Going Wild about Scotland through July!

August 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

Wild about Scotland BusAs the school term has finished and the summer holiday has started, we took the Wild about Scotland bus to public attractions to spread the word about native species and the conservation work carried out by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. We visited five National Trust sites as well as Glasgow Botanics, Scottish Deer Centre, Kelvingrove and Whitmuir Organic Farm.

Wild about Scotland National Trust for ScotlandThe National Trust for Scotland (NTS) was very kind to host us at five of their sites across central Scotland throughout July. Starting off at Falkland Palace, the home of modern tennis (the Palace has the oldest standing Royal tennis court in Britain) and one of Mary Queen of Scots favourite places to visit. We were treated to a tour of the grounds by Head Gardener Sonia Ferras-Mana who spoke passionately about planting for wildlife. She has planted wild flowers in the orchard to encourage pollinators into the area and she has also let the grass grow long in parts for larger animals. Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) is planted in areas as it feeds on the roots of the grass, restricting its growth, thereby allowing wild flowers to grow, and increasing plant diversity in the meadow. Something we have noticed at all of our visits to NTS properties this month are the incredible gardens that are so well maintained. Hill of Tarvit, David Livingstone Centre, Pollock House and Holmwood House were all teeming with wildlife.

Whilst visiting the properties in Fife we took the opportunity to visit our friends at the Scottish Deer Centre in Cupar. As members of British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) we have worked closely with Yvonne and Alastair from the Education department at the Scottish Deer Centre in the past, so we were delighted to be invited along to talk about the conservation work at RZSS with their visitors as part of their ‘Native Days’ along with other conservation organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB, and Fife Coast & Countryside Trust, to name but a few. Native days was a great place to discuss the importance of our native species and highlighting the problems they face today. We were able to debate the pros and cons of reintroducing animals, such as beavers, as well as the challenges facing the Scottish wildcat.

Was_blog_4We had our busiest week whilst stationed at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. This was an opportunity to represent RZSS in the busiest part of Scotland in the beautiful setting of the gardens in Glasgow’s West End. Unfortunately, the unpredictable weather meant we weren’t able to explore the gardens as much as we would have liked but we did have over 1000 people on board the bus and we managed to provide some respite for tiring parents of excitable children in full summer holiday mode. One of the best things about our bus is that we can entertain a whole range of ages with activities such as colouring in and looking through the microscope to mini-beast hunts and identification. We also managed to squeeze in a Bioblitz with RSPB at Kelvingrove as part of the Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival. This is where a selection of conservation organisations come together and survey an area with help from the public. This UK wide project allows scientists to collect a lot of data in a short period and gives us an important insight into the health of certain ecosystems.

Finally, strengthening our link with Whitmuir the Organic Place, we provided mini-beast expertise for a day of family activities on the farm. With the help of Brian Poole, RZSS Edinburgh Zoo’s resident beekeeper, we discussed the role of invertebrates in food production and surveyed surrounding fields to see what was living on site. Whitmuir is a working organic farm in West Linton, 16 miles south of Edinburgh. It is a great learning space and produces some of the best sustainable organic produce in the country. We found lots of interesting animals including a bright green pollinating sawfly Tenthredo mesomela and lots of ringlet butterflies.

We are now preparing for the year ahead, developing lesson materials and planning our journeys but don’t worry there is still plenty of time to register your interest in having our bus coming to your school at www.rzss.org.uk/wildaboutscotland

Wild about Scotland - Brodie# Brodie knows best

Wild about Scotland - EarthwormBrodie’s mini-beast of the month

Brodie’s mini-beast of the month for July is the humble earthworm. Described by Darwin as “nature’s ploughs” they play a vital role in mixing nutrients and organic matter in the soil. Their burrows help to aerate the soil and let water through.  As they move through the soil they consume dead plant material, breaking it down into smaller pieces. This speeds up decomposition and allows nutrients to be recycled by bacteria and fungi. There are 27 species of earthworm native to Britain. Get digging and discover more about the worms in your garden or school grounds by taking part in OPAL’s national earthworm survey at http://www.opalexplorenature.org/soilsurvey

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