£190k funding to monitor at-risk whales and dolphins


A project to monitor at-risk whales, dolphins and harbour porpoises around Scotland’s coast has been awarded £190,400 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to help protect the species in the Northern Isles.

Shorewatch, a citizen science scheme run by the marine charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), encourages people to train as volunteers to identify and scientifically record the movements of legally protected cetaceans.

It is currently possible to spot up to 18 different species from the coast of the Northern Isles, but the marine mammals face a number of threats in UK waters.

As Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters begins, the new funding will allow around 180 people to collect vital data about where the animals breed, feed and travel in the Northern Isles for the first time.

Monitoring whales and dolphins

The project’s findings will feed into marine conservation planning, influencing policy and development decisions to ensure better protection for whales and dolphins.

Katie Dyke, policy officer for Shorewatch, said yesterday: “Whales, dolphins and porpoises are facing a number of threats in UK waters.

“But it is not too late to make a positive change.

“Creating a connection with the ocean and these incredible creatures is key to empowering communities to protect them.

“This National Lottery Heritage Fund grant will not only allow us to collect vital data to better understand how species use the waters around the Northern Isles, but it will allow us to work closely with local communities and nurture an education, connection and love for these amazing creatures that we are lucky enough to be able to watch from our coastline.”

Shorewatch has a network of trained volunteers monitoring the presence and absence of whales and dolphins at 18 sites around the Scottish coastline, including the Moray Firth, West Coast, North Coast, Outer Hebrides and Angus.

Volunteers take part in 10 minute surveys at specific sites to determine if the animals are present in the area.

The frequency of sightings of different species are then compared between sites in different seasons and years to identify “hotspots” and where they might need protection.

There are more than 28 species of cetacean found in Scottish waters, 20 of which are seen regularly.

Funding to protect wild plants

National Lottery Heritage funding of £224,300 is also being invested in the Cairngorms National Park, home to rare and threatened wild plants including the distinctive twinflower.

Due to habitat loss and fragmentation, the plant has become so isolated that it is unable to interbreed which will lead to its extinction.

The twinflower is confined to Scotland and the clearance of native woodlands before the 1930s resulted in severe losses.

Continued habitat destruction and changes in woodland management have now reduced the plant to a handful of about 50 unrelated sites.

The charity Plantlife Scotland will empower citizen scientists to take action to save the twinflower and many other rare plant species across the national park through an ambitious programme of grassland and meadow restoration and targeted reintroduction schemes.

Alistair Whyte, head of Plantlife Scotland, said: “The Cairngorms are home to some of our rarest and most threatened wild plants.

“This National Lottery Heritage Fund grant will allow Plantlife Scotland to work with local communities to make a real difference for these amazing species.

“We’ll be training volunteers, working with local landowners and businesses, and helping communities take practical action for wild plants.

“Many of these species have a special place in our culture and history, but their future is under threat.

He added: “This project will help us turn around the fortunes of Highland specialities like twinflower, one-flowered wintergreen, and a whole host of other rare plants.”

Taking action for nature

In total, 15 projects across the UK have been awarded a share of £7.4million from National Lottery today to take action for nature, providing a lifeline for 11 species and habitats which are on the verge of extinction.

Since 1994, the National Lottery has invested £829million into nature and wildlife projects.

Caroline Clark, Scotland’s director of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Urgent action is needed to help nature recover.

“National Lottery funding is creating incredible opportunities for people to take such action for species under threat and, crucially, equipping a new generation with the skills and passion to make a real difference for the future of our natural world.”

This article was originally published as Scheme to monitor at risk whales and dolphins awarded £190k funding at The Herald on 08/01/2020.

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