Climate change in Scotland: Blood-sucking ticks and voracious heather beetles are on the march – Christine Grahame MSP

Just for a change, I will not write about Covid and its various impacts but about recent visits in and about the constituency where, even after 21 years as an MSP, you learn something new every day, and not just from a three-year-old grandchild who comes out with something unexpected each time we meet.

Ticks that can suck the blood from the family dog and humans alike, potentially leading to Lyme disease, are thriving in the warmer weather (Picture: Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
Ticks that can suck the blood from the family dog and humans alike, potentially leading to Lyme disease, are thriving in the warmer weather (Picture: Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)

The first was to Eastside farm high up in the Pentlands to see the diversification, indeed agri-tourism, so common and necessary in today’s farms. Just off the main road, 15 minutes or so from the city’s outskirts and I am in another world, above and beyond the car fumes.

There the barns are being converted into holiday lets, with spectacular views all around. Scandi-style décor and you should have the picture. I also learned about hefts. “A heft?” you ask (or perhaps not). The sheep on tham thar hills are in hefts, that is each “flock” has its own hillside and heaven help any other heft that strays onto their patch.

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I was reminded how precious these working hills are to city escapees and the necessity to enjoy the freedoms there responsibly. Another day I moved onto the Stanhope Estate just outside Broughton (Borders, not Edinburgh).

It was part of fact-finding into the preservation of moorland and, of course, the contentious issue of grouse shooting. As chair of the Parliament’s cross-party group on animal welfare, you will appreciate I oppose killing animals for sport.

This I made clear but I am MSP for all my constituents, whether they voted for me or disagree with my personal views. Opposing grouse shooting remains the case but there was much to learn.

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Let me talk ticks. This horrible wee beastie is sleekit but not courin’. Quite the opposite as it sets about poking its probiscus into the skin of a victim which could be you and me, and having prevented clotting, sucks our blood till its stomach is swollen, then drops off.

It can attach itself to any bird or mammal, including the family dog. Nasty enough but it can lead to Lyme disease with highly unpleasant consequences. It is now thriving on the moorlands thanks in part to our warmer and longer humid summers.

Moving on then from that thought to Burncastle Estate, buried deep in Borders countryside near Lauder. It was another glorious sunny day in the hills and a steep uphill trip in a Land Rover (not mine) which was a challenge to climb into (where are the press photographers when you need them).

There, after the expected discussion about the grouse, I learned of yet another wee beastie having a great time turning the heather from purple to brown. Meet the heather beetle which is on an irrepressible march across Scotland’s moorlands.

It should have a winter of dormancy snuggled under ferns but, yet again, because of our warming climate the wee blighters are eating their way across the hillside long after they should be asleep.

Eat and breed are the mottos of ticks and heather beetles. You know the changes to our world due to global warming aren’t just wildfires, cruel floods, droughts, melting ice caps. It’s in the very hills we pass by, deep in the grasses, the ferns and the heather.

Christine Grahame is SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale

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