Wildlife on the verge

Conservation aims to protect, enhance or restore populations of species. These species might be locally or nationally important. An important aim of the country park is to protect and enhance the area's wildlife. The country park offers wildlife a refuge from surrounding urban areas. Within the country park it is also important to maintain a diverse range of habitats for the variety of wildlife found within it. Green spaces in general also form important corridors for species migration, dispersal and re-colonisation.

Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia L.)

Herb Paris was historically recorded in Waukmill Glen in the nineteenth century. This rare and poisonous plant was once used in homeopathy to treat digestive ailments. It is a feature of ancient woodland and rarely colonises new woodlands. This makes this an important species for conservation, as Scotland only has 17% woodland cover, and only 1% of this is native woodland. Waulkmill Glen is an ancient semi-natural woodland which means that the woodland has persisted in the area but human activities have affected the site. As herb Paris rarely colonises new woods it is important to conserve it on sites where it already exists and to attempt to increase its range so that a viable population can persist. It is thought that herb Paris is now extinct from the country park area because of over enthusiastic plant collectors in the nineteenth century.

Herb Paris is a perennial plant that grows to approximately 40cm tall with a whorl of 4-8 leaves near the top of the stalk. Its flower is small, consists of narrow green petals and produces a black-purple berry at the centre. It prefers damp woodland with calcareous, limestone soils - Waulkmill Glen has an underlying seam of limestone which was mined from the Darnley area from 1610. Although herb Paris is common across Europe this plant is rare in Britain. A potential Waulkmill Glen woodland management plan could attempt to create suitable habitats for this rare plant and other wildlife to flourish again.

Water vole (Arvicola terrestris)

The water vole is another species that is being lost across Britain. Water voles are the largest of the vole species and are sometimes confused with the brown rat. This is a common misconception and 'Ratty' in 'Wind and the Willows' was actually a water vole! Voles have a blunter nose and shorter tail compared to rats. They live in burrows alongside river banks and next to slow moving fresh water. They mainly eat vegetation and need to eat up to 80% of their body weight a day to survive. Their burrows are a maze of interconnecting corridors, escape routes and nest areas. Sites where flooding occurs are not suitable habitat for water voles, however, they are capable of migrating to new areas.

Water voles are found along the Brock Burn within Glasgow and potentially further upstream south of Balgray Reservoir in East Renfrewshire. The water vole is a priority species contained within the Glasgow LBAP.

Water voles can migrate, so creating more suitable habitat bordering sites where populations already exist can allow new populations to form from dispersing juveniles. Water voles have become threatened across Britain due to many factors:

  • River engineering - flood prevention, channel straightening, drainage;
  • Development leading to direct habitat loss and fragmentation;
  • Intensive livestock farming tramples river banks;
  • Removal of bank side vegetation (makes water voles a more obvious target for predators);
  • Changing water levels affecting food and burrows;
  • American mink predation - a non-native species that has colonised Britain;
  • Poisoning either directly or indirectly (brown rat control);
  • Competition and predation by rats.

It is great to have these creatures already present within the country park. Hopefully with sympathetic habitat enhancement populations can be encouraged to spread and form new colonies along the Brock Burn and other local river systems.

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

The skylark is a small brown bird with a streaky appearance. It has a small crest on its head which can be raised if excited or alarmed. It is known for its wonderful display flight where it flies straight up in the air. You are most likely to find skylarks in farmland and open countryside within the country park.

Although this bird is one of the most widespread in Britain, its numbers have been falling so rapidly in recent times that it is considered under threat. As a result the skylark is identified as a priority species for conservation within the Glasgow LBAP. The UK breeding population fell by 54% between 1969 and 1991, a trend that was reflected across Europe. What is even worse is that the reasons for this decline remain unclear, as there is little research except from what is known from studies within farmland habitats. There have been great advancements in farming over the last 60 years which has led to more intensive farming to increase outputs from land. Such changes have rarely benefited wildlife. As a result a number of factors are thought to be affecting the skylark's decline:

  • Herbicide use in crop fields reduces the number of weeds and associated insects which are a food source for skylarks;
  • Fields that are sown over autumn/winter mean that stubble fields are no longer available for feeding;
  • Cutting silage early destroys nests and makes skylarks vulnerable to predation;
  • Autumn sown seed varieties are less suitable for nesting compared with traditional spring sown seed;
  • Changes from lowland grassland to crops through land improvement results in an unsuitable habitat.

The RSPB are currently researching reasons for the decline in skylark numbers and developing actions to reverse this trend. The key findings so far are to increase winter stubble fields and spring sown varieties, create beetle banks away from field boundaries as a food source and have large blocks of land in set-aside making suitable foraging areas.

The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) offers advice and grant support to farmers to make changes to farming practices, boundary features and land use that will benefit wildlife.