This year may well go down as the year of the vote as far as wildlife is concerned. It started with the now well known survey by Scottish Natural Heritage to find out what the public considered to be the “Big Five” of animals and birds. Readers of this column may recall there were, in order of the number of votes, the golden eagle, red squirrel, red deer, otter and the lowest number of votes , by far, was for the harbour seal. This survey was as part of the “Year of Natural Scotland – 2013” One of the many reasons for this survey was to highlight some of the conservations problems of many species and to raise their profile in many people’s minds.
Then came another survey, just completed, and almost overshadowed by the SNH survey, by the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. This was centred on plants to champion the cause for native species and their often vulnerable or endangered status. This turned out to be an international survey as people voted from as far afield as America, Canada and Australia. It came as no surprise to many that the nation’s favourite tree was the Scots pine and the most popular flower was the bluebell. These iconic plants narrowly beat one runner up in the tree world, the rowan, or mountain ash as it is sometimes called. The silver birch was next on the list. To many this did not come as a surprise and I, for one, thought our national tree was already the Scot’s pine and no survey was ever needed to judge this.
As far as the flowers are concerned, the bluebell came out top of the list with the Scottish primrose a close second. Again no surprises here, but there are problems over this. Take the bluebell, for example, as there seems to be some confusion as to actually which flower is being talked about. The “true” bluebell of Scotland is, in fact, the harebell, whilst what the rest of Britain calls the bluebell is, in Scotland, known as the wild hyacinth. In one national newspaper last week it was the harebell that was shown, whilst in another it was the English bluebell that was shown. Confusing? To a lesser extent I wonder how many people voted for the primrose as opposed to the Scottish primrose? After all, most people, have never seen the Scottish primrose in the wild as it only grows in the north of Sutherland and Caithness and on Orkney.
Now comes yet another campaign and this time organised by the RSPB Scotland. The idea is to see the golden eagle as the country’s national bird. It seems that to be voted the top of the Big Five is not enough as the drive is to make the eagle the national bird above all others. Once again I fell into the trap of thinking it is already our national bird but perhaps this will just be a formality? One aim is to turn the golden eagles fortune around and see it once again return to its former range. I am not quite sure how raising the bird’s profile will achieve this but will support any campaign to make us aware of the bird’s problems. The RSPB has submitted a petition urging ministers to formally designate this species as a national symbol, placing it alongside the lion rampant, saltire and Scottish thistle as emblems of the country. The present breeding population is just 431 pairs in the whole of Scotland. The new campaign is fronted by the wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan and we can only wish them success and give our backing in this very worthwhile cause.