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Winter Newsletter 2019/20
Cuairt-litir a’ Gheamhraidh

Looking back on 2019
We are now half way through our 4-year project, but delighted to report we are making great progress! Here's a few highlights of what we achieved thanks to the support of volunteers and partners since we started:
Mink are on the move
February - April is a critical time for checking mink rafts, male mink are travelling vast distances looking for a mate and young females will be looking for a breeding territory. 

During this time mink can travel huge distances - up to 80km - so often we see mink in areas where they haven't been recorded before. 
So please be vigilant and check your monitoring raft when you can!
Out of the office and into nature
Did you know you can bring your colleagues out to help with our invasive species control work?  Well you can!
SISI offers opportunities to carry out practical conservation work to remove invasive species from the countryside in our Volunteer Conservation Days. These days connect your team with the local environment and are ideal for building team working skills and enhancing staff morale.
Employees will experience something completely different as a group. They will have fun, maybe get a bit muddy, and gain a sense of achievement through doing something worthwhile and knowing they are making a real difference to help Scotland’s wildlife and secure the future survival of our iconic native species.
Obviously, tea breaks and lunch are important parts of the day and we make them more interesting by introducing team challenges with a real purpose e.g. learn to light the fire to make the tea or put up the shelter.
We can work with you to tailor a specific programme for your group or team – get in touch with Callum or Vicky if you’d like to have a chat about bringing a group out.  
Read more about Employee Volunteering or download the pdf .
Spotlight on Butterbur
February & March is the time to look out for Butterbur.
Single flower spikes appear first before the huge leaves, and as flower colour is the best distinguishing feature to identify the different Butterbur species - now is the time to check.
The native Common butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is found throughout the UK and has pale pink to purple flowers. The non-native White butterbur (Petasites albus) is, as the name suggests, white. 
Around March - April time the flower spikes die back and the large, heart shaped leaves take over, forming vast carpets that dominate the ground cover. 

The rhubarb-like leaves of the two species are almost identical, White butterbur leaves can be more elongated with a white felt underneath and they don't grow quite as large as Common butterbur leaves. 
White Butterbur
White butterbur is native to mainland Europe and mountainous south-west Asia and was first imported to the UK as a garden ornamental in 1683. It is thought to have spread into the countryside as garden cast-outs or through deliberate plantings.  It grows from a tough underground rhizome (root) and can regenerate rapidly from fragments of rhizome. It grows in wet meadows, ditches and riverbanks and spreads along river corridors by rhizome fragments carried by the water. 
White butterbur's main distribution is in the North East of Scotland and Inverness-shire, where it is invasive.  Its dense carpet of leaves prevents any light penetrating beneath and suppresses all native vegetation growth.

Due to the risk of fragments of rhizome regenerating, mechanical control (strimming etc) is not recommended, and chemical control is the preferred method of management.  We are currently undertaking control trials to establish the most effective methods of White butterbur management and site regeneration. Read more about the trial. 

Did you know?
Butterbur gets its name from its large leaves which were used to wrap butter in, to keep the butter clean and cool. 
Blog posts
Deploying a natural enemy for one of the UK's most invasive weeds.
The experts at CABI wrote us a great blog about the use of a rust fungus as a biological control agent for Himalayan balsam.

Read more
 
The puzzle of polecats in Scotland.
After catching a couple of polecat-ferrets in one of our mink traps we asked the Vincent Wildlife Trust what was going on with polecats in Scotland.  

Read more
Image (c) Anne Newton
Volunteer Chat
Winter is a quiet time for SISI volunteer work, there is little to do in terms of plant work as they've all died back for the winter.  Mink monitoring is ongoing but rising river levels also mean some rafts have to be lifted for the winter.  

So what can you do with yourself over the quiet winter months? 
Wildlife recording!
You can record anything and everything in terms of wildlife, native or non-native, it's all useful data for the scientific community.   As the 'what to record' is a little overwhelming there are a few ways to make it more manageable:
  • Pick a single species e.g. tufted duck or aspen tree, and go for different walks and record it whenever you see it.
  • Pick something you are not as familiar with and learn some new species and record them (make sure you are certain of your ID). 
  • Take part in a national survey e.g. Northern February Red Stonefly - or one of the OPAL surveys.
  • Walk your local rivers and look out for any invasive species starting to grow!
How to record.
Submit your records online via the "iRecord" website. You can submit any sightings here (including invasive species), for anywhere in the country. 
There is also a handy iRecord app for smartphones that makes it really easy to record while out and about (we find this much simpler to use than the website).

Once verified, all iRecord wildlife records are automatically forwarded to the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) the UK central wildlife database.  So all your sightings help to build the national database about wildlife distribution in the UK, which can then be accessed (free) by any project, scientist, student, researcher and interested individual.
So have fun recording, and we look forward to seeing you out again in the Spring time for some plant work. And of course a big thank you to everyone continuing to monitor mink rafts through the winter. 
Find out more about volunteering with our project
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The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) is a 4-year partnership project, led by Scottish Natural Heritage and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund with the University of Aberdeen and ten fishery trusts/boards as partners.
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