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RSPB & Skate Trust to benefit from Nature Restoration Fund

A live flapper skate egg case off the coast in the Northern Isles – taken from an ROV.

RSPB Scotland and the Orkney Skate Trust are two of the organisations to benefit from the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund.

In the first round of funding awards, a total of £5m will be shared between 54 projects from all over Scotland to restore nature, safeguard wildlife, and tackle the causes of climate change.

The Nature Restoration Fund supports a range of urban, rural, marine, and coastal focused projects to address the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change.

The Orkney Skate Trust has received a small grant for a battery powered ROV (remotely operated vehicle). As the trust’s chairman Dan Wise explained, it is essentially an underwater drone.

He said: “This small unit will allow us to continue our collaborative research into the Orkney skate population. More specifically, we will be able to get eyes underwater to look for essential fish habitat such as egg case laying grounds, nursery areas etc.

“We can cover more ground with this drone when compared to diving, and the quality of the camera is greater when compared to a drop down camera – both survey styles we still do but this is another tool in the tool box.”

RSPB Scotland is also going to invest in new machinery, with its £160,000 award going to the purchase of a specialist tractor for removing vegetation.

A tractor equipped with Soucy tracks will be used to cut and collect material for removal from the sites, without leaving rutted tracks or creating erosion points. This machine has significantly less ground pressure than a normal tractor, reducing the chances of damaging sensitive habitats, and is specifically designed to operate in softer ground conditions.

The benefits to birdlife include opening up foraging habitat, allowing flightless chicks to move around more easily, and reducing the chance of chicks becoming saturated in dense, wet vegetation.

RSPB Scotland site manager in Orkney, Alan Leitch, said:

“The funding means we can purchase machinery that offers us a real opportunity to upscale our annual land management efforts on the Orkney nature reserves to increase conservation benefits. These operations will help a suite of species including curlews, lapwings, and hen harriers.”

The £10m fund was launched in July this year and has now been extended to a total of at least £65m over the next five years. On the fund in general, the Biodiversity Minister, Lorna Slater, said:

“Too much of Scotland’s natural environment is degraded after years of over-exploitation, but this government is committed to restoring nature and our wildlife. The Nature Restoration Fund will play a big role in delivering these aspirations, and the projects we are funding today are just the beginning.

“The fund kick starts a new approach, supporting longer-term, larger, landscape-scale projects across Scotland – on land and at sea – that address the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. Over this parliament we will invest at least £65 million through the fund, delivering real change that people and nature will benefit from across the whole country.”