Job satisfaction rates are high among the team at Nevis, but there was one moment particularly special earlier this year for our ecologist Jo.
Out early - very early – one morning on the moors surveying bird habitats, she came across a nest of golden plover chicks.
“It’s a cliché, but they really were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen,” she says. “They were really bright gold.”
The plover, and the dunlin, are among the species of upland wader birds that Jo examines when carrying out surveys. She’s one of the team’s bird experts, a junior member of the RSPB from the age of eight, whose enthusiasm led her to study Earth Science at Lancaster, and then an MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of Southampton.
Based at the Inverness office, she provides ecological and environmental advice and practical guidance to contractors to ensure that the environment is protected and that the development activity, for instance a wind farm, is built from a practical and financially sensible point of view.
Jo’s role is to locate areas where contractors need to limit disturbing or un-necessary activity, keeping away from nesting sites for example. She finds an improving sense of awareness now among those planning and building in the countryside. Increasingly, she says, there is more understanding of and interest in bird life.
For example, her work has involved carrying out weekly breeding bird surveys of a big upland wind farm construction site in the Monadhliath hills, often setting off before 4am.
“The aim of this early in the season was to locate the birds arriving back on their breeding grounds and, where possible, use dissuasion techniques to encourage them to move if they were close to construction areas.
“Once the birds had settled on territories, I identified and mapped these locations and carried out intensive nest searching so we could assess the risk of disturbance to individual nests by construction activities and implement any necessary buffer areas (to limiting construction activities within a certain distance from any nests).”
She then continued to monitor the nests until the young had fledged and were at a lower risk of disturbance.
She enjoys the physicality of the work, and the opportunities to study bird behaviour. Like many of her colleagues, Jo also spends her free time in the outdoors, climbing mountains or sea kayaking.
“It’s hard not to enjoy the outdoors when you live up here.”