As you might of gathered by now, we're big fans of bumblebees, dragonflies, butterflies, moths, slow worms, frogs, red squirrels, wildcats and just about everything else you might find in the Highlands, even horse flies if they are golden and do not bite us; biodiversity is the spice of life after all...
Ever keen to learn more about wildlife in the Highlands, we headed up North earlier this week to Inverness to attend The 2017 Highland Biodiversity Conference. It was our first visit to Great Glen House, the headquarters of SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) and the start of a delightful day.
After coffee and a warm welcome we learnt something about the history of The Highland Biodiversity Action Plan, recognising the importance of local action. Katy from The Bumblebee Conservation Trust then gave some advice on how to improve habitats for pollinators, and flagged up an initiative, the Bee kind online quiz, where you can assess just how bee friendly your garden is. Beeing always up for a wildlife challenge we thought we would have a go. We scored 3784 points, but more importantly identified how to improve the grounds of the Old Chapel House further for pollinators.
Following on from Katy, Tom from Butterfly Conservation gave a talk on monitoring and surveying the chequered skipper butterfly in Scotland. This wee beauty was until quite recently thought to have a very localised distribution around Fort William and North Argyll, though has recently been recorded more widely across Lochaber. Our first sighting of the chequered skipper was in May 2011 in High Mingarry - we didn't realise it at the time. Has the chequered skipper been increasing in range or are simply more people on the lookout and in the know?
Athayde from SNH then gave a fascinating talk on the prospect of vanishing bees, raising awareness of neonicotinoids and the risk of diseases spread from the factory use of bumble bees in commercial tomato production; luckily two threats to bees which are not present across Lochaber.
Two subsequent talks on dragonflies and bog conservation reminded us of how much we are looking forward to Spring and Summer and once again engaging in our passion for dragonfly stalking. Locally, we know of some great spots for northern emerald dragonflies and white faced darters and we also suspect that azure hawkers can be seen quite locally. We picked up some great tips on the behaviour of the azure hawker from Jonathan, a volunteer with The British Dragonfly Society and just can't wait for June...
After lunch we heard more on issues related to native woodland management and the impact of deer on the environment. Someone asked a question about the prospects on reintroducing the lynx to help control deer numbers - it seems that there is currently little political support, though SNH may well have a draft action plan in the freezer.
My favourite moment was when someone suggested the best way to age ancient and lonesome trees was by the number of hugs - a slightly different method to measuring girth at breast height or by counting the number of growth rings.
All in all, a really educational day and a reminder of how lucky we are to live in such a bio diverse area of Scotland.