Thursday 13 December 2012

Atholl Estates Ranger Events 2013

The ice and snow outside are giving local wildlife a hard time. But meanwhile we have been thinking forward to next year. Our events programme for 2013 is now complete. You can view it at or by clicking on the link at the top of the blog. There is also a pdf poster link on the same webpage which you can print out.
As usual we have lots of family and children's events in the summer. We have some longer adult walks in June and have re-instated our walk round the farm at Easter to look at some of the newborn lambs and calves.
We look forward to seeing you next year.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Treecreepers Exposed

The leaves are now definitely gone from all the trees here, and autumn is slipping into winter. Much of our wildlife has left to go warmer places, though some birds from the arctic have arrived too. The treecreeper is here all year round. It's an insect feeder and so struggles to find food in the winter. Its favourite feeding technique is to fly to the bottom of a tree and then slowly spiral its way up the tree trunk looking for insects in all the crevices and nooks in the bark.

Lime tree avenue to Blair Castle. Planted in 1737.

A closer look at one of the lime trees. Lots of crevices and
hollows where insect food might be hiding

The lime trees on the Castle drive are full of wee nooks and crannies, and now with the leaves gone, treecreepers are regularly seen foraging here.

photo credit - Pawel Kuzniar

A close look shows you its curved bill - great for plucking insects out, and stiff tail used for balance. Many of the insects it finds at this time of year will be hibernating, tucked away in holes and hollows. If it can't find enough insects it has to resort to eating seeds, but these are not nearly as nutritious.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Fair-Weather Fowl

The cold was fairly bitter last night after getting used to the milder, damp weather of late and we woke up to a light covering of snow on the fields and a frost that turned getting into vehicles the first fun challenge of the day! But it was bright, sunny and clear - perfect weather for admiring the snowfall on the higher tops. And also perfect weather for investigating the local waterbirds as part of the BTO's wetland bird survey.

The view North-East to Carn Liath (the grey hill), first summit of Beinn a' Ghlo,
and a stand of Scots Pine jutting out into Loch Moraig in the foreground.

The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) monitors the populations of non-breeding waterbirds in the British Isles and provides important information about population numbers and trends. It has been going on since the late 1940's and over 3,000 volunteers now take part in the survey each year, all going out once a month on a designated date to record the species' on 'their' site. Co-ordinating the day on which the count takes place means that the BTO can obtain a relatively complete picture of the waterbird population across the whole of the British Isles. Not bad for a scheme that started out only on the wetlands around London and Birmingham.

 We recently took on several of these surveys on some of the lochs down at the Dunkeld end of the Estate. Although Loch Moraig isn't on Atholl Estates, we are 'caretaking' the WeBS count here for a while, until a new counter can be found as the dedicated recorder for this site has retired after an impressive twelve years (at least!) on the case. It's a lovely site too, which was looking stunning this morning. If you are reading this and thinking that you would be interested in volunteering to carry out monthly counts on Loch Moraig please get in touch with us through the ranger service website and we will do our best to help you out. You don't have to be an expert at bird identification to do one of these surveys and it's a great motivator to get out and brush up on your skills.

Here's hoping next month is as pleasant as it was today!

Looking South-East across Loch Moraig towards Ben Vrackie

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Small Cow-Wheat in Glen Tilt

Last week the ranger service and the rare plants officer for the Cairngorms National Park went out to protect some trees from the grazing teeth of sheep and deer. If the trees can grow, they should help the very rare small cow-wheat to spread a little bit wider in this area. The small cow-wheat seems to grow best under the shade of broadleaf trees, so we put tubes around some small hazel and birch trees - these trees are small in size but are actually older than you think, they just cannot grow taller because they get continually chewed down. The tubes should protect the trees until they are big enough to be out of danger.

Small cow-wheat is only found in 18 sites in Britain, and only in 2 sites within the National Park. It is closely related to common cow-wheat, which looks similar and is widespread.

small cow-wheat

Monday 29 October 2012

Rowan Berry Bonanza

This year may be a poor one for apples, pears and other tree fruit, but not for the rowans. The trees are red with fruit, and adding to the spectacular autumn colour show we have this year. The early frosts have given our trees dramatic colours and because we haven't had too many windy days, the leaves are lingering on the trees.

Glen Tilt looking glorious. Notice the bright red rowan tree.

Back to the rowan... the berry bonanza is great news for many birds. Visitors such as redwings and fieldfares are well known for stopping on migration to feast on the berries. But it's not just the birds that enjoy the feast. Clues on the ground show us that some mammals have been enjoying them too! But what mammal is nimble enough to climb up to where the berries are ? Only squirrels or pine martens. The red squirrels are busy enjoying the harvest of beech nuts and hazelnuts just now, and also the size of the dropping indicates something bigger. Pine martens also enjoy blaeberries earlier in the year, and leave purple trails behind!
Clusters of rowan berries
Pine marten dropping in Glen Tilt

Friday 19 October 2012

High Flying Painted Lady Travels Well

We may not have been seeing many butterflies around Atholl for a good few weeks now but they are still managing to make the press (if not the major headlines). There are several stories in the news today covering the publication of a scientific study that has discovered exactly what happens to Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) over the winter.

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui). Image rights: Butterfly Conservation

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Grey Squirrel Alert!

Several grey squirrels have recently been sighted in the area north of Dunkeld, an area which has previously been free of grey squirrels. Information on the movements of invasive grey squirrels is important for the protection of Scotland's native red squirrels. Grey squirrels carry a virus, parapox, which is devastating to populations of red squirrels, while the greys remain relatively unaffected as immune carriers of the virus.

If you have seen a grey squirrel in the area mentioned in the poster below please report it to redsquirrel.project at

Click on the image below for a larger A4  version which you can print out.          

Saturday 22 September 2012

The Roaring Equinox

Today is the official start of autumn, and with it came a hard frost here. This has triggered the red deer stag in the Castle deer park to start his roaring. The stag is normally one of the more timid deer in the park, but at this time of year that all changes as the rut begins. Out in the wild the stags roar and fight to compete for females. A successful stag may win many hinds into his harem, a feeble stag may breed with only one or even none. However, the stag in our deer park doesn't have any competition, the ladies are all his, but he doesn't seem to know this and roars and struts his stuff just the same. The deer in the Castle park are in better condition than those in the wild as they have an easier life, and usually the stag starts to roar a little earlier than those out in the wild.

Stags add sticks and vegetation to their antlers to make them look bigger and more impressive
Both the wild and the park stags are now in the peak of their condition with their antlers full grown and a summer of good feeding helping them to put on weight.

If you fancy a closer look at wild deer during the rut, come on one of our landrover tours on Sundays throughout October or join our ranger guided walk on October 14

Friday 31 August 2012

Dragonfly Sightings needed

If you are lucky enough to be out on the estate on a sunny day, then keep an eye out for dragonflies and damselflies. The rarity of sunshine this summer has made them tricky to spot. Dragonflies are wonderful to watch, but are mostly quite easy to identify too, as there are not too many species in Scotland, though beware, the blue damselflies can be tricky!

Common hawker seen near the River Tilt.
It's large, black, blue and green and a very strong flier.

Black darter seen at Polney Loch
- Our smallest dragonfly, it emerges late so commonly seen in August / September

The British Dragonfly Society are producing a new dragonfly atlas for Britain. A new atlas is needed because climate change is affecting the range and emergence time of different dragonflies and some new species for Britain have also been recently recorded. Sightings in this area are generally low, so distribution data is quite poor. For more information on the areas most in need of new records visit . If you are confident in your identification, then send your sighting to the BDS - this is the last year to submit sightings before the production of the atlas next year.

If you get very keen you can go pond dipping to get the nymphs too. This doesn't need the sunshine and can get quite addictive (and quite muddy!). All dragonflies spend far more time as nymphs in the water than they do as adults. The nymphs can be identified to species level as well but it is tricky compared to the adults.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Junior Rangers

The Cairngorms National Park rangers run Junior Ranger groups for teenagers who want to help out with wildlife and conservation. Last week a group from the Bayerwischer Wald National Park in Germany joined some of our Scottish Junior Rangers for a week of fun and helping out in the northern Cairngorms. We helped out with the group on their final day.

Many of the Scottish youngsters went to the Bayerischer Wald last year for a visit. This year other Cairngorms Junior Rangers have been on a visit to Slovenia for a week.

We hope to set a Junior Ranger group for interested teenagers in Highland Perthshire soon.

Monday 6 August 2012

Stalking Season - Hillphones & Heading for the Scottish Hills

The red deer stag season is open from 01.08.2012 until the 20.10.2012. To help hill walkers and other outdoor recreational users plan their visit and practice responsible access to the Scottish countryside, we will once again be providing information about where and when stalking is taking place.

The information provided by Atholl Estate Ranger Service covers the Atholl and Lude Estates, incorporating the Munros of Beinn Dearg, Carn a' Chlamain, Beinn A' Ghlo and the south sides of An Sgarsoch and Carn Ealar as well as the Corbetts Ben Mheadhonach and Ben Vuirich.

Details are available online from the Heading for the Scottish Hills website where you can find up to date information about the deer stalking taking place on all of the areas that are involved in the pilot scheme, now entering its third year. There is also a Hillphones service available on 01796 481 740 where you will find a recorded voice message detailing the areas where deer stalking will be taking place. 

Lastly, information is also available from notice boards at the Glen Tilt Car Park and inside the newly refurbished Blair Atholl Information Centre & Ranger Base in Blair Atholl.  Using these services should enable you to plan your visit to avoid routes that may disturb deer stalking whilst still fulfilling your goals.  .

Screenshot of the Heading for the Scottish Hills website

We appreciate that most people like to plan their visits in advance and will always endeavor to have as much information available as possible, it is often not possible for to determine where stalking will take place until a few days or the morning beforehand. Generally, longer range information will be made available on the website as we obtain it but please re-check this information through one of the information facilities closer to the time of your visit as changes may often be made.

Atholl Estates Ranger Service

Saturday 4 August 2012

My National Park Adventure Writing Competition

To help celebrate National Parks Week15 members of the UK's National Parks family and brand partner Merrell, outdoor gear specialist, are teaming up to launch the My National Park Adventure competition for young people. Would-be travel bloggers are being urged to write a piece of 500 words or less about their National Park adventures this summer.

Remember that adventure is what you make it! We want to see young people making the most of their National Parks - so check out the range of National Park events on our website and tell them about your adventures!

Aspiring litterateurs (that's a posh word for 'writer' – we had to look it up) can enter the competition via the UK National Parks website:

Entrants will need the permission of a parent or legal guardian.

There are two categories for entries: Authors of 11 years old and under / Authors aged 12-16 years old (inclusive). 

One winner will be chosen from each category, and he or she will walk away with brand new top-quality footwear provided by Merrell. So, get writing!

Stories must be submitted by 12 noon Friday, 7 September 2012, and must take place in one of the 15 Members of the UK National Park Family: Brecon Beacons, the Broads, Cairngorms, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Lake District, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs, New Forest, Northumberland, North York Moors, Peak District, Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia, South Downs and Yorkshire Dales.

Full details of the competition, as well as terms and conditions, can be found at:

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Scouts' Jambourette 2012

The last two weeks have been a busy and bustling time for us. There have been about 2000 Scouts and Scout leaders staying in the Castle grounds for their biennial Jamborette and we got lots of them out and about, helping us with some tasks a bit too big for us to tackle on our own!
View of the Bair Castle and the Scout Camp

The Scouts did a great job of installing a new bike rack in the Glen Tilt car park - so now  there's somewhere to securely lock your bike up if you cycle up for a picnic or a stroll.

They also refurbished one of the flights of steps along the riverbanks trail, beside the caravan park.

We took several groups up Glen Tilt to thin out a stand of birch trees that has been becoming too thickly overgrown. Their hard work will help the trees by opening up the canopy, letting in more light and allowing them to grow larger and stronger. Opening up the canopy and letting in more light will also help the plans and shrubs that make up the woodland undergrowth, making it a more diverse mosaic - and better for herbivores too!
Close up of the Camp - lots of tents!

There was plenty of hard work too from the groups that we took out to Calvine to do a bit of repair work to a section of the historical, "Wade's Road," an old military route that was built to improve the access for British troops to the Highlands. Large sections of the track had been becoming waterlogged because of inadequate drainage so we set to work with picks and shovels and no small amount of hard graft to put in cross drains and drainage ditches. The result was a noticeable difference to the state of the track after much of the running water had been diverted away.

Deciding where to put a cross-drain to drain standing water from Wade's Road

All of the Scouts that we had out with us on tasks were brilliant this year, they worked really hard and were a credit to their leaders and their home troops. It was also quite exciting for us to meet some scouts from pretty far-flung places such as Norway, Canada, Japan and Russia. The "Austrian" scouts from Aberdeen were also very entertaining (and convincing!).

See you again in two years time!

Wednesday 18 July 2012

New Ranger Events Page

You can now access the ranger events from the blog. Just click on the "Ranger Events 2012" tab under the title bar at the top of the page and then follow the link to the PDF file.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Bumbling along or toiling away?

Bumblebees  are associated with warm weather and long sunny days. Even if it hasn't been as warm as we might like, now that we're in the midst of what is passing for summer there should be plenty of bumblebees about for you to discover in your gardens or when out for a walk in the countryside.

Bumblebees feed on and collect the nectar from flowers and take it back to their hives where is is used to feed their young or stored. Bumblebees are much more open to food shortage than honeybees however, as they only store a few days worth of nectar at a time.Because they visit many different flower species, bumblebees are hugely important to our ecosystems as pollinators. As well as helping wildflowers to reproduce it has been estimated that the pollination 'services' of bumblebees are worth something like £400 million each year to the UK agricultural economy. So it would seem that visiting flowers all day is pretty hard work!

Heath Bumblebee (Bombus jonellus) feeding on a thistle flower

Of the 24 species of UK bumblebee only 8 are commonly found throughout the UK, in almost all habitats where there are flowering plants.. The rest are much less common or even very rare; the Great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus) is only found in a few places along the north coast of Scotland. Numbers of bumblebees have declines severely throughout the UK since the mid 1940's and two species have actually become extinct in the UK. The decline of the bumblebee is largely due to changing agricultural practices such as increasing field sizes and intensive planting of single crop species (monoculture). This has led to a 97% reduction in flower-rich grasslands from 1930's levels and removed large portions of bumblebees' preferred habitat.

Recently the Bumblebee Conservation Trust teamed up with the RSPB and other partners to reintroduce the Short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus) at the RSPB's Dungeness reserve on the south coast of england. It is hoped that by working closely with local farmers and other landowners to help provide plenty of suitable, flower-species rich habitat in marginal agricultural land, the reintroduction of the bee will be a success.

If you'd like to find out more about bumblebees and how to identify them you can visit the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's website. There you will also find information and links to surveys that members of the public can get involved with, such as "BeeWatch" - an ambitious project that allows you to upload your photos of bumblebees and get help to identify them. This has already helped to discover new populations of bumblebees. The more people that are involved the more information the project will be able to gather!

Closer to home you can also help by planting "bee friendly" flowers in your garden so that you are helping to provide a variety of plants suitable for different species of bumblebee. Other simple ways to help could involve making an overwintering shelter or "bee house" for bees to take refuge in and hibernate over the cold winter months. This BBC Breathing Spaces webpage has some really good ideas to get you started thinking about homes for different bee species and there's a link to a make for a really good one for bumblebee's at the bottom of the page!

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Small Cow-wheat is Special

Small cow-wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum) grows on at least 2 sites on Atholl Estates. This is pretty good going as it's only found in 18 sites in the whole of Britain, most of which are in Scotland. Now is the perfect time to see it as it's flowering, and relatively easy to distinguish from its common cousin - common cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense). It likes to grow in areas that are somewhat damp and shady, and also steals some nutrients from other nearby plants - it is a hemi-parasite. Its seeds are dispersed by ants, in fact, ants assisted with some conservation work here to spread out the range of one patch of cow-wheat, by taking the seeds further than they had been put by humans.
Removing bracken from a small cow-wheat site
Small cow-wheat flower
The seeds of the small cow-wheat are dispersed by ants. Where this doesn't happen, the flower doesn't spread to new areas and simply becomes very concentrated in one small locality. This is happening here to some extent and so, in conjunction with the National Park, we are trying to help the flower's future success by dispersing some seeds, and also keeping back invasive plants such as bracken and horsetail.

One of our small cow-wheat sites is very easy to visit up Glen Tilt, and we hope to have some interpretation on site soon.

Small cow-wheat is one of the species involved with the Cairngorms Rare Plant project, which aims to deliver urgently needed action for four threatened plants of high conservation importance in the Cairngorms National Park.

We also got the priveleged but very sad close-up of a male pine marten today. It had been hit on the road near the House of Bruar but was still in very good condition. The canine teeth and claws are particularly impressive so close up. We have many pine martens living in the woods here, but being nocturnal and shy, they are rarely seen. We will use this one for educational purposes.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Open Day 2012

The 5th biennial Atholl Estates Open Day took place on the 30th of May last week and was, by all accounts, a great success. The estate opened its gates to over 600 school children from schools across Perth and Kinross so that they could come along and find out about the running of a modern Highland estate. Everyone from the Works Department, the Horse Trials, the Gamekeepers, Pony Trekking Center, Forestry Department, Farm, Castle Gardens, and more (including the Ranger Service!) were on hand to provide activities and insights into just what it is that they do. And to have a little fun along the way, of course!

Well prepared children arriving for the Open Day

Tight competition on the Works Department obstacle course

School children setting off on a tractor tour

It was great to see all the children laughing and smiling and enjoying their day out. Hopefully they will all have learned something about Atholl Estates too. A lot of children certainly seemed to enjoy our 'Scottish Outdoor Access Code Challenge' game - seeing who could throw the most 'rubbish' into the bin from 3 metres was very popular, as was putting out our 'fire' (painted on plywood) by knocking it over with wet tennis balls!

The staff seemed to have a good time too, so roll-on two years time for the next one!

Saturday 2 June 2012

Osprey Antics

It was a whole month ago now that we took the Blair Atholl Nature Club on an outing to the Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve, run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. That we're only telling you about it now just goes to show what a busy month this has been!

It was a great day out for everyone. We learned about the wildlife that lives on the reserve and lots of interesting things about the reserves star attractions, a pair of breeding Ospreys. Everyone's favorite part of the whole trip was building a life-size model of an Osprey nest. Appreciating all the effort that goes into building a nest roughly the size of a double bed really makes you appreciate the lengths these birds go to and the strength they posess.

Inside the osprey nest holding two replica osprey eggs

Many thanks to the Scottish Wildlife Trust Ranger for organising and entertaining the Nature Club! It's

Sunday 20 May 2012

Bark Britain

We ran our Bark Britain sponsored dog walk today. We couldn't ask for better weather, lovely and sunny, but not too hot for the dogs. Thanks to everyone who took part, we raised more than £500 for Macmillan Cancer and Medical Detection Dogs today. Special congratulations to Cara, a border collie with only 3 legs, who still managed to complete the 10 mile route.

Look carefully - I've only got 3 legs!

Friday 18 May 2012

Black Grouse Count

Last weekend we finished off our black grouse surveying for this season. Black grouse (Tetrao terix) are an upland species, usually found somewhere between 250 to 500 meters altitude on heath and farmland, usually near trees or other forestry which they use for shelter. The males display to compete for the attention of females and gather together on areas of open ground to show off their prowess. The site where the grouse congregate and display is known as a 'lek.' Females also gather at these leks and will select the top male to mate with.
Two Black grouse males lekking on Atholl Estates.
Photo: C. Gilhooley
Although black grouse are not considered to be threatened as a species, numbers of black grouse have declined in the UK and the bird is now completely gone from many of the sites where it would have formerly lived. The decline of the species in the UK is largely due to habitat loss and disturbance as well as predation from foxes and crows, etc. Perthshire and the Cairngorms National Park however remains a stronghold for the black grouse and the numbers are thought to have been increasing in recent years.

The surveying that we carried out meant that we had to be up to observe the lek sites and count the number of males in attendance in the very early morning, at around dawn. The highest number of grouse that we counted at an individual lek site was 30 but leks of 8 to 12 were also common. In Russia, gatherings of 150 are not uncommon - this must be a very noisy congregation as the loud, bubbling call of the male  can carry for up to a kilometer and appear very noisy in the quiet of the early morning. During the display the cock (male bird) crouches down and fans his lyre-shaped tail to display his striking white under-tail feathers while partially spreading his wings and inflating his vivid red wattles (the red protuberances above the eyes).

Our count data will be collected by the Perthshire Black Grouse Study Group and when everyone involved has submitted their figures we will be able to get an accurate picture of how the population is doing this year. The reason that we won't know for sure until all the numbers are in, is because the lek sites and the sites that individuals attend can vary each year.

If you'd like to find out more about the studies of black grouse, or know of black grouse in your area and would like to get involved with counts there's plenty of information available at the Black Grouse UK website.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Songs of Spring

The migrant birds are fast returning from their winter homes. Last weekend willow warblers returned to Blair Atholl. Chiff chaffs have been around for a good while. These 2 birds look very similar, and their song is the easy way to distinguish them. they are both a yellowy, green, brown colour and quite hard to see, but the chiff chaff advertises his presence singing Chiff Chaff, Chiff Chaff, Chiff Chaff... endlessy. The willow warbler manages a lot more of a tune, with a lovely song that slowly descends in tone.

Spot the difference, the chiffchaff is the one on the right!
photo credit: Hans Hillewaert

We are eagerly awaiting the first swallows. They have already been back in Pitlochry for quite a few days so they should be here any day.

The good weather earlier in the spring has also meant that a lot of birds got a good headstart breeding and we have already seen a lot of birds' eggshells on the ground. Hopefully a sign of hatching rather than predation.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Really Wild Cats?

Yesterday was the closing conference for the Cairngorm Wildcat project. After four years of intensive study and working with landowners to champion the plight of the Highland Tiger, the project is coming to an end. But that won't be the end of the work aimed at saving the wildcat from extinction in Scotland. There was a real sense of positivity at the conference. A feeling that the close of this project  was really the beginning of a new phase, one where something might really start to be achieved, building on the knowledge, experience and relationships that the project has helped to develop.

Wildcat - the highland tiger sneaks through a hole in the fence
There were many interesting things discussed but one of the most immediately startling was the reminder that one of the greatest threats to the 400 or so 'true' wildcats still in the wild remains the threat from hybrid and domestic cats. A staggering 90% of the wild-living cats that inhabit the Cairngorms National park are thought to be either domestic or hybrid cats, only the remaining 10% are 'true' wildcats.' These feral and hybrid cats are a threat to the wildcat because they compete for the same resources (food, habitat, den sites, etc.) as well as transmitting diseases but they can also compete for mates meaning that there can be a reduction in the 'wild lineage' if the 'true' Scottish Wildcats are prevented from breeding with each other. As there are about 17,000 people living in and around the National Park and 1 in 6 of us own a cat, responsible cat ownership is perhaps more relevant than ever before. Have a look at the pictures of the wildcat (above) and hybrid (below) and see if you can tell the difference.

Hybrid cat - the white 'socks' are a dead giveaway.  
So the hopeful outlook of the conference will, with luck and more than a little hard graft, translate into an optimistic outlook for the wildcat. Certainly, there is a lot of goodwill for the Scotland's last wild feline. Now we have to turn its recovery into reality.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. It started in 1970 in the USA and has steadily gained force, becoming a worldwide event during the '90s though it's still not that well recognised in the UK. The idea behind the day is an attempt to "Mobilize the Earth" into doing more to celebrate and benefit the environment - if we all take one day where we think about how our actions are affecting the Earth, maybe it will be in our consciousness more often.

Here's a thought provoking Earth Day video from the US Environmental Protection Agency that has a message equally relevant for over here:

The littering issue isn't too bad here on Atholl Estaes as we're happy to see that most of our visitors seem to respect the landscape and take their rubbish away with them. That said, we do have to deal with the occasional trouble hot-spot and keep on top of things in the busier areas. But thank you to everyone who does their best to take their litter away and keep Scotland clean for everyone!

Friday 13 April 2012

Logierait Woods is teeming with primroses at the moment. Every sheltered bit of bank seems to have some yellow flowers growing on it. Primroses are one of the first of our flowers to be seen in the spring - its name comes from 'prima rosa' - the first flower. They flower early to take advantage of the lack of competition for the sunlight, before other plants grow up around them. They need damp conditions so are usually found in woodland and banks tucked out of the direct sunlight.

Primroses appear to be declining in East Anglia, proabably because the climate has become somewhat warmer and drier, and it simply isn't damp enough for them anymore. This is not a problem that we are having in Scotland!

Primroses are one of the species that Plantlife are monitoring to look at changes in British wild flower populations. If you would like to help them by counting primroses in your area, find out more from:

Thursday 5 April 2012

Out with the old and in with the new

The recent warm weather of last week seems like a distant memory with the current cold snap. It was a chilly  -7°C this morning and the damp air made it feel even colder. But the day brightened up a little this afternoon and there are still see plenty of signs of spring on show - it's all about change at this time of year! 

The red deer stag in the deer park at the castle has recently lost his antlers. He will be without them for a while although it won't be too long before they start growing again, to be ready for the rut in autumn.

Discarded Red Deer antler (© David Perez)

Red deer (Cervus elaphus) digesting their lunch. But which one is the stag?
Answer: he's the larger, lighter coloured one with stubby 'nobbles' on his head

The sheep are lambing and there are little lambs starting to run about, worrying their mothers as they play and explore.

April lambs exploring

Also happening this spring: the pony trekking center at the castle is open again for riding. If you're interested in having a go then look on the website but remember that you will need to book in advance. We had a go recently and think it's good fun!

BBC Springwatch (the modern-day herald of spring?) won't be on until May but there are plenty of signs to look out for in the month between now and then! See what you can spot for yourself if you come up to the castle for a visit, or in your own garden and surrounding countryside. You can comment below to let us know what you've seen!