Major new study showing the role Beavers can play in restoring Scotland’s rivers

Beavers could make an important contribution to improving the condition of Scotland’s rivers, including helping to improve water quality and limiting the effects of drought.

The positive role they can play in water resource management, as well as in creating habitat, carbon sequestration and river restoration, is highlighted in a report produced by scientists at the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute.  They have collated evidence from 120 studies of beaver populations worldwide, as part of a large-scale review of their effects on streams and rivers.

Read the full report here  Beaver Main Report

Exciting nature recovery project is awarded National Lottery funding

The South Devon AONB Unit is delighted to announce that it has been awarded a £220,900 development grant by The National Lottery Heritage Fund as initial support for its multi partner ‘Life on the Edge’ programme to help restore thriving populations of some of the UK’s rarest insects living along the South Devon Coast between Berry Head and Wembury.

The award to the partnership led by the AONB together with Buglife, The National Trust and Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust has been made possible by National Lottery players.  It   will work with residents, parish councils, schools and landowners to protect and restore precious coastal wildlife and connect communities with nature.

Long-horned Mining Bee: D. Greenwood

2021 corncrake numbers continue worrying downward trend

© RSPB Images

Corncrake numbers in Scotland are continuing to decline the latest RSPB Scotland survey has revealed, adding to concerns about their precarious future here. In 2021 only 850 calling males were recorded across the 16 areas in the country where these elusive birds are found, down from 870 in 2019. Corncrakes are usually surveyed annually but the COVID-19 travel restrictions in 2020 meant that it was not possible to complete the count across all areas.

Whilst the decline from the 2019 survey is relatively modest, especially compared to other years where numbers have seen sharp reductions, it continues the overall worrying downward trend since the record high of 1289 calling males in 2014 and highlights how vulnerable these birds are.

Within the survey there are regional differences in how corncrakes are faring. In the Inner Hebrides the population has plummeted by 12.2 percent from 2019 but in the Outer Hebrides numbers are up by 9.9 percent. The reasons for these regional differences are unclear. In order to safeguard the species and try to provide a more certain future for them in Scotland targeted measures are needed.

The Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) has been crucial in supporting corncrake friendly farming methods for many years but its future has looked uncertain in recent times. The Scottish Government’s announcement at the end of October, that AECS will continue for the next three years was therefore welcome news.

RSPB Scotland will work with farmers, crofters and Scottish Government to ensure as much corncrake and high nature value friendly management is delivered through AECS whilst it continues. From 2025, the Scottish Government has signalled that it intends to introduce new farming policy and changes to farm payments. RSPB Scotland is calling for payments for nature and climate friendly farming and crofting to be at the heart of this new policy.

Commenting on the results, Jane Shadforth, Project Manager for Corncrake Calling, an RSPB Scotland project to improve these birds fortunes over the next few years, says: “RSPB Scotland would like to thank everyone who supported this year’s survey. The results highlight how vulnerable this species remains with numbers declining by more than 30% since 2014. RSPB Scotland will use these results to help target management for corncrakes in the right places, working with farmers and crofters through Corncrake Calling and to make best use of the Agri-Environment-Climate scheme. The importance of island communities in protecting this magical species cannot be underestimated. The continuation of AECS over the next few years is welcome news to many. As we look ahead though, developing new farming policy and payments that better support farming and crofting communities everywhere to farm in nature positive ways is vital.”

Corncrake Calling is led by RSPB Scotland and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It is delivering land management advice, practical support and funding to crofters and farmers, advocacy for agri-environment policies which support farming in corncrake and wildlife friendly ways, and education activities to encourage both local communities and people across the country to connect with these rare birds and take action to help them.

The project builds on the work RSPB Scotland has been doing with farmers and crofters on corncrake friendly mowing for many years. It also links up with local communities and schools to inspire them to help corncrakes and asks members of the public to submit corncrake sightings. Work has started recently on a touring exhibition which plans to inspire more people about these birds which were once well known and a common sight across the UK.

Corncrakes are the land-dwelling relatives of coots and moorhens and one of Scotland’s rarest breeding birds. Due to their shy character they are surveyed by counting the number of males making the distinctive “crex crex” call during breeding season. The birds migrate here every summer from Africa and used to be found across the UK before the changes in agricultural practices in the 19th and 20th century saw their range and number contract to just a few isolated pockets in Scotland.

Corncrake Survey Results 2017-2021 (Covid restrictions meant no survey was carried out in 2020)

Location Number of calling males in 2021 Number of calling males in 2019 Number of calling males in 2018 Number of calling males in 2017
Orkney 17 19 13 8
Lewis 89 77 68 75
Harris 6 6 3 7
Berneray 1 0 1 0
North Uist 108 131 128 108
Benbecula 14 13 7 5
South Uist 149 111 89 68
Barra & Vatersay 68 58 73 84
Isle of Skye 10 13 17 14
Isle of Coll 30 47 53 49
Isle of Tiree 285 300 322 315
Isle of Mull 0 0 2 3
Iona 19 15 13 15
Colonsay & Oronsay 23 20 41 36
Islay 26 54 60 75
Durness 5 6 7 6


COP26: Baby steps forward, when giant leaps were needed

As COP26 closes in Glasgow, The Wildlife Trusts say that:

  • UK Government shot itself in the foot prior to COP26 by cutting foreign aid, failing to ban new coal mines, and offering support for more oil and gas exploration in UK waters
  • UK Government must increase ambition and speed-up carbon reduction
  • the aim to ‘keep 1.5° alive’ must be coupled with a local-to-global ‘30 by 30’ nature target. It’s time to get serious about putting nature in recovery across 30% of the UK’s land and sea by 2030 to tackle the twin climate and nature crises
  • the agricultural reform currently underway in the UK must work for the climate and nature
  • Net Zero is not the destination, merely a waymark point. We should restore nature right now to draw carbon down from the atmosphere, and help repair the climate

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“If soaring rhetoric was enough to save the climate and nature, all would be fine. But the gulf between rhetoric and reality these last two weeks in Glasgow has been one of life and death, both for entire ecosystems such as tropical rainforests and coral reefs, and for the communities that depend on them.

We’ve seen some baby steps forward, when giant leaps were needed. The focus on ‘keeping 1.5 alive’ has been welcome, as has the greater recognition of the role that nature can play in helping us tackle the climate crisis. But to deliver this, we need to build a renewed momentum to cut carbon emissions deeper and faster, and we need the world to adopt a local-to-global ’30 by 30′ target for nature at the UN Convention on Biodiversity Diversity meeting taking place in China next spring, so that nature can be put into recovery across 30% of land and sea by the end of the decade.

It’s nothing short of shameful that the rich world failed to mobilise the long-promised US $100bn of annual climate finance to help poorer countries tackle the climate crisis. They fell $20bn short – about half the cost of the UK road building programme. We always knew that implementing the promise of climate finance was critical for unlocking a stronger outcome from COP26, and by cutting foreign aid just months before this meeting, the UK Government shot themselves in the foot”.

Elliot Chapman-Jones, Head of Public Affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“Despite the obvious disappointments and frustration about the formal outcome of COP26 not being stronger, the world is now more aligned on the urgency of the task ahead. We’ve seen real leadership from local communities and citizens, and especially young people, holding their governments to account and pressing for tough action to cut emissions at speed.

“The prognosis for ‘keeping 1.5 alive’ remains poor. It must now be urgently remedied in the UK by banning new coal mines, setting an end date for oil and gas exploration and production, greater investment in nature restoration, and ensuring agricultural and fishing industries are supported so that they can help solve, rather than worsen the nature and climate crises.

“We must see increased efforts to speed up decarbonisation across all sectors of the economy – from housing, to transport, to agriculture – and people will see faster changes in how they might heat their homes, the cars they might drive, the food they might eat (including eating less but better meat), and how it is produced. COP26 might not have done everything we hoped it would do, nothing like. But the momentum that is needed to drive these changes just keeps building.”

The Wildlife Trusts believe global ambition must now unite under the following principles:

  1. Countries must keep 1.5 alive through action and adaptation

We need to restrict global warming to a 1.5° rise by using clear evidence-based plans and national policies from all countries to tackle and adapt to climate change, with continual monitoring of progress. We must virtually eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions, end the use of all fossil fuels and take urgent action to stop emissions from activities which harm natural habitats that store carbon.

  1. Net zero by 2050 is not the destination – nature becomes increasingly critical to remove carbon beyond 2050

Nature has a critical role in removing carbon from the atmosphere, especially so after 2050, to balance out remaining greenhouse gas emissions.  We need to be seeing significant investment in nature now as it takes time for natural systems to be restored so that they will be able to perform this role.  Using nature to repair the climate is fundamental; we can’t leave this for later.

  1. The global community must work together and finance climate action

G20 countries, including the UK, must urgently deliver the $100 billion of climate finance per year that was promised to developing countries for mitigation, adaptation, and damage caused by climate change.

The Wildlife Trusts have identified 5 areas for the UK to progress:

  • Making all agriculture and fishing nature and climate-friendly

Farmland covers 71% of land in the UK and the agriculture sector accounts for 10% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is essential the agricultural sector plays a prominent role in securing nature and climate recovery. Government must support and incentivise land managers to improve biodiversity and ecosystems services through England’s new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes. It is crucial that ELM schemes do not simply pay farmers to continue with business as usual – nature-friendly practices must be adopted.

  • Protecting and restoring peatlands

The UK must protect its peatlands, which are by far the country’s largest natural carbon sink – yet currently many peatlands are so damaged that they are emitting carbon, not storing it. The Government must commit to restoring all upland peatlands by 2050, and at least a quarter of lowland peatlands by 2050, with the remainder of lowland peatlands brought into sustainable management.

  • Developing clean technologies that support nature

If done badly, building multiple offshore wind farms across huge swathes of our seas will damage our marine ecosystems. We need to see a much greater effort and investment being put into energy efficiency and energy saving, and renewable energy must be deployed in a way that helps restore nature. It should be innovative, diverse, and avoid over-reliance on any one technology.

  • Greater protections for marine habitats

We need to map blue carbon stores and ensure we protect these, using strategic marine spatial planning that protects carbon stores and nature 30% of our seas must be designated as Highly Protected Marine Areas and there must be greater protection for our wider seas, with sustainable fishing policies and strategic marine spatial planning.

  • A planning system that puts nature first

We need the planning system to help address the climate and nature crises. A new Wildbelt designation in England would ensure that we go beyond protecting the nature we have now, to protecting the space nature needs for the future.