CycleForNature Week 4 - Stirling to Loch Leven

#CycleForNature Leg 4 takes Francesca past the halfway mark in her epic active travel challenge and coincided with Bike Week.

Date posted -

NatureScot Chief Exec, Francesca Osowska, has three and half legs behind her and is at the half way point in her epic active travel challenge. To celebrate she went on a duck survey, met a delegation of Chinese environmental officials, enjoyed a BBQ and cycled less than 15 miles.

CycleForNature - Francesca and team at Stirling office
Francesca met staff at the Stirling office at the start of Leg four of the CycleForNature challenge.

Leg four of #CycleForNature began at Stirling train station on Monday morning. Great planning or an excellent coincidence meant that this leg of #CycleForNature coincided with Bike Week. It was therefore fitting that the first stop was the Stirling Cycle Hub (with their amazing huge map) to talk about promotion of active travel, e-bikes and local food provenance, among other subjects. The mission: get people out of their cars as much as possible. To support this, the Hub run a number of courses, work with local businesses, hire out bikes and have a great drop-in centre at the station. It’s beginning to pay off with more cycle commuters in Stirling and e-bike hire has the potential to be a game changer for many people. Great to see.

It was then a short cycle to the NatureScot office via the Stirling Old Bridge for an outdoor meeting with Brian Roberts and David Hopper of Stirling Council. The key topic to discuss was the recently announced Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal worth £90.2m.  The City Park is one of the projects that was part of the bid document and discussions are now actively underway about realising the vision of more active engagement with the River Forth running through the city to support economic, cultural and social prosperity. In addition, improving connectivity for visitors so that they stay in and around Stirling to see everything that the area has to offer, is a key aim. NatureScot is involved in supporting this vision so that development can occur in a sympathetic way to nature found along the river bank. The beginning, I hope, of a long an collaborative partnership.

After an energising discussion with colleagues in the NatureScot office in Stirling, six of us set off to cycle to nearby Flanders Moss NNR. It was lovely to experience such tranquillity close to the city and it is an easy cycle on quiet roads. After hearing about the history of the reserve from reserve manager, David Pickett (“If Flanders Moss was a football team, it would be Tottenham Hotspur”), we went up to the viewing platform to be rewarded by fantastic views. I was lucky enough to be there when the Bog Gallery was in residence. Fantastic art from pupils of Port of Menteith Primary, Thornhill Primary and McLaren High schools who’d spent time on the bog and in class capturing the beauty of bog plant life. A great example of engaging young people in nature. Two colleagues and I then made the 44 mile cycle journey to Perth, which was beautiful in the evening sun.

CycleForNature - Flanders Moss
Flanders Moss NNR was one of the stops for the CycleForNature team during Leg Four.

Tuesday morning started with a leisurely cycle from the centre of Perth to NatureScot’s Perth office in Battleby. I’ve never done it by bike before and having done it once, I now think I should do it more!  It’s an easy flat, mainly off road path that starts off along the river. I spent most of the day in Battleby at a Senior Leadership Team meeting and then an informal discussion with staff in the Battleby office. Again, very insightful and incredibly useful to me as I build up a picture of the organisation.  Wheels rolled for the cycle from Battleby to Kinross at 17:15.  Six started the journey and, having dropped off a colleague in Perth city centre for the train (great example of active travel), five happy souls rolled into Kinross.

On Wednesday, I made the arduous half mile cycle from Kinross to the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve. Loch Leven NNR is incredibly accessible and that’s probably why it attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year. I was to spend the morning with volunteers surveying tufted ducks. It’s not as easy as you think, they are elusive birds who build elusive nests!  The volunteers were much better than me and I soon realised that my best strategy was to watch for the ducks breaking cover.  This survey work is incredibly important so that we have a dataset for the population, and it could not be done without the help of our volunteers. It was great talking to the volunteers, many of whom have been volunteering at Loch Leven for a number of years. All talked about the great camaraderie that came from volunteering and how much they enjoyed supporting their local NNR.

CycleForNature - Chinese delegation of officials.
A delegation of Chinese officials meet Francesca during her CycleForNature challenge.

I briefly welcomed a Chinese delegation of officials from China, all involved in environmental protection, to the NNR.  They are on an eight week visit to the UK, including one week in Scotland. They were interested in NatureScot’s role and how we interact with government and other agencies. This was followed by a merry band of us cycling the 13 mile Loch Leven Heritage Trail which runs around the loch. It’s a fantastic path suitable for walking, cycling and is accessible for wheelchair and motorised scooter users. It’s incredibly popular and it was great to see it being so well used. My visit coincided with the annual Loch Leven barbecue to thank all the volunteers for being so generous with their time. A relatively small gesture given all the hours that our volunteers provide: it seemed appreciated and was a great end to the day.

CycleForNature Loch Leven
The CycleForNature gang at Loch Leven.