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The Caithness Biodiversity Action Plan - February 2003



In an area such as Caithness where the countryside is so valuable for biodiversity, it is possible to overlook the importance of the built environment. However, towns, villages and roads provide an important biodiversity resource, both in terms of the habitats and the species they contain.

The garden is probably the place where most people will have first hand experience of biodiversity, and by securing the interest of the local population in helping the wildlife on their doorstep, many of the of the project aims may be achieved.

Biodiversity Objectives

  • Provide greater funding to make parks and school grounds more attractive to wildlife.

  • Encourage the later cutting of grass verges and hedges to encourage wild flowers and wildlife.

  • Invest in resources to deal with litter, including old vehicles, to prevent fly tipping.

  • Provide greater resources to recycling schemes to encourage local people to re-use and recycle waste.

  • Encourage more people to garden for wildlife.

Parks and gardens

Habitats and species

Caithness folk value their town parks and urban trees, and both Wick and Thurso have well used parks adjacent to their respective rivers.

Coastal garden, Skirza

Smaller towns and villages such as Reay, Castletown, Halkirk, Dunbeath and Latheronwheel have woodland, riverside and coastal walks joining the towns to the surrounding countryside. Thurso, Wick and Halkirk have rivers with associated wildlife habitats that extend right into the towns. Pipistrelle bats and swifts are two locally important species that live in these types of habitats, and non-native bushes such as contoneaster and sorbus provide a valuable source of food for wintering birds.

Peacock butterfly

Main issues

Fungal infections and loss of old trees are a threat to urban trees and parklands, and new planting and management is required on an ongoing basis.
With increasing budgetary constraints, park and public garden management is becoming less well resourced. However, leaving some grass areas long and uncut and hedges untrimmed will benefit biodiversity, and there may be a need for raising awareness amongst local people as to the benefits of such management.

Current biodiversity projects

The Biology Department at Wick High School is coordinating a whole school environmental awareness initiative, involving litter collections, and planting tubs and hanging baskets.

Ormlie Pre-School and a number of Primary Schools throughout the county have undertaken wildlife gardening projects in their grounds.

Opportunities for action

  • Plant native species in town parks and gardens, and seek funding for the establishment, long term maintenance and development of wildlife gardens in Caithness, particularly in schools.

  • Encourage building of communal nest boxes for sparrows in towns and gardens as most bird boxes are for tits and robins etc. Use recycled wood from local businesses.

  • Encourage people to leave out buildings, garages etc. open to allow swallows to nest in summer, use sheets to stop droppings damaging cars.

  • Produce a wildlife gardening publication specific to Caithness gardens, as many presently available publications are not suitable for the Caithness climate.

  • Produce an advice pack for businesses to seek funding and appropriate planting to improve biodiversity on and around their premises, and encourage businesses to work towards local and national award schemes for the most environmentally friendly business.

  • Conduct a survey of town trees in areas such as Wick and Thurso, and involve local people in new planting and management through e.g. a tree warden scheme. The survey could be use to decide policies for any new plantings.

  • Conduct a Rookery Survey over the breeding season with a town school, possibly involving a video camera link to a nest. Many mature trees are being cut because of rookeries being established and the subsequent problems of droppings.

Habitat Map

Roadside verges

Habitats and species

Species rich hedges and roadside verges have also been identified as a locally important habitat in Caithness, retaining once abundant farmland plants such as orchids, ragged robin, meadowsweet and water avens for local communities and visitors to admire. The verges are very important as wildlife corridors allowing relatively safe passage for wildlife form one habitat to the next.

Tree sparrows, goldfinch and yellowhammer are three locally important bird species that benefit from these habitats.

Ox-eye daisies

Main issues

  • If verge vegetation is cut before the wild flowers have time to set seeds, they will gradually be lost in favour of rank grasses.

  • Using mowers that tear hedge plants weakens their structure and allows disease to set in, and annual cutting of hedges removes a source of food and shelter for wintering birds. Many hedges could be left uncut either in alternate years or on alternate sides each year, to allow hedge plants to flower and set seed, and if hedges must be cut for safety reasons it should be done late in winter / early spring.

  • The introduction and spread of ragwort by machinery, livestock or wind is a problem in some areas of the county. Ragwort is poisonous to horses and cattle.

Opportunities for action
  • Develop a strategy for the cutting of roadside verges that does not reduce the biodiversity of this habitat, and implement it through verge maintenance contracts.
  • Reduce the depth to which roadside ditches are cleaned, to maintain ditch vegetation.
  • Control ragwort and other invasive plants, targeting areas worst affected.
  • Undertake an education project for road maintenance workers and contractors on the correct use of machinery and practices to most benefit biodiversity.
  • Undertake a survey of the roadside verges, hedges, trees and ditches in Caithness.

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