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The Scotsman Mon 11 Jun 2007
Ken Gow saw a squirrel stealing nuts from a...

Ken Gow saw a squirrel stealing nuts from a feeder at Inchmarlo, near Banchory, Aberdeenshire.
Picture: PA

All creatures great and small in focus


THE second Wildlife Watch survey, organised by The Scotsman and the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) in March, was an even greater success than the first, with an increase in the number of replies received from all over Scotland.

Sightings of birds, mammals and plants were sent in from the Outer Hebrides to the Scottish Borders, from Argyll and Dumfries and Galloway to Inverness-shire. Many records also came from children.

As was the case with the first Wildlife Watch back in December, all records have been forwarded for analysis to Biological Recording In Scotland (BRISC) and they will now be passed on to Local Records Centres (LRCs) or individual local recorders.

On the recommendation of the SWT, the focus this time was to be on squirrels. Since the introduction more than 100 years ago of the grey squirrel from America, this species, which is larger and more robust than our native red squirrel, has spread and out-competed our reds in almost the whole of England and south-east Scotland.

The red squirrel is now a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species, and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) operates a Scottish database on squirrels. The records received as a result of The Scotsman's survey will now be forwarded to the Scottish Squirrel Survey to help monitor how reds are faring.

Of the 116 returns, only 23 reported reds, confirming that reds are still predominant in Dumfries and Galloway, Inverness-shire, Banffshire, Angus and parts of Aberdeenshire. The Angus ranger service reported that a recent survey had found 52 reds in the local woodlands.

Several returns, however, reported that greys are still spreading into new areas - such as southern Aberdeenshire - in spite of efforts to prevent this. In Fife, however, reds and greys seem to be able to live side by side, with reds reported still to be the common species in north Fife.

Records were also sent in of the occasional red, such as one near Callendar and another in the Borders, but greys are the only squirrel in Lothian and the central belt. Nearly half of returns from here reported them numerous in gardens and elsewhere, and one person counted a massive 33 on a walk in "the Glen" near Cumbernauld.

In addition, all kinds of other mammals were also recorded. One lucky person in Argyll sent in photos not only of a red squirrel but of a pine marten, both taken in the garden. Otters were reported from the Lothians and the Highlands, stoat in the Borders and several signs of badgers, including one "huge" sett in the Lothians. Interestingly, people had observed more roe deer in their garden than foxes. Not surprisingly, lots of rabbits were seen and one person reported watching two brown hares vigorously boxing near Alloa. Red deer, bats, moles, a brown rat, house and field mice, field voles and grey seals were also recorded.

Most people reported on the birds they had seen as well. The most frequently recorded bird was the blue tit, which appeared in half of all returns, closely followed by the chaffinch, robin and blackbird. Wood pigeons seem increasingly to be moving into gardens, and they were listed in a third of all returns, or twice as often as the once-common collared dove.

The nuthatch is known to be on the move north and this was exemplified with records from the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and a single record from the Lothians. Other interesting sightings were of red kites in the Lothians, Perthshire and Dumfries and Galloway; a peregrine falcon in the Borders; a crested tit in the Highlands; and kingfishers in the Lothians and Dumfries. Both barn owls and tawny owls were recorded, as well as sparrowhawks. The sparrowhawk was frequently called "nasty" or "cruel" but it has to eat too, although I must admit I prefer it to get its meal in other people's gardens!

A total of 89 different bird species was reported over the one weekend. The most amazing record was perhaps of an oystercatcher nesting in a tree at Bridge of Cally. No wonder they are doing so well.

On another positive note, a person in Balerno, Edinburgh, outlined some changes he had noted over the last few years. Some species such as bullfinches had got scarcer, but house sparrows had recovered from a dire situation where they were rarely seen in his garden but now as many as ten are common.

Quite a few people sent in both digital and printed photos with their records, and in some cases these helped to clinch the identification, such as with the buff-tailed bumblebee and the goldfinch. BRISC has a particular interest in bumblebees. We are always keen to have any records of these fine insects, and for anyone interested, our website offers a selection of photos and illustrations of the different species of bumblebee likely to be found in Scotland.

People also recorded early red admirals, pea****s and small tortoiseshell butterflies as well as seven-spot ladybirds, which may of course emerge as soon as the temperature is right.

Frog spawn was present in most areas except the islands. One person had recorded first dates for a number of years in his garden but 2007 was interestingly not a particularly early year. Toads and newts were also seen, as well as minnows. One person caught a wild brown trout in a river in East Lothian, but put it back.

A few people recorded some early flowering plants, including wild garlic, field speedwell, lesser celandine, sow thistle and wild cherry. Altogether this made up a total of 140 different species recorded in the survey.

The second Wildlife Watch was extended to run over four days in order to encourage more schools to take part, and five schools took up the challenge.

All records submitted will now be passed on to the relevant LRCs, which may be in touch with individual recorders at a later stage.

It is really great to see from all the letters and e-mails how much people enjoyed the survey and, on behalf of BRISC, thank you to all who took part.

All LRCs - and their contact details - are listed on BRISC's website at where details about BRISC and its work can also be found.

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