New multi-species conservation programme has arrived in Orkney

26 May 2023

Species on the Edge partnership news release

New multi-species conservation programme, Species on the Edge, has begun its four-and-a-half-year programme of conservation activity in Orkney.

Species on the Edge is a new bold and ambitious partnership programme of eight conservation charities, all dedicated to improving the fortunes of 37 priority species found along Scotland's coast and islands. Two Species on the Edge project officers will be based in Orkney for the duration of the four-and-a-half-year programme, working closely with local communities to help them support their local species.

Scotland’s coast and islands are amongst the most biodiverse areas in the UK. They provide a last refuge for some of our most beautiful and unusual, but also most vulnerable, species. Sadly, many of our species are now in decline and some are on the cusp of extinction. Species are facing threats from habitat loss, climate change, and changes of land use and land management. Human activities have contributed to the decline of some species, but people are also at the heart of reversing the rate of biodiversity decline.

With over £6 million of funding, including £4 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, together the eight Species on the Edge partner organisations will work with local communities to tackle the impacts of environmental change on wildlife, to benefit both nature and people. The partnership consists of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, The Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, NatureScot, Plantlife, and RSPB Scotland.

For the duration of the programme, Species on the Edge will be working across seven coastal and island areas in Scotland: Shetland; North Coast; East Coast; Solway; the Inner Hebrides and Argyll; the Outer Hebrides; and Orkney.

The Species on the Edge Orkney area team will be working to safeguard nine Orkney species: Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea); common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus); curlew (Numenius arquata); great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus); lapwing (Vanellus vanellus); little tern (Sternula albifrons); oysterplant (Mertensia maritima); plantain leaf beetle (Chrysolina latecincta ssp. Intermedia); and Scottish primrose (Primula scotica).

Species on the Edge activity has kicked off in Orkney. Last week the Species on the Edge Orkney team took part in the Orkney Nature Festival, leading two wild walks on the isle of Shapinsay and at the Ring of Brodgar. During these walks, three of the nine Orkney Species on the Edge target species were spotted - curlew, lapwing, Arctic tern – as well as a white-tailed sea eagle and some seals.

Over the past month, the team have also spotted another four of the area’s nine target species – Scottish primrose, little tern, sea plantain leaf beetle and a common pipistrelle bat.

Working with local communities is a key part of the Species on the Edge programme and the teams based in each of the seven project areas will be working closely with those who live there to help them protect their local biodiversity. The programme will be offering opportunities to gain new skills and knowledge through workshops, training and volunteering. There will also be internships and work experience opportunities.  

Graeme Walker, from Orkney Field Club, said "The practical help and public engagement which Species on the Edge is bringing to Orkney is very much welcomed by the Field Club. Some of our most vulnerable species, a list which includes plants, insects, birds and mammals, will benefit from the monitoring and habitat management of this timely project. Orkney Field Club members have already been out with the Species on the Edge team surveying for, and finding, the rare Plantain Leaf Beetle and we all look forward to further opportunities to be involved." 

Alistair Whyte, Head of Plantlife Scotland, said: “Recent surveys have shown just how vulnerable some of our rare plant populations are. Species such as Oysterplant, and also Scottish Primrose, which is found in Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland, and nowhere else in the world, are a key feature of the Species on the Edge programme. We’ll be working with local communities to help safeguard these species. Species on the Edge offers an exciting chance for people to get involved in saving some of Scotland’s rarest species.” 

In addition to leading events for the Orkney Nature Festival, the Orkney Species on the Edge team have already been working in local schools and they have been meeting members of the Orkney Field Club including local beetle enthusiast Alastair Forsyth. 

Alastair Forsyth said: “There are more than 4,000 species of beetle in the UK and Ireland which play a very important role in the ecology of these islands, mostly in one or more of three ways: by feeding directly on plants and fungi, breaking down animal and plant debris or by predating other small creatures. Beetles are a key element of nearly all ecosystems.  

One of our ‘species on the edge’ is the Sea Plantain Leaf Beetle Chrysolina intermedia which is known only from three places in the UK, all in Scotland. In Orkney this beetle is found in one small coastal area and despite extensive searching it has not been found elsewhere. It is an enigmatic, colourful species, rather ladybird-like, but very little is known about its biology. It’s great that Species on the Edge is engaged in discovering more about its requirements to ensure its future survival.” 

Species on the Edge are currently part of the Stromness Museum summer exhibition ‘Nature in a Changing World’ where you can see a video of the Sea Plantain Leaf Beetle Chrysolina intermedia as well as a hundred-year-old Scottish primrose (Primula scotica) specimen from the museum collection. There will be a chance to hear more about Species on the Edge in Orkney at an evening talk at Stromness Musuem on Wednesday 14th June at 7.30pm.  This talk is free but spaces are limited, so to book a place please contact Stromness Museum by email [email protected] or call 01856-850025.

Project activities in Orkney will include species survey and monitoring, habitat creation and restoration, education and learning events, farm demonstration events, signage and interpretation, advice for land managers, small-scale capital works, volunteering opportunities, training workshops, traineeships and work experience. 

People of all ages will play a crucial role in all stages of the Species on the Edge programme; as champions and advocates, citizen scientists, practical conservation volunteers, and more. The Orkney Species on the Edge team would love to hear from anyone interested in getting involved and can be contacted at the RSPB office in Stromness by calling 01856 850176 or by emailing Sam Stringer (People Engagement Officer) [email protected] or Helen Cromarty (Project Officer) [email protected]

To keep up to date with the Species on the Edge programme across Scotland, go to the Species on the Edge website and follow along on Twitter (@SpeciesEdge) and on Facebook (@SpeciesontheEdge).   

 All volunteering opportunities will also be shared under Species on the Edge Orkney titles.