Month: November 2015

Words – The Bog Cotton…

The bog cotton peaks above the heath,
a telescope for the wind.
As sheep fleece is caught on the lines,
of exposed peat and soil,
crumbling roots, earth and stone.

Childhood Memories, Adult Opinion

My recent post about Red Kites mentioned my reaction as an adult to seeing this majestic bird – every glimpse is as magical as the first time I seen them. And it got me thinking, there is no doubt that my experiences growing up have formed my current interest in nature, my career path in the environmental sector and my creative inspiration. Holidays in the caravan to Loch Tay, the Highlands and the Lake District, roaming around woods and driving amongst mountains. But do my specific memories and experiences influence my reactions, opinions and experiences as an adult?  For me, as a child, spotting the rare Red Kite was a special moment, to be treasured. And as an adult I can gaze at them and still see wonder in the forked tail and beauty of flight.  How much of this adult reaction is linked to that childhood experience?

Eurasian Lynx - Of Tracks & Antlers

Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) – Highland Wildlife Park

The reintroduction of Lynx.  I see both sides, discuss both the pros and the cons but I support this more than I am against it.  I visited the Highland Wildlife Park as a child and I remember the Lynx – crucially, my memory really only remembers the Lynx.  My love of owls? For many summers my parents left our caravan at Kenmore and my summers consisted of most weekends spent exploring the surrounding landscape of Loch Tay. Our journey for many years involved spotting a Tawny Owl, or 2, on the fenceposts at the edge of a plantation near the roadside. For a while they were a common sight, but slowly they disappeared. The excitement of spotting them, the disappointment of not.

Pine Marten - Of Tracks & Antlers

Pine Marten (Martes martes) – Balmacara

Pine Martens are one of my favourite animals.  Memories of sitting in the caravan near Balmacara watching two pine martens just out the window, tempted by jam sandwiches.  You couldn’t have got closer to them!  For an animal that is considered rare I was lucky enough to spot them numerous times growing up.

I have no doubt that my parents choice of caravan holidays throughout Scotland and North England in my childhood has hugely influenced my love for nature and landscape overall. But can the more specific adult “opinions” and likes be directly linked to those childhood memories and experiences.  Or is it just coincidence I think seeing a lynx in the wild would be amazing?

Sketchbook – Bird Ringing

Dipper Sketch - Of Tracks & Antlers

Sketchbook: Bird Ringing – Dipper from a recent bird survey along the Gelly Burn

Red Kites (of the Black Isle)

Red Kite in Flight - Of Tracks & Antlers

The journey up and down the A9 was a common feature of my childhood. Sat in the back of the car, my headphones in with a suitable mixtape, watching the scenery change and counting the number of buzzards or rabbits I’d see. One year a Red Kite was spotted at the Tore roundabout. And so every year after the prospect of seeing one – just one – was present. The straining of my neck to peer out the window to see the forked tail flying above the car or in the opposite direction to our travel. Fast forward to the present and a spell living on the Black Isle, no longer a solitary glimpse, but a regular sighting. At the tool store, beside the A9 – at the Tore roundabout.

Every glimpse as magical as the first.



Conservation of the Red Kite Milvus milvus

The Red Kite is a majestic bird of prey which suffered a major historical decline and has been part of one of the longest conservation projects worldwide. Through reintroduction programmes and monitoring its numbers have successfully increased in the UK but it remains on the Amber Status List due to its past decline, when it was faced with extinction. In the early 20th century the Red Kite population was a target for egg collectors due to its rarity, and a committee was formed in 1903, with the RSPB becoming involved in 1905. Since then there has been continued action to recover the population. During the 1950s and 60s nest protection projects reduced the threat from egg collectors. However in the 1980s the Red Kite was one of three globally threatened species so conservation efforts became a priority.

With a limited habitat within Wales, along with persistent human threats, it was unlikely that the species would expand its range outwith Wales. This prompted the RSPB, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage in 1986 to discuss the possible reintroduction of Red Kite to England and Scotland. Between 1989 and 1994 a total of 93 birds, brought over from Sweden and Spain, were released at a site in North Scotland and one in Buckinghamshire, England, with the first successful breeding from both sites being recorded in 1992. These successes prompted the continuation of the programme, releasing in new sites to help expand the breeding population. There are still threats to the long-term survival of the Red Kite, mainly from illegal poison left out for predators and secondary poisonings aimed at rodents. In June 2014 16 Red Kites and 6 buzzards were found dead throughout Ross-shire in the Scottish Highlands, the cause being the digestion of an illegal poisonous substance. This highlights the importance of species conservation, and shows that human actions can still greatly threaten their numbers and existence.

Red Kite Drawing by Of Tracks & Antlers


Why is the conservation of the Red Kite important? The Red Kite is a striking bird of prey which is very distinct in character with its forked tail, 2m wingspan and reddish-brown colouring. Historically it was highly valued in medieval times – as a scavenger it ate the litter from the streets, and therefore the punishment for killing one was death. Along with being a scavenger, it plays its role in the food chain by keeping populations of smaller mammals in check. Conservation projects aimed at managing habitat for Red Kites will, as with most species conservation, have wider benefits for other species.

Ethics plays its part in the importance of conservation as often human activity has been the cause of declines in species and habitats. From being a revered species in medieval times, humans came to view them as vermin resulting in decline, then its rarity resulted in it being a target for egg collectors and bounty hunters. We created the decline, to the point of near extinction, so it is only right we try and reverse it. And as seen on the Black Isle, they are still under threat today, underpinning that conservation should be carried on into the future and that contingency plans are in place, for both national and international survival. Finally, as is often the case today, economic reasoning is never far away. Red Kites have become a popular tourist attraction and are now being used as a “marketing tool” which can bring income into local communities. Viewing sites have been established by the RSPB and Forestry Commission at various locations throughout the country. Not only can this bring money into a community, it also enables the public to experience, be educated and be informed of the importance of species conservation.

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