Reflections from the SNH Chair

After three years as Chair, Ian Ross will end his term on 31 March. Here he looks at SNH’s remit and vision for the future of Scotland’s nature and landscapes.

Visiting the site of the Canal and North Gateway Green Infrastructure Project at Port Dundas, Glasgow – one of the first projects to receive funding from the SNH-led European Regional Development Fund’s Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention ©Tom Finnie

Visiting the site of the Canal and North Gateway Green Infrastructure Project at Port Dundas, Glasgow – one of the first projects to receive funding from the SNH-led European Regional Development Fund’s Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention ©Tom Finnie

Over the last 20 years, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of public agencies in Scotland and my invariable experience has been one of hardworking, committed and able officer groups. This is no different within Scottish Natural Heritage, where I’ll shortly come to the end of my term of chairing the organisation’s Board. SNH staff are perhaps the most competent and professional of public servants – consistently professional in their approach, performing and delivering at the highest of levels.

A key part of my role with SNH has been to engage with a diverse range of groups and individuals concerned with Scotland’s natural environment and how we work together to manage it for future generations. At times it has surprised me that, while many associate the organisation with nature conservation work and generally have a respect for the ability of its staff, they do not fully grasp the nature and breadth of SNH’s work. We are the Scottish Government’s statutory body for nature conservation, delivering their policies in relation to our nature and landscapes and giving high quality, objective and evidence-based advice to the Government on a range of subjects. In this role, we are asked to provide advice on how development proposals may affect delivery of Government policies for our nature and landscapes. For a small number of these, this results in us raising an objection to highlight the scale and nature of the potential impact.

Nature is important to the future of Scotland, especially in urban areas where 70% of Scotland’s people live. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Nature is important to the future of Scotland, especially in urban areas where 70% of Scotland’s people live. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

In the last three years in particular there has been a more explicit policy link between “nature” and the delivery of public benefits. This is intended to support a much closer connection between people and nature, throughout the country. Nature is a valuable resource, enabling, supporting and at times directly delivering benefits such as health and well-being, active travel, quality of place, economic development and much else. SNH will continue to play a key role in leading these areas of work, it is important that it is supported by strong, effective partnerships and collaboration involving public agencies, Scottish Government, local authorities, as well as private and third sector organisations.

I have come across the occasional comment suggesting that the link between nature and the benefits people experience from it has been at the potential cost of natural heritage enhancement. I would challenge this and would assert the firm view that the reverse is the case. The relevance of nature to our lives in Scotland is increasing and additional opportunities are being created to protect and enhance our natural heritage and landscapes. For example, resources have been secured to improve vital biodiversity gain and the creation of green space has taken place which would not otherwise have happened. This is an area where we need to work harder to get the message across.

Ian with Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform launching Scotland's Biodiversity, a Route Map to 2020, at Holyrood Park, Edinburgh. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Ian with Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform launching Scotland’s Biodiversity, a Route Map to 2020, at Holyrood Park, Edinburgh. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

As with many public bodies, budget reductions have brought challenge – although there have been positive and creative responses to the management of available resources, it has had impact and consequences. Uncertainties around the implications of Brexit add to this picture, but I would hope that greater clarity will begin to emerge over the coming months and I am optimistic over the Scottish Government and Parliament’s commitment to a high quality environment and its linked benefits.

SNH encourages people to experience and enjoy the natural heritage. ©Peter Sandground/SNH

SNH encourages people to experience and enjoy the natural heritage. ©Peter Sandground/SNH

SNH has consistently taken an inclusive approach to its work, with successful partnerships and work ongoing across rural and urban, and mainland and island areas of the country. SNH is an organisation which delivers and it has been a great privilege to have chaired it and I remain confident over the continuing importance of its work for the people of Scotland.


Scot Pot – School Meal Product Development Competition

Test your creativity and innovation skills!

The competition is open to all primary 5,6, and 7 pupils from schools across Scotland. Individual prizes will be given to the best entries, but all the pupils in the winning class will win an all-expenses paid trip to the Royal Highland Show 22nd – 25th June 2017. The winning product will be showcased at the ASSIST FM National Conference on 24th & 25th August 2017 in Glasgow.

The winning product will feature in schools across Scotland during Scottish School Meals week, 31st October 2017.

We are asking pupils to conduct their own market research to develop a new Scots Origin One Pot Dish that could be sold as a stand-alone product or be part of school meal that can be used in schools across Scotland.

The challenge is based on a similar format to the television programme ‘Dragons Den’. We would like pupils to put their creative and entrepreneurial skills to the test and design an innovative new ‘one pot’ product that:

  • They would like to eat and that could form part or all of a school meal for example; meal soup, meal pot, layered dish or something creative and innovative.
  • Has to contain AT LEAST ONE Scottish ingredient.
  • Would encourage more pupils to take school meals if it was sold in the dining area.
  • Could be promoted with an innovative advertising campaign that would include a name and a catch phrase to promote the product and fit with the Scots Origin branding.
  • Can be sold as a stand alone product.
  • Meets the nutritional guidance for a theme day in school.

To enter, please complete the attached entry forms and send to by 5th May 2017

Scot Pot Entry Form 2017



Deputy First Minister sets out agenda for Scottish education

In a major speech setting out his agenda for Scottish education, the Deputy First Minister John Swinney highlighted its strengths – including the achievements of young people and teachers – and acknowledged the challenges being faced.

The DFM made clear that further change is needed to strengthen Scotland’s education system, and ensure public services focus on the needs of individual children and young people rather than their own organisational arrangements.

Watch the full speech.

There are also photographs available from the event –

Scientific advances in coping with flooding

Neville Makan, our Operations Officer in Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire, writes about the recent RSE Conference ‘How can we learn to live with floods? Challenges for science and management’.

Flooded parkland in Perth. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Flooded parkland in Perth. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) hosted a conference on 15th March addressing how we can live with flooding.   Identified by the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment as the top environmental risk to the UK over the next century, flooding is formidably difficult to tackle – socially, economically, scientifically and even ethically. The RSE event attracted more than a hundred people drawn from academics, agencies and NGOs, community groups and the public.

We know that global mean temperature is increasing, leading to climate change, but there is simply not enough data to statistically prove that the recent record-breaking flooding events, experienced across the UK, are linked to global warming.  Records have been broken before and, along with high levels of natural variability, it is difficult to predict when we will have flood events and have come to the conclusion that extreme flooding is the new norm.

However, the modelling studies are improving in predicting where floods will occur, and how we should manage them. That was the more reassuring finding emerging from the conference – we are now much better placed to advise on imminent floods and measures that should be taken to reduce the adverse impacts.

River Earn in spate, Perthshire. ©Lorne Gill

River Earn in spate, Perthshire. ©Lorne Gill

We were shown how ‘blue-green’ corridors can be created to manage surface flood waters, at source, along pathways and in and around receptors within the urban environment.   And we learned more about improvements in techniques for natural flood management within catchments across rural landscapes, where Natural Flood Management is now seen as an essential tool in the rural land management toolbox.

There is still much debate about how woodland regeneration and other ‘natural remedial’ measures can dampen the impacts of flooding. Coincidentally, on the morning of the conference some media attention was given to a scientific publication setting out some key evidence gaps that need to be filled before we can be more certain on the benefits.

We need people to engage with urban design solutions that can help them around their homes – not just in finding sustainable ways to live with floods, but in realising the benefits that can stem from more community action.

It was a great conference, capped by an excellent public debate in the evening. We look forward to seeing the formal report from the RSE, reassured that scientists agree on at least one point, admirably enunciated by  one of the speakers – “Water flows downhill and then collects in puddles!”

Birds, bees and trees make Scotland beautiful

Juliette Camburn of Keep Scotland Beautiful invites communities to take part in the 51st annual Beautiful Scotland awards, one of the longest running environmental improvement campaigns in Scotland. The 2017 theme for Beautiful Scotland and It’s Your Neighbourhood is ‘birds, bees and trees’.

Blackbird feeding on an ornamental rowan tree ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Blackbird feeding on an ornamental rowan tree ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The campaigns aim to bring communities together to help deliver local environmental improvements and recognise the efforts of volunteers across Scotland as they work hard to enhance local areas.

Beautiful Scotland celebrates and supports the achievements of communities and Business Improvement Districts from across Scotland who help to improve the places they care for. Smaller-scale projects such as community allotments, friends of parks groups, after-school clubs, and community gardens can celebrate too by entering the non-competitive It’s Your Neighbourhood campaign.


Volunteers working at the Scottish Association for Mental Health walled garden at Redhall in Edinburgh. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

By providing quality greenspace for health and education, the campaign will help Scotland “take” one of the six “Big Steps for Nature” as part of Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy and Route Map to 2020. Making shared space great for biodiversity is not just fantastic for wildlife, but a great way to improve both our physical and mental wellbeing.

Both campaigns are part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Britain in Bloom campaign and groups will receive support, encouragement, resources and national recognition from both Keep Scotland Beautiful and the Royal Horticultural Society.

Keep Scotland Beautiful is urging communities Scotland-wide to come together and take part in the successful initiatives which recognises the tireless efforts of volunteers to improve areas in which they live, work and play. All entrants will receive a free packet of native Scottish wildflower seeds for bees.

Registration is open until end of April and is available on-line here: Beautiful Scotland / It’s Your Neighbourhood

Keep Scotland Beautiful is also on the hunt for volunteer Beautiful Scotland judges and It’s Your Neighbourhood assessors – so, if you love Scotland, the environment, meeting new people, visiting inspiring projects (and pinching ideas!), and being part of a team find out more here or email

Honeybee feeding on a garden sedum. ©Lorne Gill

Honeybee feeding on a garden sedum. ©Lorne Gill

Free seeds for bees and butterflies

Keep Scotland Beautiful’s biodiversity campaign encourages and enables communities, groups, organisations, individuals (or anyone interested) to plant for pollinators, helping to increase biodiversity. This campaign aims to create healthy outdoor spaces for communities to enjoy, enabling people to learn more about biodiversity and reconnect with their environment.

To find out more, and to apply for free seeds, click here.

Follow these links to find out more about Beautiful Scotland, It’s Your Neighbourhood campaign, RHS Britain in Bloom competition.

Find out more about the benefits of greenspace for our general wellbeing here.



John Byrne National Drawing Competition Winners

Cameron Lawson from Cedarbank School wins John Byrne National Drawing Competition

Thousands of budding young artists from across Scotland took part in this year’s John Byrne National Drawing Competition.

Cameron Lawson, a S3 pupil at Cedarbank School in West Lothian, has become the third pupil to win the competition, which is run in partnership with Education Scotland and open to pupils from Primary four through to third year in Secondary.

John Byrne said: “The talent this year has been outstanding, which made my job as a judge very difficult in choosing the overall winners.

“I’m delighted to have chosen Cameron as the overall winner as his drawing really captured the essence of the competition. The creativity of this piece stood out against other entries.

“I’m encouraged by the standard of all the artwork submitted in this year’s competition and I hope pupils across Scotland will continue to show us their artistic skills and love for drawing.”

The award ceremony took place at Paisley Museum, where a special exhibition of competition entries are on display for approximately five weeks.

The renowned artist and playwright, John Byrne, selected the work of Cameron Lawson as the winning entry. Eleana Meikle, a S3 pupil from Wellington School in Ayrshire, took second place and Charlotte Stewart, a P7 pupil from Gordon Primary School in Aberdeenshire was awarded third place.

John and the judges selected a further 30 young artists as runners up and they will receive a specially designed certificate.

Bill Maxwell, Education Scotland Chief Executive said: “I’m really pleased to see this competition, now in its third year, continue to attract such a high standard of entries from young artists of all ages. Education Scotland is delighted to be involved in the competition as it offers pupils, across Scotland, the opportunity to showcase their drawing skills and creativity and it is a great way to raise the profile of drawing. Congratulations to all the winners and those who took part.”

John was assisted by Ron Cowie, Senior Education Officer at Education Scotland, Lorna MacDonald, City of Edinburgh Council, and Wilma Eaton, University of Strathclyde, to judge the competition which took place at the University of Strathclyde.

John Byrne winners and runners up 2017

Invitation to SQA webinar: National 5 Gàidhlig – changes to course assessment


Date: Thursday, 30 March 2017
Time: 16:30pm to 17:30pm
Presenters: –       Alasdair Bauld (Qualifications Development Specialist)

–       Calum MacKay (Principal Assessor, National 5 Gàidhlig)

–       Marilyn Waters (Qualifications Manager)

–       Jay de Pellette (Qualifications Officer)

SQA are pleased to invite you to a webinar which will provide a detailed overview of the changes that  are being made to the National 5 Gàidhlig course from the start of academic session 2017/18 (including the new externally assessed writing assignment).

To register for this webinar, please visit the online events booking system:

Hosted by the Qualifications team responsible for SQA’s National Qualifications in Gàidhlig, this webinar will provide a clear overview of what is changing within the National 5 Gàidhlig course and why. Delegates will also have the opportunity to ask  subject and assessment experts questions.

Whilst delegates are free to ask questions at any time during the live webinar, SQA are keen to try and answer as many questions as possible in the time available and would therefore encourage you to submit any questions you may have in advance. If you would like to submit a question in advance of the webinar, please e-mail Jay de Pellette (Qualifications Officer):

Following the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills announcement that a strengthened final exam and externally assessed coursework will replace units and unit assessments for all National Qualifications at levels National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher, SQA are making some changes to the National 5 Gàidhlig course to ensure that standards are maintained and that the integrity of the qualification is protected.

More information about the changes SQA are making to National Qualifications, as a result of the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary’s decision to remove units and unit assessments, can be found here:

SQA strongly recommend that all practitioners and other interested stakeholders register to attend this webinar. It will provide valuable and informed commentary on the new course assessment model for National 5 Gàidhlig and also counts towards your continuing professional development (CPD). CPD certificates will be made available to delegates after the event.

Helping us get outdoors with good design

Scotland has some of the best outdoor access legislation in the world – but those who own or manage the land sometimes need advice and support on how to make sure we can all best access Scotland’s wonderful countryside.

Dumbreck Marsh Nature Reserve. ©George Logan/SNH

Dumbreck Marsh Nature Reserve. ©George Logan/SNH

That’s why a new guide – launched by Paths for All and SNH on 17 March – on how to select and design gates, fences, boardwalks and other structures which aid access is welcome news. The guide is designed for access professionals, rangers, planners, surveyors and community groups, and should make it easier for all of us to access the outdoors.Outdoor Access Design Guide cover.

For example, putting a boardwalk over boggy land can make access easier for people with pushchairs or limited mobility. It also encourages the public to use certain routes, can protect important habitats and might help to keep visitors boots clean! So there’s benefits for both the public and the land manager.

To ensure equal access to everyone who wants to spend time outdoors in nature, we need well-designed access infrastructure. We hope these design standards will allow even more people – of all ages and abilities – to use Scotland’s paths, routes and greenspaces ,whether they’re walking, cycling or riding a horse. This, in turn, benefits communities, the environment and the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland.

Stanley walking group. ©Lorne Gill/SNH
Horse riders at Mugdock Country Park. ©Lorne Gill/SNH
Mobility scooter at Mugdock Country Park. ©Lorne Gill/SNH
Multi user access, shared use.

The refreshed Outdoor Access Design Guide brings together widely sourced designs, which are tried, tested, and regularly used throughout Scotland to manage outdoor access.  The guide is available to download on the Paths for All website . For more information, contact

Paths for All can also offer advice and support for professionals and community groups that need extra support to design access infrastructure. Visit the website to download useful resources and see upcoming training courses at

There are also other useful resources such as downloadable sign templates for land managers on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website.


Pre-apprenticeships set Craigroyston pupils on the right career path

News report from the SQA:

A unique partnership between an Edinburgh secondary school, and a number of local employers from across the city has received special recognition from the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

The Pre-Apprenticeship Programme delivered by staff at Craigroyston Community High School in the north of Edinburgh sees a number of the school’s senior pupils embark upon year-long structured work experience placements with local businesses. While on placements for two afternoons a week, the pupils continue to study for Highers, Nationals, and other awards at school, but combine this with working towards industry recognised vocational qualifications. And once they have successfully completed their placements, the pupils go on to a guaranteed full-time Modern Apprenticeship with their prospective employer. 

The scheme was first introduced in 2015, following a meeting between the school’s head teacher, Steve Ross, and Robert Allan, director of HR at Apex Hotels. In its first year, nine pupils went down the pre-apprenticeship route, taking up roles in the hospitality sector with Apex Hotels, Novotel, and IBIS, and with defence engineering firm, Leonardo. This year more employers, including Charlie Miller Hairdressing, and Robertson Construction have encouraged a fourfold increase in uptake, as 36 pupils began new placements.

The stay-on rate for senior pupils at Craigroyston has increased dramatically as a result of the scheme. The number of pupils now staying on from S4 to S5 has grown from 50% in 2014/15 to 90% in 2016/17, while the S6 intake has doubled over the same period.

 The scheme has been so successful it was highly commended at the SQA Star Awards, lifting a trophy for Promoting Inclusion.

Speaking about his ambitions for the pupils, Craigroyston head teacher Steve Ross, said: “I want to encourage every pupil in the school to stay on until the end of sixth year, so when they leave they do so with a portfolio of qualifications, experiences, skills, and a knowledge of the job market that will help them find a positive destination.”

Pre-Apprenticeship co-ordinator Elaine Gray, head of home economics at the school, worked closely with Danielle Ramsay, Group Recruitment Manager at Apex Hotels, to design the content of the programme. Elaine said that the success of the scheme is down to the close relationship fostered between the school, and the employers. The model they developed has since been rolled out to all the participating employers.

Elaine added: “The partnership between the school and the employer is really important. We have to set the right expectations for the pre-apprentices and help them understand what their employers expect from them. This might include helping them with things like time management, and attendance, but equally the employers must have realistic expectations of the pupils.  However, once we get them through the door, and we can see that relationship begin, we can see the pupils start to flourish as their confidence grows and they begin to realise what they are capable of.”

Danielle Ramsay said: “We work with the pupils to help them take the first steps in the work place, supporting them with their applications, and helping them with their interviews. The benefit in the long term for us as an employer is we get to invest in the pre-apprentices for a year and introduce them to the way we work. That means that when they start their Modern Apprenticeship, they are familiar with the company, our culture, and what we expect from them, meaning they are more likely to succeed.”

Speaking about the value of the pre-apprenticeship programme, Theresa McGowan, SQA regional manager for Edinburgh, said: “The approach the team at Craigroyston has taken was tailored specifically for the needs of their pupils, and their local community, but it is a model that could be replicated elsewhere. The positive relationships between the school and employers across the city are delivering real results for the pupils, and they are really benefitting from the opportunity to complete the additional work-experience and vocational qualifications.”

For more information about how SQA supports Modern Apprenticeships and other training opportunities, visit

Help keep our seal pups safe

Part of the Ythan Estuary has been proposed for designation by Marine Scotland as an official seal haul out site. This designation gives protection to the seals by providing safe areas for them when hauled out on land. So what does this mean for those visiting the Ythan and Forvie National Nature Reserve? Annabel Drysdale, our Reserve Manager at Forvie, explains.

Grey seal pup. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Grey seal pup. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

It’s wonderful news that Forvie National Nature Reserve is becoming one of the best mainland sites to view seals in Scotland, with over 1000 large grey seals hauling out at the mouth of the River Ythan at Newburgh in recent years – 26% of Scotland’s east coast population – but we’d ask people to help us protect these wonderful animals. We recommend that people view the seals from the south side of the estuary at Newburgh village. There’s been a big increase in visitor numbers, particularly over the last year, so this extra protection for the seals is welcome and important.

The designation affords protection to haul out sites from “reckless or intentional harassment”, which means repeated and deliberate attempts to remove seals from resting. Walking on a beach and inadvertently disturbing a seal is not an offence.

Grey Seal cow and her pup. ©Lorne Gill

Grey Seal cow and her pup. ©Lorne Gill

This winter, up to a dozen pups were born on the beach at Forvie; for the first few weeks of their lives, they are vulnerable to disturbance and abandonment. Grey seal pups are born with white fur and don’t swim until they moult and grow a new coat of grey or brown fur. Grey seal mothers often leave their pups on the beach while they forage for food during this period and can abandon them if they are touched by humans or their dogs before they return. Approaching seals can also be dangerous: grey seals are large and powerful and new mothers can be aggressive and can charge even on the land. Approaching too close can also be stressful to the animals reducing their chances of survival.

at the Ythan estuary, Sands of Forvie National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Grey seals hauled out on the sand dunes at the Ythan estuary, Sands of Forvie NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

We’re not certain why the grey seal haul out has grown so quickly at Forvie, but the local population should not be considered in isolation, as seals roam for many hundreds of kilometres throughout their lives. The number of grey seal pups counted in the UK has increased since the 1960s, with large numbers being seen at North Sea sites. In the Northern and Western Isles, the number of pups counted has levelled off in the last five years. The number of common, or harbour, seals, continues to decline across eastern Scotland and in Orkney. The results of more than five years of diet studies, in partnership with the universities of St Andrews and Aberdeen, have shown that the seals are not predominantly feeding at the Ythan. The diet of grey seals at Forvie is largely sand eels, cod, whiting, haddock and other North Sea fish species. Seals like to haul out between feeding trips to sea or while they moult their fur, so the golden sands at Forvie make an inviting spot for such a rest.

You can find more information, including guidance on what constitutes an offence here.

Following several incidents at Forvie in recent months, nature reserve staff have introduced information notices and a rope fence to encourage responsible access at the haul out and protect the seals. We’ll continue to manage the site in partnership with the local community, Aberdeenshire Council, Police Scotland, Marine Scotland and our visitors.

Read all about seals in Scotland in our Naturally Scottish booklet.

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