The Highlands and Islands Environment Foundation has given grants to some new projects, there is a real variety in these initiatives and each one works in a unique way to positively impact the local environment in locations around the Scottish Highlands and Islands:
Water voles have sadly become locally extinct in many areas, with numbers falling by 90% since 1950. Apart from their obvious role in the food chain for many other animals, water voles are also important eco-engineers, helping to regenerate riparian habitats. Their burrows help to dry out key areas, enhancing nutrients, increasing microbial activity & nitrate availability which in turn increases plant species & biodiversity. Although appearing relatively fragile, water voles have proven to be very resilient (coping with pollution & habitat changes), however, the expansion of populations is via the dispersal of young individuals which requires healthy populations. The successful reintroduction of beavers to Knapdale has created the ideal habitat for water vole reintroduction. This project, led by the Heart of Argyll Wildlife Organisation, will help to pilot a new approach to water vole reintroduction (in areas with successful beaver reintroduction programmes) which could result in a much more cost-effective, sustainable approach with very positive outcomes both environmentally & also economically (eg enhanced eco-tourism). This grant is towards the costs for year 1 of a 3 year introductory programme.
This project, currently under development, could have a dramatic impact in favour of securing better enforcement of current legislation for the improved protection of Scotland’s fragile & often beleaguered in-shore marine habitat.
The Friends of Loch Hourn is a well-established community group of residents & people with an interest in regenerating & restoring the ecological & economic sustainability of Loch Hourn. There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence of a significant decline in wild salmon & sea trout populations, as well as large scale mortality of mussel beds & spat, which coincides with the growth of salmon farming in the loch over the last 30 years but a lack of scientific evidence to either prove or disprove the link. This project will develop a detailed hydrographic & biological model of the loch by simulating tides & currents to provide an overview of sea lice dispersal & consequent impact on smolt migration; to map the cumulative interactions of adjacent salmon farms & how lice densities change over time; to quantify the dispersal of sea lice chemicals & their toxic effect on larval stages of lobster, crab, mussel & other crustaceans; to model the discharge of nutrients from fish faeces (especially relevant as Loch Hourn has a slow flush rate so these build up in eddies & backwaters) leading to algal blooms, depleting oxygen & killing marine life. The completed model will be used to challenge expansion of the local fish farm & be shared with other coastal communities in a similar position. It will also provide essential ‘base-line data’ for future plans for Loch Hourn including the restoration of sea-grass meadows & native oyster beds as well as greater community monitoring (using ROV & sports divers) to identify & then protect key areas for juvenile fish & adult migratory routes. This grant is towards the phase 2 costs of the modelling work.
Although once widespread, cranes became extinct in the 1500s due to pressures from over-hunting & draining of wetlands reducing available habitat. Reintroduced on a small scale in the 1970s, there are currently 2-4 breeding pairs in Aberdeenshire with occasional, single birds seen in the Cairngorms. Working in partnership with the Cairngorms National Park Authority & Trees for Life, Scotland: The Big Picture completed a feasibility study in 2020 for the reintroduction of cranes which confirmed sufficient suitable habitat & feeding are available. The next stage in the project is to spend 12months further assessing & planning the reintroduction; undertaking public & stakeholder engagement; exploring the opportunities, risks, impact & challenges further; identifying suitable release & donor sites (the cranes would be raised from eggs imported at the latest possible development stage & then hand-reared before release); obtaining relevant permissions & licences; & obtaining funding. This grant is a contribution to the costs for this stage