Tag Archives: #snh

Let’s head to Creag Meagaidh


Tell us about the benefits of pioneering conservation work on Creag Meagaidh?

From the 1700s heavy grazing by sheep and deer on what is now the reserve ground meant few trees could survive and much of the wildlife that depended on them was lost. However, in 1986 Creag Meagaidh became a National Nature Reserve and this signalled a new era. Grazing pressure was reduced and lost plant and animal communities were gradually restored. Now wildlife abounds here. From the golden eagles, dotterel and ptarmigan of the high tops, to the black grouse, small pearl-bordered fritillaries and dragonflies of the lower slopes there is much to see and enjoy. Look more closely and you might glimpse rare alpine speedwells, saxifrages and hawkweeds as well as a host of native trees.



What are the autumn highlights I could enjoy?

Although any time is good for a visit, autumn takes some beating.

This is a reserve where birch woodland gives way to open moorland, and in autumn the russet hues of heather and deer grass add colour to any walk. This zone, where woodland meets moor, is the favourite place for the beautiful black grouse. Numbers of black grouse here have been increasing as their habitat expands and you can see them roosting in birch trees.

In autumn the rowan trees will be laden with berries – look out for migrant thrushes such as fieldfares and redwing, as well as our locally breeding ring ouzels. These migrants will be filling up before heading for the mountains of North Africa to spend the winter.


Is that the roar of a stag I can hear?

Sure is ! During the autumn the stags challenge each other for the right to mate with the hinds, and their bellowing roars over open hillsides are one of the most exciting sounds of the Scottish autumn. Red deer are the most common deer on Creag Meagaidh and keeping the numbers in balance with woodland regeneration is the main management we need to carry out. In the summer the deer tend to graze the higher ground on the Reserve, while in the winter they come down to the woods and low ground for shelter.


Okay, my boots are going on. How easily can I get around the reserve ?

Waymarked trails make it easy to explore Creag Meagaidh.

The Alderwood Trail is suitable for all abilities. Situated next to the car park and about 1.1km or 0.7miles long this is a superb place to see alder trees and owls, redpolls and siskins are resident here. Allow 30 minutes.

The Allt Dubh Trail takes you to the edge of the hill land where you can glimpse great views of the reserve. There is a poem by Sorley MacLean carved into stones by the path. Surfaces are good but there are some steep steps and slopes and stout footwear is essential. 1.8 km or 1.1 miles long, please allow about one hour.

The An Sidehean Trail is1km or 0.6 miles long, and skirts the fields you can see from the car park. Watch for black grouse and woodcock along the way. You may see Highland cattle too as we plough and farm these fields, keeping the environment close to what it would have been like when people farmed this land.



Social Housing & Green Infrastructure

Ivan Clark, of our Plan and Placemaking team, explains how high quality green spaces provide opportunities for nature to thrive and for people to connect with nature close to where they live.

Ivan 1

An example of an ‘Isolated’ single function open space

There are still many places in Scotland, often associated with areas of disadvantage, where existing greenspace is of poor quality, or is not fulfilling its potential in terms of the number of benefits it could provide.

To address this, we have recently appointed Main Street Consulting to explore the possible barriers to better practice in terms of delivering good green infrastructure as part of social housing projects. We’ll be working closely with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and some of their members to try to identify how we might do things differently.

Ivan 3

A good example of a multifunctional greenspace in Sheffield, South Yorkshire

The Steering Group for the project includes representatives from Scottish Government, the Central Scotland Green Network Trust, the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership and Architecture and Design Scotland.

Main Street Consulting will be engaging with a range of stakeholders over the coming months through an online survey and interactive workshops.


Ivan 4

Retro-fit raingarden, Sheffield

If you live in social housing or you’re involved in delivering or managing social housing and would like to contribute to the research, we would like to hear from you. For further details. Please contact mark@mainstreetconsulting.co.uk 

Find out more in the following links:

SNH webpage on Green Networks & Green Infrastructure.

Green Infrastructure: Design and Place-making sets out how well designed green infrastructure can contribute to better places.

Neighbourhoods Green , a partnership initiative in England which highlights the importance of open space for residents of social housing”

Let’s head to … Knockan Crag

Interpretive writing carved on to rocks at Knockan Crag NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

What’s the big draw about Knockan Crag?

Until the 1900s, geologists assumed, quite reasonably, that layers of rock were laid down progressively, with younger rocks on top of older rocks. But there was a conundrum at Knockan. Here one billion-year-old sedimentary rock formed sat directly on top of much younger sedimentary rocks.


A temperature inversion at Knockan Crag NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

So how do we explain this?

Plate tectonic movements of the Earth’s crust is the basis for the explanation of this odd arrangement. It is now understood that, 425 million years ago, the landmass containing Scotland collided with another landmass that included England and the rest of Britain. The collision buckled and fractured the rocks of the north-west Highlands pushing, or thrusting, them tens of kilometres westwards over the younger rocks below.

These massive Earth movements of the so-called ‘Moine Thrust’ were first documented at Knockan. Today, geologists from all round the world visit to see where this geological process was first recognised.


Rock sculpture beside the trail at Knockan Crag NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

What’s on offer if geology isn’t your thing?

As well as its geological importance, Knockan Crag is home to a wide range of plants and wildlife. Rock ledges on the Crag provide nesting places for birds such as kestrels and ravens, and the heathland and the sheltered grassy slopes beneath provide valuable grazing for red deer.


Geological interpretation at the rock room, Knockan Crag NNR. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Okay, I’m sold on this. How do I get there?

Knockan Crag NNR lies about 21 km (13 miles) north of Ullapool on the A835. Want to ditch the car? No problem, buses between Ullapool and Lochinver or Durness stop at the Reserve entrance on request. The reserve is open all year. There are toilets, a picnic area, car park and trails for different abilities.

Knockan Crag

Can you tell me a little about the trails you have at Knockan Crag?

Sure, all of our trails start from the car park; either climb the steps or follow the all-abilities trail to the Knockan Wall. From here there is a wide, generally at path suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs to the Rock Room. From the Rock Room there are three options for walking around Knockan Crag NNR.

Crag Top Trail will take you past the Moine Thrust and along the top of Knockan Crag for superb views of the Assynt mountains. The route has some steep climbs, but it’s a good path and clearly marked. Allow about 1 hour.

Thrust Trail takes you to the place all the fuss is about — the Moine Thrust — where you can bridge 500 million years with your bare hands. From here you can return to the car park or continue on the Crag Top Trail. The route is clearly marked, with a short climb up steps to the Thrust itself. Allow 30 minutes.

Quarry Trail is an easier option and this takes you part of the way to the Thrust, then doubles back before the path starts climbing. Allow 20 minutes.


Meet the manager

We are throwing a social media spotlight this month on our National Nature Reserves. These are fantastic places to experience the very best of Scotland’s nature … and there is warm welcome awaiting you. Today we interview our reserve manager at Craig Meagaidh NNR, the man we affectionately refer to as ‘Big Rory’.

Creag Meagaidh

What was the main appeal in working on a National Nature Reserve?

To be given an opportunity to take a part of the Scottish highlands where I was brought up, and restore it to its former glory and leave as a legacy for Scotland’s people is as good as it gets.


What is a typical work day like for you?

Not one day is the same, the variety of work and skills needed are vast and we have to be reactive to the weather conditions. Having around ten volunteers and staff to undertake work such as habitat monitoring, grass cutting, path maintenance, visitor surveys and many species projects keep us fully motivated.

Black Grouse.jpg

What is the best thing about your particular National Nature Reserve?

The visitor numbers have quadrupled in the last ten years and we have built Creag Meagaidh up as an education centre for internal and external use. We have  also managed to have up to forty volunteers and students each year who have gone on to achieve so much in life. With much reduced staff time we have progressed rapidly and are always looking for improvements in all aspects of our work. Our habitat restoration now provides  the perfect conditions for red deer, black grouse, dotterel and many other species to thrive.


What’s your favourite species on your reserve ?

The red deer are spectacular at any time of the year and now that they are getting their natural habitat back are continuing to thrive.



Find out more about Creag Meagaidh NNR @ http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/creag-meagaidh/

and for more about our suite of NNR’s visit @ http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/



Queensferry Crossing

The new Queensferry Crossing across the Firth of Forth is officially opened next week. This weekend tens of thousands of people will be admiring the spectacular new bridge which joins the existing Forth road and rail bridges connecting Edinburgh and Fife. As Niall Corbet explains the bridge sits in an area with ample opportunities for nature spotting.

2014 10 - Forth Replacement Crossing, October 2014 (50).JPG

The bridge is a marvel of world class construction and design.

What you won’t see is the fact that the bridge was designed to meet the highest environmental standards, with great care being exercised from the initial selection of its siting to all elements of construction.

SNH is proud to have been involved as advisors through the journey, working closely with contractors.

The waters below the bridge are important for migratory salmon and lamprey. As part of construction noise levels underwater were monitored and carefully managed to avoid disrupting fish migration.

2014 07 - Forth Replacement Crossing construction from St Margaret's Marsh, July 2014 (4)

Walking across the bridge this weekend, you won’t see salmon or lamprey in the depths but  look up and if you are lucky you might still see common terns wheeling acrobatically in the air; graceful as only terns can be.

Common Tern (Sterna Hirundo). ©Lorne Gill

These seabirds are breeding visitors and one of the species that make the Forth Estuary, in which the three bridges sit, something of a wildlife hotspot – an internationally important area for birds and marine life. At this time of year many species of waders such as curlew and dunlin will be returning to the Forth’s rich feeding grounds to spend the winter – look out for them on the mudflats and rocky shores around the estuary.

Between the Forth Road Bridge and Rosyth docks nestles St Margaret’s Marsh SSSI (Triple SI’s are Sites of Special Scientific Interest), a small reedbed and saltmarsh. It’s a precious jewel set in a modern landscape, and shows how, with care, nature and industry can sit side by side – if you are very lucky you might spot a marsh harrier visiting for the winter.

In constructing the new bridge a small part of the reedbed was affected but rather than this being to nature’s detriment, the opportunity was taken to improve the seawall sluices on the site, allowing the seawater to reach the marsh more easily  and so improving habitat quality and diversity.

Enjoy your day on the bridge, and look out for nature!


Pictures by Niall Corbet

The Isle of May opens the doors to its buildings

The Isle of May features in the East Fife Doors Open Days this weekend. As well as its spectacular wildlife, the Isle of May National Nature Reserve has a rich cultural history.  As Sarah Eaton explains, a Doors Open event this weekend (2nd and 3rd September) offers a unique chance to see inside the island’s buildings and to learn about its fascinating human history.

You will be able to see inside the 200 year old Stevenson lighthouse, the impressive engine rooms and the accommodation where SNH reserve manager David Steel and his staff and live when they are working on the island.   There will be guided walks on the wartime history of the island and on its archaeology.

Also on show will be artefacts which were excavated from the island in the 1990s and which chart the long religious and cultural history of the island.  Set up to mark this year’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, the free exhibition is housed in the Main Lighthouse with items on loan from the National Museum of Scotland.

1000 years of sanctity

Excavations revealed an amazing story of 1000 years of Christian community on the Isle of May. The island was an important centre of the early Christian church long before St Andrews.

Fife Council pic

This pilgrim was buried with a scallop shell in his mouth, a symbol of his piety.
Photo: ©Fife Council Archaeology Service


One significant discovery was the remains of a pilgrim buried around 1300, with a scallop shell placed in his mouth.  He is thought to have been in his 20s and was buried in a favoured position in front of the high altar. The scallop shell was the symbol of pious pilgrims who had travelled to the great shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This man may have made that pilgrimage, returned to his monastery on May island and died soon after.

A missionary named Ethernan ministered to the Picts of Fife from the May. According to the Iona Chronicle, he died and was buried on the island in 669 AD. Ethernan’s place of burial attracted many pilgrims. Some died here and were buried in the sacred soil.

Between the 600s – 900s many pilgrims were buried on the island in stone-lined cists, purified with shell sand and ash, and covered by capstones. Their bones showed that most had been seriously ill.

The remains of the chapel

The remains of the chapel.
Photo: ©Lorne Gill/SNH

In about 1145 King David I founded a new monastery on the May with thirteen Benedictine monks. The monks built a much bigger church and cloister over the old church and cemetery. They had an income from the famous fisheries around the island and from estates on both sides of the Forth. They introduced rabbits to the island.

During the Wars of Independence in the 14th century, the monastery was uncomfortably exposed to raiding warships from both England and Scotland. It was soon abandoned. The monks moved to Pittenweem apart from one who stayed to welcome pilgrims and tend the shrine.

By 1600 a fortified laird’s house was built from the remains of the prior’s lodging and a small village was established. You can still see the remains of the laird’s house today. A smithy was built on the site of the church. This was soon abandoned but the neighbouring village lasted into the 1700s.

The main buildings on the island today are the lighthouses.  The former keepers’ cottages on Fluke Street are where SNH staff and seabird research workers spend up to nine months of the year. Come the winter, Fluke Street is home to researchers studying the grey seals.

Tragedy and romance

 The May was the site of Scotland’s very first lighthouse, built in 1636.  Known as the ‘Beacon’, the building has a tragic, romantic history.  Originally over two storeys, the Beacon had a flat roof on which there was a large grate to hold the huge pile of burning coals to guide ships in the Forth.  The ashes from the fire were thrown to the ground and in 1791 the lighthouse keeper, George Anderson, his wife and five of his children were found dead, having suffocated on the fumes from the ashes, which had drifted into the building.

Alarmed by the lack of a fire coming from the Beacon, a rescue party was sent from the mainland. One of the children was found to have survived – a baby girl suckling at her mother’s breast.  That baby girl married one of her rescuers when she grew up, and went on to have 12 children of her own!

The imposing Stevenson Lighthouse

The imposing Stevenson Lighthouse on the Isle of May
Photo: ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The current lighthouse, the Main Light, was 200 years old last year and was designed by the engineer Robert Stevenson. Its ornate, castle-like appearance forms an imposing structure on the island.  It is now operated remotely from Northern Lighthouse Board offices in Edinburgh.

Further reading …

Isle of May NNR – information on visiting during the Doors Open Day events.

Find out more about  Doors Open Days across Scotland.

From orange orchards to Ariundle Oakwoods

Mapping all the interactions between our intrinsic inclinations and responses to our surroundings and experiences would need a Divine eye. What I do know is that I have felt an internal compass pointing me towards the natural world throughout my life.  That compass hums when I am in the right place. Zeshan Akhter, our Biodiversity Strategy Officer, explains the importance of biodiversity for us all.

Ariundle National Nature Reserve.

Ariundle National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH/2020VISION

I remember long, hot summers during school holidays spent outdoors all day, the tall columns of lime trees in the garden of my home and their swaying, whispering green canopies overhead. I remember a holiday in Pakistan spent on my dad’s family farm: of playing in orange orchards, noisy familial trips to climb mulberry trees to eat the purple fruit that hung from their branches and jumping the irrigation canals. As I moved through school and university, I tried on different sciences until something clicked when I studied zoology and marine science. I remember the adventure books I read. Now I look back at the books that included talking animals…to a child, this is eminently possible…as an adult, I am driven to consider that it is we humans who must strive to use every compassionate means at our disposal to understand the other creatures with which we share this planet.

Kinnow tree growing in Punjab. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Kinnow tree growing in Punjab.

I do remember the exact moment I decided to work in nature conservation…I had pulled out a book in the university library that was about the history of Greenpeace. In it, there was a pencil drawing of a gated factory complex in front of which a solitary dandelion flower had pushed its way up through the concrete gaps. I remember feeling deep despair but at the same time an overwhelming need to take positive action to protect this world. In my ancestral culture, there is a saying…“If Doomsday comes upon you and you find yourself with a palm tree in your hand, plant it.”  i.e. don’t give up hope, take action.

I wanted to work for SNH because I knew it was the lead statutory organisation appointed by the government to protect nature in Scotland where I had grown up. So when the chance of a six month fixed-term post arose within the Designated Sites team, I took it. So I left a full-time, permanent (non conservation-related) job in another statutory agency in order to take the temporary post as a Protected Sites Data Manager at SNH. It was a huge risk and one that I probably could not have taken without my family’s support.

However, the risk paid off and this year I am celebrating my fifteenth anniversary of working here. In recognition of long service, the organisation offers staff an opportunity to have a tree planted on one of its reserves. I chose Ariundle Oakwoods National Nature Reserve on the west coast. It is one of those forests that looks as though it is carpeted in emerald green, where lichens and bryophytes literally drip off every branch and stem.  How magical to be part of an organisation that recognises its staff’s commitment by creating a living legacy.

For the last ten years at SNH, I have worked as a Biodiversity Strategy Officer in the Biodiversity Strategy Team. Ariundle Oakwoods National Nature Reserve is the kind of special natural place that the Strategy seeks to protect. But, at the heart of the Strategy there is a commitment to do much more than classic nature conservation work.

2,017 years have passed since the Christian calendar began and human civilisations have come and gone for millenia before that. Building on the discoveries of our ancestors, only now are we in the infancy of reaching outwards from our own planet into space. Looking back at our blue-green planet, astronauts have conveyed their wonder at seeing Earth from space. They opened our collective eyes and hearts to that same wonder through the photographs that they took. One particularly famous image is called “Earthrise” and was taken by Apollo 8 Lunar Module Pilot William Anders. When the astronauts of Apollo 8 broadcast those photos, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, said:

“The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.”

This extraordinary world, bustling with life, is now being horribly damaged by us.

Earthrise by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders.

Earthrise by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders.

When medical students graduate, they swear to uphold the Hippocratic Oath. For doctors, who have the knowledge of the human body to either heal or harm, this oath is the central statement of intention that they live by.

Perhaps this is closest in spirit to what the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy seeks from Scotland and all its people: a statement of intent that they will do no harm and a commitment to collectively find ways of living and working that do not.

Urban environments can create an illusion that nature is irrelevant to our lives. We live in environments that shut out nature: houses; offices; we travel on surfaces that we build; we travel on land, water, air and even space in vehicles we design; water comes from taps indoors; we buy food at supermarkets. It would seem that nature has become redundant to our way of living but that is not so. Nature, healthy and functioning, is what allows us to meet our needs. The Biodiversity Strategy emphasises all these crucial dependencies and finds ways to bring people together so that they can recognise them and choose to protect nature whilst continuing to meet their needs.

It is my honour and privilege to be a part of this process.

Zeshan Akhter at St Abbs Head NNR.

Zeshan Akhter at St Abbs Head NNR.

Kinnow tree growing in Punjab and Earthrise are Creative Commons images.

Oighreag an Fhoghair – The elusive cloudberry

Now is the time to get onto the hills foraging for deliciously juicy cloudberries for your winter jam. Roddy Maclean tells us more about them and their connection with Gaelic place names.

Cloudberry fruit, Beinn Eighe NNR. ©Niall Benvie/SNH

Cloudberry fruit, Beinn Eighe NNR. ©Niall Benvie/SNH

Bidh Albannaich a thadhlas air Lochlann a’ faicinn, agus ’s dòcha ag ithe, oighreagan thall an sin – mar shabhs, ann an iogart no ann am paidh – ach ma dh’fhaodte nach bi fios aca gu bheil an aon lus a’ fàs ann am beanntan na h-Alba cuideachd (ged nach eil iad cho lìonmhor ’s a tha iad ann an leithid na Suain is na Fionnlainn).

Tha lus nan oighreag càirdeach don t-sùbh-chraoibhe, ged a tha e a’ fàs gu h-ìosal (gu tric fo fhraoch), agus bhiodh na seann Ghàidheil ga ithe mar mhìlsean. Tha grunn bheanntan air an ainmeachadh air a shon, leithid Càrn Oighreag ann an taobh sear a’ Mhonaidh Ruaidh, Beinn nan Oighreag ann an Gleann Lìomhann agus Meall nan Oighreag taobh Locha Tatha. ’S e meadhan agus taobh sear na Gàidhealtachd as sgìre as pailte sa bheil iad. Tha na measan ag abachadh an-dràsta, a’ dol ruadh as t-Sultain (bho dhearg). Carson nach tèid sibh suas beinn a tha ainmichte airson oighreagan airson faicinn a bheil an lus fhathast pailt ann?

Scottish visitors to Scandinavia will often encounter the beautiful cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), both in the environment and as a foodstuff, but might not be aware that the plant also grows in our own mountains – albeit not as plentifully as in countries like Sweden and Finland.

A low-growing relation of the raspberry (although not as sweet as that species), the cloudberry was a traditional food in parts of the Highlands and was well known to the Gaels, as is attested by a considerable number of mountains named after it, ranging from Stirlingshire to Aberdeenshire.

The Gaelic for the fruit is oighreag, and the plant is known as lus nan oighreag. Places like Meall nan Oighreag and Càrn Oighreag were recognised as areas for collecting the fruit (they ripen from deep red to orange in autumn). Keep your eye open for them in the hills – and here’s a little project for a keen person – why not see if the mountains named for them still carry the species in abundance today?

Be inspired by some Swedish cloudberry recipes here.

And if you’d like to learn some Gaelic nature words you can find a list along with an audio recording of the words here.


Jane MacKintosh, conservationist and expert on Scotland’s grasslands

Jane Mackintosh, who has died after a brief illness, aged 64, led grassland conservation work in Scotland working for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).  She played a key role in raising the profile and importance of semi-natural grasslands and their conservation and ensured the survival of many of these flower-rich habitats.

Jane MacKintosh.

A graduate of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Edinburgh University, Jane joined SNH’s predecessor GB body, the Nature Conservancy Council, in 1979, having previously worked with the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (now the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). Joining the redoubtable Scottish Field Unit, Jane was the botanist in a team of four tasked with servicing a rapidly expanding programme of conservation site designation and habitat protection. However, then we knew very little about important areas of what are now called semi-natural grasslands, and many were given up to intensive agricultural use, forestry or other developments. They had become tiny fragments of formerly large swathes of flower-rich meadows, yet Jane, with her youthful, expert knowledge of plants (rather rare in university graduates in botany, even then) had an eye for seeing and advising on protection for some wonderfully rich areas for wildlife.

Initially working in agricultural and woodland Argyll, later on meadows in Shetland, machair and hay meadow in the Uists, and sea cliffs in Caithness, Jane honed an unrivalled expertise in identifying important grassland hotspots for wildlife. She supported the work of the Unit of Vegetation Science at Lancaster University, during 1980-95, in developing the National Vegetation Classification for grasslands, with the results of a huge team effort published mainly in volumes 3 and 4 of the landmark British Plant Communities (edited by Professor John Rodwell, and published by Cambridge University Press).

Quietly passionate about the conservation of species-rich grassland in Scotland, Jane led the establishment of the Scottish Lowland Grassland Database. Beginning work on this in the 1980s, with a programme of local grassland surveys (many undertaken by Jane) the database now has nearly 800 sites, containing information on location, extent and composition of sites. When she started out, tracing paper overlays of field maps served as the basis for detailed notes, but now we have a fundamentally important resource of digitised maps which is the backbone of grassland conservation in Scotland – something Jane was justifiably proud of.

For many of us driving in Scotland, 2013 is arguably significant, for in that year an 87-page SNH report overseen by Jane advised on improvements for wildlife along our 59,000 km of roadside verges. Typically detailed and well-illustrated, this pointed to management practices for diversifying what many of us take for granted. A year later, Jane co-authored guidelines, published by the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee, for the protection and conservation of lowland grasslands in Britain. This drew on her experience of field surveys, and collaborative work with a highly talented group of grassland experts. That year also saw her oversee the publication of a remarkable report on the species rich lowland grasslands of Scotland. Alarmingly, reporting on revisits to sites surveyed some ten to twenty years earlier, it found that just over 15% of grasslands had had been lost, and only around 40% were in a ‘favourable’ state. It was a wake-up call for urgent action needed to restore the richness of what were formerly rich and widespread habitats so accessible to many of us. It is the foundation for key work to determine the future of landscapes that so many of us take for granted.

Jane was a long term member of the Botanical Society of Scotland and was actively involved as a Council member from 2007, and as Co-ordinating Editor of its Newsletter from 2010. As Jane approached supposed retirement, in 2016, she acted as grasslands mentor for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers’ Natural Talent Grasslands Apprenticeship, influencing a cohort of skilled and enthusiastic grassland conservationists.

Though Jane raised the profile of semi-natural grasslands and their conservation in Scotland, and directly ensured the survival of many of these habitats, she had many other interests. She was active in the arts and cultural community of her home town of Penicuik as one of the early activists in its Development Trust (established in 2005) – promoting community activities and regeneration. Many converts to films owe a debt to Jane in cajoling them to join compatriots in the ‘Open House and Cinema’ in the Town Hall. Jane was a leading light in developing community gardening in the ‘Lost Garden of Penicuik’, and helped run the Pen-y-Coe Press, a traditional printing and stationary shop upholding the papermaking heritage of Scotland’s 41st largest town. For many first time mothers she was a wonderful adviser with the Penicuik National Childbirth Trust.

Caring, determined, concisely spoken, and skilled as a botanist, Jane won the hearts and minds of many of us through her modest charm, dependability and range of avid interests.

Jane is survived by husband Dr Chris Sydes, children Tom, Zachary and Katie, and sisters Caroline and Susan, and a brother, Simon.

By Kate Holl, Claudia Rowse and Des Thompson

Escaping the crowds

Prompted by his daughter’s plea for a ‘wild walk’ to escape Edinburgh’s festival crowds, Policy and Advice Manager Simon Brooks headed to Flowerdale in Wester Ross. One of Scotland’s 42 Wild Land Areas where the quality and extent of wildness is considered to be of national importance, Simon is reminded of two newly published SNH reports relevant to these wild places.

Baos bheinn in the Shieldaig forest from the Gairloch road. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Baos bheinn in the Shieldaig forest from the Gairloch road. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

We arrived to find a dozen cars parked at Red Barn, a popular spot from which to access the extensive area of wild land between Loch Maree and Torridon. From here we followed the rough track south to the base of Beinn an Eòin (meaning peak of the bird), before picking our way across bog and rock to ascend its ridge. Although a Corbett (a mountain of 2500’ to 3000’ in height, which are seeing increasing popularity), there was not much evidence of a path to the top.

The walk provided the experience that my daughter was looking for. From the summit we enjoyed a stunning 360° ‘wild’ mountain panorama, with little apparent evidence of human intervention. But is this really the case?

Looking north west from Beinn an Eòin to Loch Gairloch.

Looking north west from Beinn an Eòin to Loch Gairloch.

We looked back on our route. We had followed a track created for forestry and stalking activities. It weaved through a native pine wood planted in the 1990s as part of the Millennium Forest project’s efforts to increase woodland. Below us could be seen

Poca Buidhe bothy, used by the estate and Duke of Edinburgh Award groups keen to overnight amongst the mountains, and a boat house on Loch na h-Oidhche. To the north the new dam and draw-down scar of the upgraded 2MW Loch Garbhaig hydro scheme were visible.

Our journey demonstrated that much of Scotland’s wild land is by no means an untouched wilderness, but reflects its long history of past occupation and present use. It also illustrated the diverse use made of Wild Land Areas – alongside the ‘wild’ experience my daughter had sought out. These uses, and the benefits they provide, are captured in a new report[1] just published by SNH.

The path heads south from Red Barn, into Flowerdale Forest.

The path heads south from Red Barn, into Flowerdale Forest.

The report aids our understanding of the benefit of Scotland’s 42 Wild Land Areas. It bears out their economic value, particularly in relation to tourism and outdoor recreation where Scotland can offer a wild land resource distinct from other countries. It is therefore no surprise that wildness is the main draw for many visitors – not just those taking part in sporting activities and outdoor recreation (Wild Land Areas contain the majority of Munros and Corbetts), but also those participating in less active pastimes such as simply enjoying views from the roadside.

Wild land also provides a range of other ‘ecosystem services’, some of which underpin our daily lives. For instance they regulate water flows to reduce flooding, and provide power such as the Loch Garbhaig scheme, alongside capturing carbon in the bogs to help us mitigate climate change.

The report also recognises that Wild Land Areas can influence development decisions. This highlights the need for careful siting and design of development in these areas and the challenge that decision makers face in balancing social, economic and environmental interests.

To assist this balancing, SNH is preparing guidance for assessing impacts on wild land. The guidance will be finalised later this year, helping decision makers to consider how well planned development can be accommodated sensitively and ensure these nationally important areas continue to provide their many diverse benefits well into the future. An overview of the nearly 150 responses received[2] on the draft guidance has just been published.

Not that I was thinking about these technical reports as we picked our way down Beinn an Eòin – enjoying the wildness of Wester Ross and outstanding views was more than enough.

[1] You can download A review of the social, economic and environmental benefits and constraints linked to wild land in Scotland from SNH’s website.

[2] You can download SNH draft ‘Assessing impacts on Wild Land Areas – technical guidance’: overview of consultation responses from SNH’s website.