Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Thrilling jobs of a conservationist

This week started with a task that is not exactly thrilling but definitely required which is bracken cutting.  It is not a complicated job, we were given some slightly menacing looking tools and basically told to let rip!  We weren't trying to clear all the bracken as that would be near on impossible so instead we focused on clearing that around young trees that had been planted, particularly oak as this is slow growing and easily overcrowded by ferns.  These trees have been planted to replace the conifer plantations in order to increase the diversity of animals that can use this area as a habitat, a task that is becoming more common throughout Scotland.  Although it felt like we were trekking through a jungle most of the time, constantly getting caught, bitten, cut, sun burnt and lost there was some strange satisfaction in this task.  Not only is it a fantastic from of stress release, when you give these trees space it almost feels like your rescuing I child from a caved in building and giving it room to breathe.  At least that's what it felt like to me, must be the heat!

Yesterday focused on a red-throated diver survey which involved hiking up to the lochs where they breed.  This species has suffered a slight decline in recent years and it now on the amber status with the RSPB so it was worth checking on breeding pairs to see if they have had any success.  It turned out that this was the case, with one pair rearing two almost full grown chicks and another rearing one young chick although there was none in the third loch we checked.

Although these lochs were beautiful, they did seem a more lonely place with a lower diversity of wildlife than I've seen elsewhere.  The main reason for this is that these lochs are not the best food source, not even these red-throated divers find food here as one adult has to fly out to sea that bring back food (mostly sand-eels).  The only other bird species that can apparently occasionally breed in these lochs are mallard ducks and common sandpipers if there is gravel nearby.  Still a habitat worth preserving nonetheless, not least for their beauty!

The weather this week continues to be surprisingly warm and I made the most of it this afternoon (after finishing more bracken cutting this morning) so begin conducting some survey work for my dissertation.  I'm interested in looking at the differences in the abundance and diversity of coastal bird species that are found on the Arran and Eigg.  On paper, they are similar, both being islands off the west of Scotland.  However, Arran is larger and I believe more significantly, has a higher density of people than Eigg which may impact the type of species that are found on these islands.  For example, ground-nesting birds that are easily disturbed may not be able to breed on Arran and so far my surveying has hinted that this may be the case with the Arctic terns as these cause quite a commotion when disturbed here and this species is not found on Arran.  All very interesting (or at least I think so!)  and I will of course write on here if I have any ground-breaking results!

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