The uplands of Scotland are home to some iconic bird species seldom seen elsewhere in the UK. As I am sure you will agree, witnessing a bird like the majestic Golden Eagle flying above a mountain ridge or spotting the charismatic Ptarmigan in full winter plumage against its snowy white background, can add a little extra something to your day in the hills. During a visit to the high tops of the Cairngorms in summer, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Dotterel, a small brightly coloured wader which chooses to breed high on the Cairngorms Plateau. You might also be fortunate enough to share your lunch stop on Ben Macdui with a flock of Snow Bunting, flitting around the cairn, looking to share any leftover sandwich crumbs. All of these wildlife moments add to our lasting memories of the time we spend in Scotland's uplands. In addition to memories, these sightings can also help to improve our knowledge of upland bird species and the habitats they are found in. Upland habitats cover more than half of Scotland and are important areas for a whole host of species.
These include internationally important habitats such as heather moorland and blanket bog, both of which are globally scarce but found throughout the uplands of Scotland. Due to changes in climate and changes in the way in which land is managed, our uplands are facing an uncertain future. Currently there is not enough evidence to know what effect these and other changes may be having on upland wildlife. To try to find out more, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), along with a number of partner organisations, is running a project called "What's Up?". The project has been set up to try to increase our knowledge of birds in the uplands and to look at how they are responding to the changes in these habitats. We urgently need to improve monitoring of upland wildlife in order to assess the impact of changes and plan conservation action accordingly. We need anyone who works or 'plays' in upland habitats to send us their sightings of birds whilst out and about. Hillwalkers, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts - you are the ones who are out there in the field accessing Scotland's uplands, and you are the people who are witnessing what bird species are present and absent from an area. By letting us know about the wildlife you see whilst out exploring the uplands of Scotland, you can really make a difference.
Photo: 'Dotterel' © Edmund Fellowes
If you are able to take part in the project there are a number of ways to get involved. The quickest and easiest way option is to record birds while out and about, and then submit your sightings to us via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send details of what, when and where (6 figure NGR). For those who are existing 'BirdTrack' users, 'roving records' or 'complete lists' can be completed either online or via the 'BirdTrack App'.
If you spend time above 750m, then why not take part in a mountain transect? A transect can be carried out on a route of your choice and only needs to be walked once, so there is no requirement for return visits. You simply need to record the birds seen and not seen in each 1km square of the OS grid, above 750m. We will soon be launching a new and improved recording form which should make recording your sightings even easier. The core period for this survey is May - July but we welcome transect forms throughout the year as it gives us valuable additional information on resident species such as Ptarmigan. If you are interested in learning more about mountain transects, please check out our website or contact me at email@example.com for more information.
In addition to surveying, we also have identification guides and postcards for the project. If you would like an ID guide or you think you could help to distribute these in suitable locations, such as outdoor shops, rural post offices and/or community halls, please get in touch.
I hope this has given you some insight into how you can help to improve our knowledge of the birds of Scotland's uplands and has inspired you to get involved in the "What's Up?" project whilst out on your adventures. Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated and really can make a difference.
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