Wednesday, 22 July 2015

July 2015

It has been a busy few months and we've had a real scramble for funding on our hands so apologies for the lack of blog posts.  I am pleased to be able to announce that we have secured funding for a new two year phase of the Making the Most of Moorlands Project, so many many thanks to our funders including The Holywood Trust, Heritage Lottery and Robertson Trust.
The cold and wet weather and a drop in vole numbers have meant a much 'quieter' season than last year, with Barn owls and Short Eared owls numbers way down but six successful harrier nests have fledged 17 young which is just fantastic.
This last month has been hectic to say the least but I have had the pleasure of a full time placement student  to help out. I have been surprised and humbled by the energy, hunger for learning, incite and level of dedication exhibited by Beckie and can only hope that half of her cohort graduating universities across the country in the next few years are like her.

Local lass and Stirling Uni student, Beckie Davies, shares her work placement experience:

Growing up between Langholm and Canonbie, the outdoors has been my playground for as long as I can remember. By the time I finished high school I had worked with Cat and the moorland project a number of times, including building and putting up bird boxes and helping run the stall at the adventure festival. After a gap year I headed off to Stirling University to start a degree in Environmental Science with Outdoor Education where I had the opportunity to select work placement as a module option. Having worked a lot with young people primarily through Scouting and Guiding I was keen to work a placement that combined the education side with a greater environmental focus. It was an easy decision – back home to Langholm and The Making the Most of the Moorlands Project.

Project Manager Cat Barlow kindly accepted my request to join her for a month and the more research I did the more fascinated I became with the whole grouse-raptor conflict and was keen to get out and see the birds for myself.

Beginning mid-June I was thrown into a time of year that is notoriously busy for the project as we race around to check nests before birds fledge, run the last of our school activities for the year, transition into summer holiday activities, and squeeze in the odd adventure festival too!

My first week got off to an incredible start when on day 2 I had the privilege of visiting a merlin nest, two hen harrier nests and a barn owl box all in one day. The birds were ringed so they can be identified later and a nest camera was also put up to monitor the harriers. One young male hen harrier was later satellite tagged and we look forward to following his progress soon.


Cyan, young male harrier sat tagged at Langholm

The Muckle Toon Adventure Festival was a busy weekend with a stall at basecamp as well as activities out on the moor. Cat’s dawn chorus walk battled on through the fog and enjoyed views of a male hen harrier, as well as finding a meadow pipit nest and ringing some barn owls. Stream dipping was blessed with a sunny spell and a bus full of youngsters and adults enjoyed discovering the creatures of the Tarras Water.

The next couple of weeks continued with more bird ringing including this adorable nest of meadow pipit chicks. We attended the new Langholm Academy S2’s “Share” event of their John Muir Award. They’ve spent the last 8 weeks working towards the award: discovering, exploring, conserving and were now very keen to share this with us and the new P7’s. We also got out on the moor with a biology class for a vegetation sampling session.  
Meadow Pipit chicks
The summer holidays were fast upon us and we began our holiday activities. Two stream dipping sessions, geocaching, exploring and an art session. We battled on through some pretty rainy weather and had a great time. Over the two weeks we saw a whole host of wildlife including a brilliant view of an adder on the moorland edge near the roundhouse.

Celebrating John Muir Awards

exploring the underwater life of the Tarras

Geocaching on the moorland edge

exploring on our 'Naturally arty' day
close encounter with and Adder

Following on from my month’s work placement I have gained a far deeper understanding of the grouse moor-raptor conflict and just how complex the issue is with the number of different grouse predators and also the need for driven shooting to occur in order to finance the continued habitat management and predator control. The moor extends far further North than I realised and the five gamekeepers do a fantastic job of managing such a large area.

Stream dipping as part of the Muckle Toon Adventure Festival

Ault male and Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers
Due to the time of year I was lucky to be able to watch and assist with a wide variety of bird ringing, from small birds including meadow pipits and redstarts, and also raptor species including merlins, buzzards, barn owls and of course – hen harriers! Not only was it amazing to see these birds up close, I also got a chance to learn more about ringing and get hands on experience in setting up mist nets and handling a range of birds. I was fascinated by brood patches, a patch of bare skin used to incubate their eggs.

While ringing birds and also when out on the moor I have been surrounded by a wealth of knowledge about the species around us and have tried to take in as much of this as possible. I am better at identifying hen harriers from a distance and telling apart the sexes – the male being much smaller and having a distinct black tips on a grey body compared with the larger brown female. I have learnt new species, both flora and fauna, and which species use which nest building materials. Of course nature always throws us curve balls and we found redstarts (commonly use dried grass and oak leaves) in a nest box full of moss.

Working with school groups and children on summer activities I have been able to put a lot of my previous experience to good use. I have been given a lot more autonomy with the project than I have in other jobs so have enjoyed designing, planning, advertising and running activities. This has increased my confidence and efficiency in taking an idea from start to finish. I am now constantly thinking and planning for future activities, noting down ideas as they come to me. Not having to follow scripted session plans has been a great opportunity and as a result I feel more engaged as a leader. I have also had plenty opportunity to adapt plans to suit wet weather – always a useful skill in Scotland!

a shelter from the rain

toasting marsh mallows

Overall it’s been a great month, I’ve learnt a lot and had a lot of fun along the way. A huge thank you to Cat Barlow and The Making the Most of the Moorlands project for hosting me and I hope to see you all again soon.


  1. Interesting post. I wish you all well with the project and keep up the wonderful work that you do.

  2. Wonderful news Cat re the funding. Very much deserved: I've seen first hand the really great work you do. And a very nice post from Beckie. So nice to see your time with Cat has seen so much close up action for you, very well reported in your post. Just a shame you didn't get to a nest of my beloved Short-eared Owls, the bad spring and early summer weather and collapse in voles has seen very few successful breeding pairs this year. Regards to you both, Bryan.

  3. A very interesting post Beckie. Have a great time in Japan and we look forward to seeing you again sometime on the MMOTMP.