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News Page for SWT Fife and Kinross Members Centre


Announcements

Next meetings: 

Sun 1st Feb (High tide 13:12) Ruddons Point

Meet: Car Park at NO470 004 10.30

For Winter Sea Duck.

Next evening meeting is a joint event with the Friends of St Andrews
Botanic Garden, when Simon Milne, Regius Keeper of Edinburgh Botanics and
former Chief Executive of SWT will speak on "Protecting Our National Assets
- A Personal View on Conservation". This will start at 7.30pm, Tues Feb 3rd,
in Chemistry Lecture Theatre A, Purdie Building, St Andrews University,
North Haugh.


Contact Paul Blackburn for details: 01382 542826

Occasional reports of up and coming and past previous meetings (From Jack Matthew's press releases)

On Sunday 14th September 49 members of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Fife & Kinross Branch enjoyed a walk along the beach at Tentsmuir led by Sophie Eastwood of the RSPB’s Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project. As we walked down the beach Sophie and her team of 4 volunteers explained how the Sea Eagles were adapting to life in East Fife. Gannets dived offshore and a few Sanderlings scurried along the tide-edge. The chances of spotting a Sea Eagle were low, but finally one was spotted flying into the forest edge; although it was perched some distance away everyone got good views through telescopes.

 

Back at the car park we were shown some photographs of the reintroduction project and heard the touching story that the pair of eagles which nested successively this year had formed an attachment when they were youngsters in their release pens prior to their release 5 years ago.   



On Thursday, 20th March, members of the Kinross Camera Club and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Fife & Kinross Branch, were treated to a sparkling presentation of Scotland’s landscapes and its nature by Lorne Gill of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH): the Kinross Church Centre was full to capacity for the occasion.
 

A native of rural Perthshire, which has remained his home throughout his career with SNH and its forerunner, the Countryside Commission of Scotland, Lorne Gill has created an impressive record of the natural world of Scotland from coast to mountain and in all seasons, a record that shows just how important is the work of the countryside agencies. In the first part of his talk he demonstrated how the priorities of SNH could be seen reflected and endorsed in the evidence provided by the photographer. In the second part, he set aside that constraint of immediate application to the SNH Programme, and showed us just how varied and beautiful Scotland is, the Birks of Aberfeldy, quiet meadows in the lowlands, the majesty of the Cairngorms, sea-lochs in the west and much more: this is our natural heritage and we have our duty of care.


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On Tuesday, 5th November, members of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Fife & Kinross Branch, were treated to a well informed and timely talk on "The Red Squirrel in Fife" by Sophie Eastwood, the enthusiastic Red Squirrel Project Officer in the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust (FCCT). These popular creatures are receiving considerable attention in Britain at the present time on account of a two-fold threat: on one hand their woodland home is under persistent threat from development, leading to fragmentation of the woods and extensive open country in between which isolates the squirrels into small, vulnerable populations. At the same time they are facing increased competition from their “cousins”, the Grey Squirrels, introduced a century and more ago from America into British parks and still spreading. The nature of the competition is complex - food supply, susceptibility to disease, even bullying; the Reds have been suffering, which has prompted the Scottish Wildlife Trust and others to set up a programme to protect and support these attractive creatures, particularly in their Scottish heartland, the Highlands from Perthshire northward and westward. Fife and Kinross and the rest of the Central Belt have not been included: strangely enough, red squirrels are deemed to be virtually absent from this entire region – which they are not! So the National Programme is concentrating its efforts in the Highlands, and it is left to the FCCT – Sophie and her colleagues - to tackle this “forgotten corner”. It was encouraging to hear how well they manage on the funds they are able to gain and on their enthusiasm as naturalists. Good fortune to them.

The next meeting of the Branch will be held on 10th December in the Town Hall, St Andrews, at 7.30 pm, when Alexa Tweddle and Bob Weston of the Fife Reptile and Amphibian Group will tell us about another element of the local wildlife that we don’t often meet, the frogs and toads, the lizards and snakes of Fife and Kinross. They may not be everyone’s favourite creatures, but they are fascinating in their own right! Join us for an interesting evening - and enjoy some early mince pies too.

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On Wednesday, 16th October, the Pitcairn Society and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Fife & Kinross Branch, held their annual joint meeting in the Collydean Neighbourhood Centre, Glenrothes, at which Jonathan Louis of the River Forth Fisheries Trust (RFFT) gave a talk on the Forth Invasive Non-Native Species Programme. This programme aims to tackle the problem of animals and plants foreign to the area that arrive, multiply, and radically change the native communities. Examples he gave included Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed, skunk cabbage and the American crayfish. This is not a new problem, but it has got much worse as international trade and transport have greatly increased. Managing the problem requires insight and understanding of the living environment that is being invaded, and of the invading plants and animals themselves.

We are fortunate in Fife and Kinross to have a range of organizations, at national, regional and local levels, all on hand and working hard to keep our wildlife fit and well, in the face of invasion by alien pests, parasites and plagues. It was reassuring to learn more about the work that RFFT and others are doing to good effect. BUT – we cannot be complacent: the sooner that new or growing threats are reported, the more successful will be the response.

Trials and Tribulations

 

It is a nocturnal, semi-aquatic, herbivorous rodent with webbed hind feet, a broad flat scaly tail and thick waterproof fur.  It has very large incisor teeth, a healthy vegetarian appetite and it fells trees to feed on the bark and to construct the lodge in which its young are reared, food is stored and much of the winter is spent. There are two species – Canadian and Eurasian, they grow up to 1.4 metres in length and weigh about 20 kilos.

 

It is, of course, the beaver, and it hasn’t been seen in Britain since the mid-16th century. While it once ranged across Europe, northern Asia and North America, in Europe the beaver now survives only where it can enjoy protection.

This was the nub of the ecological account given by SWT Ranger/Project Manager Simon Jones in his presentation to members and friends of the Fife and Kinross MC at St Peter’s Episcopal Church, Inverkeithing on 24th January 2013.


Having set the scene for his 25-strong audience, Simon went on to talk about the trial re-introduction of the Eurasian beaver in Scotland.  Having taken some 15 years in its planning and preparation, the trial began in 2009, with three families of beavers released into the wild in Knapdale, Argyllshire, in May 2009 with the Forestry Commission hosting the experiment.  The trial focuses on five points – the ecology and biology of the area, the effects of beaver activity, the advisability of further releases in Argyllshire and elsewhere, the impact on tourism, and opportunities for education. The trial will continue until 2014 when a report will be submitted to the Scottish Government who will decide what to do next.

Running alongside the official trial in Knapdale is an unofficial experiment in Tayside, where 100-150 beavers have either escaped from captivity or have been illegally released into the river Tay. Since their appearance on the scene in 2005 these beavers have now infiltrated the Tay and its tributaries, with activity being monitored by the Tayside Beaver Study Group. The Group welcomes public comment, particularly the observations of landowners, users and farmers, should they have issues with the beavers.

 

Whether or not the Scottish Government will agree to continue with the experiment beyond 2015 is not known at present.  Those in favour can point towards the perceived benefits of environmental improvement and impact on tourism among other things, but will this be enough? Many will be hoping that the trial has a happier outcome than the attempt by Victorian naturalists to re-introduce the species with the release of a colony of beavers on the Isle of Bute in 1875, when the one-time group of 27 beavers died out within 15 years.


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The Fife and Kinross Branch of the Scottish Wildlife Trust held its Annual General Meeting in the Age Concern Hall, Cupar on Wednesday, 7th November 2012. The President, Dr Jean Balfour, FRSE was in the chair and the formal business was dealt with speedily and efficiently. PC Andrew Laing of Fife Constabulary then spoke about his work as Wildlife and Environmental Crime Co-ordinator, a role that has grown in recent years with the passage of new legislation to deal with threats to wildlife and to the countryside in general. Until quite recently, many such threats were largely the concern of charities or agencies, but increasingly they have become enshrined in law and the police have become more directly involved in enforcement. Fife Constabulary is playing a leading role in this work, ranging from banned forms of “blood sport”, to wilful and illegal damage to plants and to “Nature” in general. Regrettably, such activities are all too prevalent, and members of the public may feel powerless to combat them on their own and be unaware of the responsibilities that the police have and the action they can take: further information is available on the web-site, www.PAW.Scotland.gov.uk. We are fortunate in Fife to have Andrew Laing based here in the county with wider responsibilities for this work than in many other police forces in Scotland. Consequently his field of operations extends well beyond the county boundary, just as the perpetrators of such crimes do not respect such boundaries.

On 11th December the Branch was treated to an illustrated talk by Dr David Munro of Kinnesswood on the history and geography of Benarty Hill, the hill known to all who take the M90 between Edinburgh and Perth as marking the boundary between the Kingdom of Fife, with its ancient history of dynastic rule and later industrial power, and Kinross-shire, with its agricultural traditions, country pursuits and havens for wildlife. The geology and nature of the landscapes are a record of the sedimentary rocks formed from sediment on the bottom of a shallow sea, of igneous rocks forced upwards during periods of great volcanic activity, of erosion by the inexorable movement of glaciers during successive ice ages, of gradual recovery as the climate improved, and most recently of the human use of the land in agriculture and industry. Dr Munro gave us insight into these processes, intermingled with the contrasting experiences of the people living here in recent times, even within a few miles of each other but on opposite sides of Benarty: the great depression of the 1920s, following the “war to end all wars”, when the hardships suffered by the miners on the south side led to an upsurge in the poaching of trout in Loch Leven and a harsh response in the local court. Dr Munro read from a recently discovered letter to the Laird of Kinross, Sir Basil Montgomery, eloquently pleading the cause of the miners in their parlous condition. There is no record of a reply, but we were left to hope that their plight had been heard and acted upon. Whatever the outcome, however, David Munro’s talk will certainly encourage us to look with fresh eyes on the scenery around us, as we venture into the local countryside in the Spring that will surely come!

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The next meeting of the Branch will be in the Age Concern Hall in Cupar on Wednesday, 7th November, at 7.30. After the AGM (which is intended to be short and snappy) PC Andrew Laing will provide a sequel to the talk that he gave on “Wildlife Crime” a couple of years ago. That was a fascinating talk, with some encouraging stories shining through other less salubrious examples of human activities, and this talk promises to be another eloquent account of the fight against the types of crime that are a particular concern to the Scottish Wildlife Trust.


The Fife and Kinross Branch of the Scottish Wildlife Trust held an evening meeting on 20th September in the Crypt of St Margaret’s Memorial Church, Dunfermline, when Tricia Towler told us of her recent experiences on a strenuous holiday in the jungles of Indonesian Borneo. Driven by the need to DO something about the need to conserve the huge variety of animals and plants that are still to be found in this world of ours, Tricia had gone to great lengths to raise the money she needed in order to join a group of enthusiastic lovers of the wild on a tropical trek. They were guided by native trackers, up hill and down, in thick scrub and among huge trunks of mature trees stretching up into the forest canopy, from where came a cacophony of sounds from animals which could occasionally be glimpsed as they moved overhead. The nights were spent in simple style in the village long-houses in the company of the Dyak people.

Within that rain forest live the Orang Utan, magnificent apes which, despite their bulk, live high in the forest canopy, a solitary life for the males, the females often with an infant who has much to learn in order to survive in a world quite unlike our own. This they have done for some millions of years on the Island of Borneo, but now human pressure is casting doubt on how long that will continue. Tricia told us of valiant efforts being made to improve their chances of survival as a species, and sanctuaries have been set up in both the Indonesian south and the Malaysian north of this huge island, sanctuaries where victims of forest fires and clearance and orphaned infants can be cared for and, it is hoped, returned to the wild.

Here in Scotland changes are also taking place that affect the nature of the land, the plants and animals we cherish, but may take for granted, until suddenly we ask, “Where have all the flowers – and the birds and the bees - gone?” If such losses are to be prevented, the changes must be monitored and understood. At the Branch’s latest meeting, which was held in the Collidean Centre in Glenrothes on 17th October, members of the Trust and the Pitcairm Society heard Alexa Tweddle from Fife Council’s Nature Records Centre in Glenrothes, give a vivid account of the Why and the Wherefore, the When and the Where, of recording the life around us. This is valuable work that is available to all who are curious about what is happening all around us. One does not have to be an expert on the wild plants and creatures of Fife to play a part: give your next walk in the country that extra value by noting when and where you saw what. Find out more about the Centre at 211 Tantallon Ave, Glenrothes, tel. 08451 555 555, www.fifecoastandcountrysidetrust.co.uk/fife-nature-records-centre or e-mail alexatweddle@fifegov.uk.



The Fife and Kinross Branch of the Scottish Wildlife Trust held a joint meeting with the Kinross Camera Club in Kinross Church Centre, Kinross, on Thursday, 8th March 2012, when Fergus Gill presented an outstanding selection of his nature photographs. He came with a national reputation in wildlife photography that was firmly established when he received, among many other awards, the title, Veolia Young Nature Photographer of the Year, in 2009 and in 2010.  


Nature has always featured strongly in human art-forms, from stone-age paintings of wild animals, to stylized images of plants and the designs they inspired in ancient times, on to the precision and beauty of scientific engravings in the 18th and 19th centuries, before photography threatened to supersede the work of the painstaking draughtsman and banish Art to that Other Culture. That may have happened in simple descriptive terms, but Fergus’ pictures showed us that art can co-exist alongside technology. We followed the changing seasons throughout the year and from coast to mountain-top, and we could detect the different responses of living organisms, not just to those physical changes, but also to each other. It was particularly intriguing to discern fundamental differences in the nature of behaviour between birds and mammals that Fergus was able to draw out: the often spectacular but inbuilt behaviour of a flock of birds contrasted strongly with the images of mountain hares mindful of their surroundings. Fergus gave us a remarkable appreciation of both art and of wild creatures that reflected the patience, the hardiness and the insight of a dedicated naturalist as well as his mastery of the craft of photography.  




 A Microcosm of Life on Earth

The Scottish Wildlife Trust, Fife & Kinross Branch, held its pre-Christmas meeting in St Andrew’s Town Hall on 13th December, 2011. Dr Gordon Corbet presented his long-awaited account of Life on the Dumbarnie SWT Nature Reserve, on the coast near Largo in Fife, which he had been due to give a year ago, but snow had intervened and forced a postponement. Now, a year later, he gave us a fascinating tale of animals, plants and fungi, so minute that most people are quite unaware of them, but which make up a complex and extensive community that is a crucial part of the living world all around us that we as humans can affect in so many ways.  

Dr Corbet is a professional zoologist by training and an inveterate naturalist by inclination, so his talk was full of new and intriguing information.  He is well known for his work at the British Museum (Natural History) and elsewhere. What is less widely known is the work that he has carried out after his retiral and return to Scotland, when his investigations turned from mammals, on the scale of metres, to minute and less familiar creatures, on the scale of millimetres, three orders of magnitude smaller, a change that required a different approach, techniques and skills if he were to identify and understand the tiny creatures and plants and the role they play in the community in the chosen area, a strip of sandy coastal grassland, Dumbarnie Links Nature Reserve near Largo on the south-east coast of Fife. Here he set up and started a comprehensive survey of all the forms of life that he found there.

Here, as the Reserve Convener, he has tackled this immense task with vigour and enthusiasm for many years, identifying the species that he finds and making inventories of the community, studying variations and relationships between species and with environmental factors, so interpreting how the whole system operates and how it may respond to changes in the environment, knowledge that is crucial for predictions of the effect of global climate change and for our preparedness for such change: this has in effect been his “second career”. He showed us a wide range of insects and other tiny creatures, small toadstools and mosses, organisms that we could recognize in a general fashion, but showing details of form and pattern that were quite astonishing. Smaller still, there were creatures and plant forms quite invisible to the naked eye: the tardigrade that under the microscope looked like a ponderous, many-legged hippopotamus, but was just a fraction of a millimetre in length. We were introduced to tiny mites that ride on the heads of small beetles, not as in the old rhyme, “Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em, and little fleas have lesser fleas - and on, ad infinitum” - not at all: these mites hop off when the beetle alights on a dead body to lay its own eggs, go off in search of the larvae of flies that may have reached the carrion first, and give them a fatal dose of their own eggs, so leaving the “field” that much clearer for the the beetle larvae when they hatch. This is a quite extraordinary case of commensalism, the beetle and the mite feeding at the same table to their mutual benefit.

It takes keen observation and great patience to understand the complexity of life that Dr Corbet and his colleagues have recorded on just a few hectares of sandy coast and as reported in the journal, British Wildlife, Dec. 2011, pp. 104-109 (recommended reading!). Dumbarnie Links is noted, not do much for the presence of rare species or special features that require particular protection; but as the best known and documented example of a coastal “Links” ecosystem in Scotland and beyond. It is this that justifies its status as an SWT Nature Reserve, and for this we owe a great debt of gratitude to Gordon and his co-workers.



 AGM Report (This is Jack Matthew's press release)

The Scottish Wildlife Trust, Fife & Kinross Branch, held its 2011 Annual General Meeting in the Lumsden Memorial Hall, Freuchie, on Thursday, 17th November, and chaired by the President, Dr Jean Balfour, FRSE. Mrs Sonia Daniels reported that her first year in the chair of the Branch had started with the cancellation of various meetings due to the appalling  weather, after which matters could only get better! They duly did so, with a variety of talks and presentations on topics of interest to naturalists and country-lovers, and field excursions in the spring and summer. Relations with SWT HQ are good and, as the Treasurer reported, the finances are in a healthy state. The Committee membership was confirmed and all is set for the programme scheduled for the coming year. The meeting concluded with a vote of thanks to the President, and was followed by a review of some of the SWT Reserves that fall within the purview of the Branch. 


Alistair Whyte,, SWT Reserve Manager based at SWT HQ in Cramond, emphasised the importance that the Trust places on designated Reserves throughout Scotland and the crucial role that the branches (Members’ Centres) play in their management. Fife & Kinross MC has local responsibility for ten of these Reserves, each of which has special features and requires individual attention, understanding and management; an appointed Convener oversees the work on each Reserve, supported by local volunteers as necessary; four of these Reserves had been selected to illustrate their diversity of habitat and plant and animal life, and the particular management requirements:
1. Fleecefaulds, near Ceres (convener: Alison Irvine), a wild flower meadow.
2. Dumbarnie Links near Largo (Gordon Corbet), coastal grassland on sandy soil
3. Bankhead Moss near Peat Inn (Jean Stewart), a raised bog with a history of use in the linen industry
4. Cullaloe, near Aberdour (Janie McNeil), a former reservoir with a diverse fauna and flora
In order to maintain – and even enhance - the natural history of each of these Reserves, ecologically sensitive management is essential, and the SWT is fortunate to have Conveners who know their plants and animals and understand the ecology of each particular site: A flower meadow will degenerate into scrub if the land is not grazed and the grass cut in the appropriate manner and season. Just as a coastal Links needs to be managed carefully if it is to provide a first-class golf course, so must the requirements be met for the plants and animals one can hope to see in such a place. A raised bog is a naturally transient phase in the change from a shallow lake to a forest, a process that has to be halted by active management, of the water table and preventing the encroachment of scrub and woodland. And a disused reservoir – like a disused quarry, which also features in other SWT Reserves in Fife – provides a great opportunity to repay at least a small part of our debt to Nature, as more and more Wild Land is expropriated by Homo sapiens  


All credit must go to the Conveners and their helpers for the work they do – and with such enthusiasm as Alistair, Alison, Gordon. Jean and Janie showed last week. 


Further details of these and the other six Reserves in the charge of Fife & Kinross Members’ Centre are to be found on the web-site:

http://www.scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/local-member-group/fife-and-kinross 

and

http://www.scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/local-member-group/fife-and-kinross-34-18-98-29-37/

and of course the reserve pages here:

Reserves