practices. Researchers have found it’s possible to replicate pine hoverfly breeding sites by cutting holes through the heartwood of pine stumps with a chainsaw . The holes are filled with pine chips or sawdust to provide hiding places for the larvae and a substrate for microorganisms to grow, which quickly fill with water and begin to show signs of decay. Experiments have shown the method to be successful, as several artificial holes have been colonized by pine hoverflies and other saproxylic hoverfly species. You can learn more about these experiences at the Malloch Society’s Management Actions and Achievements webpage and Forestry Commission Scotland’s New homes for the pine hoverfly.

A pine hoverfly larva recovered from an artificial rot role. © Athayde Tonhasca

A pine hoverfly larva recovered from an artificial rot role. © Athayde Tonhasca

Researchers have also made attempts to increase existing populations by rearing pine hoverflies in cages and in the laboratory, then releasing their offspring (larvae) into new sites. These attempts have been successful so far, and are being expanded. You can find further details at Translocating the pine hoverfly

The next step was to try to implement a breeding programme with the hope of rearing captive populations to serve as reserve stock. To this end, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has created a dedicated facility for rearing and multiplying hoverfly larvae received from Sweden. And the efforts have been encouraging: the Zoo has reported that the first pine hoverfly adult has emerged this month. Discover more at RZSS’s Pine hoverfly restoration.

Gareth Bennett and Ben Harrower (RZSS) at the pine hoverfly rearing facility. © Athayde Tonhasca
Vials containing pine hoverfly larvae and wood chips. © Athayde Tonhasca

These efforts to restore and create pine hoverfly habitat and breed captive populations are case studies of invertebrate conservation made possible thanks to the dedication of many volunteers and the support of The Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry Commission Scotland, The Malloch Society, National Museums of Scotland, RSPB, RZSS and SNH.

first hoverfly to emerge

The first pine hoverfly to emerge at the RZSS rearing facility. © Gareth Bennett

Have a look at more of Steven Falk’s pine hoverfly images on his Flickr album

Keep up to date with The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s projects through their Twitter and Facebook feeds: @RZSS (Twitter) and @rzssofficial (Facebook)

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Baillie Gifford Schools Programme – 21-29 August 2017

What’s the Big Idea?
The 2017 Edinburgh International Book Festival Baillie Gifford Schools Programme challenges young minds to question, imagine and wonder. The programme brings together well-established writers, illustrators and performers from every corner of the globe, along with some shining new talent.
The programme is full of activities that will entertain, educate, enthral and inspire everyone from P1 pupils to teens and teachers, including events with bestselling illustrator Kristina Stephenson, Olympic cyclist Chris Hoy, picture book events for the youngest primary school pupils, and a Relaxed Event for pupils with Additional Support Needs.
You can find more information, download the full programme and book tickets on the Book Festival’s new Learning Site:

Water Safety

As we approach the summer holidays, Scottish Water would like to make all parents and their children aware of the water safety code.
Water safety is a priority but especially during the summer months when children spend more time outdoors.

Scottish water would encourage teachers to take the time to access the Go Safe Scotland resource and deliver a water safety lesson before the summer break.

For more information go to Go Safe Scotland – Water Safety.

Ask the Explorer!

Glow TV is delighted to support inspirational explorers Luke and Hazel Robertson in their adventure to Alaska. In this session we look forward to following their progress as they trek across Alaska.

Join us live on Monday 19th June at 2pm from Fairbanks where they are preparing for the next leg of their journey.

If you unable to join us for the live event you can always catch up with the recording at another time – Glow TV’s Watch Again.

E-Sgoil: A digital solution for Gaelic Medium Education Scottish Learning Festival: Wednesday 20 September

E-Sgoil offers schools a digital learning solution to increase the breadth of programmes and pathways on offer to young people as part of Curriculum for Excellence.  You are invited to a seminar at the Scottish Learning Festival at which Angus MacLennan, Headteacher of e-Sgoil will share an evaluation of some primary and secondary pilots that e-Sgoil ran in their first year.   Advice will also be available on how e-Sgoil can increase learning through the medium of Gaelic at the secondary stages. Information on how to register for this seminar, and the festival programme, are available here.

A sensory onslaught in the Shiant Isles

SNH’s Chris Leakey and Glen Tyler spend time marvelling at the Shiant Isles’ seabird spectacular.



Every so often, when the swell meets the cliff at the required height and direction, a deep rumble resonates from a cave and the rock sends tremors up our feet.

Then we sense the rush of the wind across the surf and its rebound off the rocks, carrying the chatter of guillemots and razorbills groans on the updraft. An immature white-tailed sea-eagle soars with ease across our expansive field of view.

And the unlikely whirr of a puffin careering much too close to the back of your head catches you unawares, seemingly out of control on its perilous approach to land. At the last moment it tilts its wings and splays ridiculous orange feet for an effective, if ungainly, landing.



This is just the beginning of the sensory onslaught. Spectacular bird numbers, puffins and razorbills especially, reel in the sky, fuss about on the rocks, and rest on the water.  We catch the occasional intense sniff of guano, an inevitable experience in such places, but we are fortunate with the direction of the breeze on this day.

Shiant Isles.

Shiant Isles.

These are the Shiant Isles, a proud cluster of rocks in the Minch between northern Skye and Lewis.

We have spent a lot of time in and around seabird colonies, but the Shiants presented us with a different experience. The lie of the land puts you in places that make you feel like you are at the heart of the action. Here you are on a level and birds are often too close for a telephoto lens.

The seabirds may be the main attraction, but these islands have a subtler side as well, providing some calming respite from the cacophony of the colonies. Heath-spotted orchids are abundant on Garbh Eilean, fluttering in the breeze among the distinctive twitter of skylarks.


Heath spotted orchid. © Lorne Gill/SNH
Yellow flag iris. © Laurie Campbell/SNH
Silverweed. © Lorne Gill/SNH

On Eilean an Taighe, where the intensity of sheep grazing has been vastly reduced, large swathes of willow are recovering well, patches of silverweed glisten and king cups, yellow flag iris and celandines enjoy the damp areas of ground.

The make-up of our group also added fresh perspectives. We are two ecologists from SNH, on holiday with three artists (Liz Myhill, Kittie Jones and Emily Ingrey-Counter) and a photographer (Gregor Menzies). Watching professional artworks come together in the field is fascinating.

Shiant Isles.

Shiant Isles.

Having these islands to ourselves for five days is also special. Well, almost to ourselves… some kayakers stopped to camp on our first night there, and RSPB Scotland currently has staff there.

We listened with interest to their accounts of life and work on an otherwise uninhabited island. They have been working hard, in partnership with ourselves at SNH and the Nicolson family, to eradicate black rats (Rattus rattus)  from the island under the Shiant Isles Seabird Recovery Project.

They are now monitoring for signs of rats and seabird recovery and are quietly hopeful that they have been successful. And we are glad not to have experienced the infestations accounted by others before us.

For the wonder of this wildlife spectacle let’s hope for that success and continued responsible stewardship of this special place.

All pictures and video by Chris Leakey except where stated otherwise.

SLF 2017: DYW seminars

This year’s Scottish Learning Festival continuous to offers a wide variety of DYW related seminars covering key issues such as curriculum pathways for all,  senior phase options, work-based learning in primary school, CLD, school/employer partnerships, etc .  Seminars will have direct inputs from practitioners, showcasing the practical implementation of DYW across all levels.

Outline of DYW related seminars:

Wednesday, 20 Sept:

Title Presenters Room/ Time
Keynote: “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people no smarter than you.” Josh Littlejohn, Social Entrepreneur and co-founder of Social Bite Lomond Auditorium,


DYW – building careers education in a primary setting Ruth McFarlane, Maisondieu Primary School, Angus Boisdale 2


Ayrshire works: senior phase partnership working in hospitality and engineering Carol Jenkins, Ayrshire College Boisdale 2,


Strengthening a community through enhancing skills for learning, life and work Mary Hume, St Mary’s Primary School, North Ayrshire Boisdale 2, 14.00
DYW – A CLD approach to the Work Placement Standards Elisha Fisher, Employment and Skills Partnership Team, Glasgow City Council Alsh 1,


Talking tomorrows: how do we develop the young workforce? Peter Kelly, Holy Cross High School, South Lanarkshire Boisdale 2, 15.15
The enterprising practitioner Heather Hughes, Scotland’s Enterprising Schools Boisdale 2,


Thursday 21 Sept.:

Title Presenters Room/ Time
Raising aspiration through WOW (World of Work) Cheryl Kelly, Barmulloch Primary School, Glasgow Boisdale 2


An inclusive curriculum for all! Gib McMillan, Craigroyston Community High School, Edinburgh Boisdale 2,


Access the complete SLF 2017 programme here.


Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017

The programme for EIFF Youth Hub 2017 is now live!

Now in its fourth year, EIFF Youth Hub returns for four days packed with free practical filmmaking workshops, masterclasses and events for 15-25 year-olds. Whether you want to gain insights into animation or screenwriting, learn from experienced filmmakers about acting, cinematography or short filmmaking, or if you just want to network and step into a career in film – Youth Hub has something for everyone from 23 to 26 of June.

Events at Youth Hub are free with a Youth Hub Pass which costs £5 and gives access to all Youth Hub events as well as £5 discounted tickets to most EIFF films.

Highlights from this year’s programme directly related to careers in the industry:

A Foot in the Door: First Steps in Film & TV Drama

Saturday, 24 June 2017 | 5pm – 7pm | Education Space | Limited to 30 spaces.

Outlining how being a great runner can be the key to a successful start to your career. 

BAFTA award winning Scottish producer Linda Fraser (Hit the Ground Running) will share an overview of the industry in Scotland, what a runner does and how to be awesome at it. Packed with practical insider info and tips for how to get started, this is a session not to be missed!

Spaces for this event are limited. To sign-up please email 

A Foot in the Door: Career Advice Session

Saturday, 24 June 2017 | 10.15am – 1.30pm |Main Hall | Limited to 50 spaces.

Want to get your foot in the door and break into the film/TV industry? Join us for our hugely popular careers advice session with Creative Skillset and training scheme Hit the Ground Running as we help you plan your next big step towards a career in the industry. This session includes:

10.15am – 11am: Panel discussion 11.10 am – 12.15pm: Networking surgery with filmmakers and experts from the creative industries. 12.15pm – 1.30pm: A light networking lunch with industry guests, EIFF filmmakers and delegates.

Spaces for this event are limited. To sign-up please email

Access the full programme here:



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