Anna Pugh: Hatching a plan for family time in the outdoors

THERE are activities and all the practical facilities you need for a fun day out at RSPB Scotland reserves, says Anna Pugh

Increased human activity is putting Scotlands wildlife and habitats under growing pressure. Picture: Contributed

Hands up if you were a member of YOC as a kid? I know I am not the only one out there that wore the badge of the RSPB’s Young Ornithologist Club with pride. I say with pride, but I didn’t actually tell many people about it in case I was labelled as the geeky birdy kid. I guess I enjoyed learning about wildlife so much that I didn’t want anyone to spoil it for me. I always loved being part of that club, but I didn’t realise just how much it had influenced my life until I left university and fell into my career with environmental charities. Just over a year ago I got a job as Visitor Experience Manager at RSPB Scotland and I have finally been able to fully embrace that nature geek on a full time basis!

I grew up in Yorkshire and we were extremely lucky to have a garden to play in. I have fond memories of watching birds on the feeder, picking blackberries to make crumble and squashing rose petals in water before trying to convince my sisters I had created a new perfume. My grandparents and parents encouraged my love of wildlife, because they shared the same interests. Even now my Nana, at the age of 93, keeps a garden bursting with plants, colour and life. We often went to the Lake District on holiday and I felt that I would never get a better place in the UK to see wildlife. Thirteen years ago I moved to Scotland. RSPB Scotland manages 77 reserves stretching from the most southerly point at Mull of Galloway to Fetlar in Shetland. Within these reserves lives the most amazing array of flora and fauna from bustling seabird cliffs to the largest remnant of ancient Caledonian pine forest. The breadth of species to see in Scotland is astounding; you can catch a glimpse of red squirrels, otters and dolphins or go on the hunt for lesser known species such as pine hoverflies, twinflower or natterjack toads.

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Despite a great variance in the needs of Scotland’s wildlife and habitats, one thing unites them all. Increased human activity is putting them under growing pressure and in many cases is causing their decline. But issues like this are a far off concept for a lot of people; it is something that happens in remote parts of the world to elephants, rhinos and pandas.

Even though I am aware this is a real problem happening here as well, it is easy to forget the effect is has on my life. Something that brings it home to me is that within my lifetime (I am a child of the early 80’s) around half of Scotland’s seabirds have disappeared. At the rate the decline is happening there is the potential that seabirds will no longer breed in Scotland during my lifetime.

The enormity of this can be overwhelming and downright depressing, but we all have our part to play. You will be aware of the little steps you can do to help - switching off your lights, recycling waste, walking or cycling and reusing wherever possible. But alongside these actions we should all be doing one more thing that’s critically important too. We should be outside, enjoying nature.

New research suggests that only 10% of children play outdoors in the UK these days, with increasing access to tablets and televisions and a reduction in green spaces given as some of the reasons.

The health and wellbeing benefits of play outdoors are well documented but the other side – what nature needs to get back from us – is seldom documented.

Fundamentally, we need to allow children to have adventures outdoors; to feel, explore and smell nature, and to build emotional attachments to the natural world so that they feel a need to conserve it.

This is where my work at RSPB Scotland is focussed. We want families to head out together to discover and enjoy nature, while we provide all the practical facilities you need for a fun day out. There has been plenty of research done on what people want when they head out for a day, the basics being a loo, a brew and a view, but at our ‘great for family’ reserves we can offer so much more than that.

RSPB Scotland’s Loch Leven and Lochwinnoch reserves are open all year round and are an easy journey from Edinburgh or Glasgow. They offer drop in events, pond dipping, bug hunting, den building and natural play areas.

There are also bird hides and feeding stations where you can get fantastic close up views of wildlife. Meanwhile, our Loch Garten Osprey Centre is open from April to August and not only allows you to watch the ospreys nesting, but gives you a great chance of seeing red squirrels and an array of forest birds. Our resident ospreys Odin and EJ have just hatched the second of their two chicks this year, so visitors can see them grow and watch their progress.

If you aren’t close to these reserves though, we have plenty of other activities going on across the country, from events at Mersehead, to the new kids Discover Zone at Loch Lomond and Dolphinwatch in Aberdeen. So if like me, you have fond memories of YOC or of playing outside as a child, embrace that inner wildlife explorer and get outside with the family to simply enjoy nature. For more information on RSPB Scotland’s reserves head to:

• Anna Pugh, Visitor Experience Manager, RSPB Scotland