Rafts saving loons in Hidden Highlands

Black-throated diver (loon), courtesy of Welcome to Scotland

Loons are doing so poorly in Scotland that biologists are building them rafts on Loch Maree so their nests will be safer. That’s one of the things I learned watching the BBC’s Hidden Highlands with Fergus Beeley. Turns out that the rafts have helped boost breeding by 34%, as of 2007.

Loch Maree in the Scottish Highlands is the biggest nesting colony for arctic loons (Gavia arctica), which are known in the UK as black throated diving birds. The UK treasures these loon because only about 200 pairs mate here. It’s roughly classified as a threatened species–amber in the Birds of Conservation Concernreview and a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Biologists built 58 rafts around Scotland to protect against floods and land predators. It was an effort to boost poor breeding performance. Harriers (known here as sea eagles) eat the chicks, as do pine martens. (Fodors says the best place to see martens) is by dumpsters.

Stuart Benn, senior conservation officer for the RSPB, told the BBC: “We can’t say hand on heart that the overall increase is due to the rafts because we haven’t ringed the chicks, but there is no doubt that the rafts have turned out to be very, very good at what they do.”

The remote loch near the coast is nearly five hours north of Glasgow, but if you go, you’ll pass Loch Garten Nature Reserve along the way.



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