Bob Tevendale (Historic Scotland's Natural Heritage Advisor) explores the wildlife, plants and landscapes of Scotland's historic sites.

  • Fowl is fare

    Well it’s Christmas Eve and I hope this blog finds you all well. I am just finishing up clearing my desk before heading off. There was good news recently for bird lovers: the successful breeding of the crane in Scotland …

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      24 December, 2013 in posts


      Rule of Thumb

      This is blog number 50 from me (although there have been one or two posts from colleagues along the way!) so that’s a wee celebration for me. But it also coincides with Historic Scotland becoming the 50th signatory to Scotland’s …

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        19 December, 2013 in posts


        Yule Do

        With Christmas coming up, we’ve just put up the office Christmas tree. But why a tree? And what about the Yule log, the holly and the mistletoe? What is the fascination with trees at Christmas? Like Christmas itself, these symbolic …

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          12 December, 2013 in posts


          The big sleep

          As the cold weather closes in, some of Historic Scotland’s properties in care become home to winter visitors. They include bats. The location of their hibernation sites is something of a mystery, but bat roosts have been identified at the …

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            05 December, 2013 in posts


            A saint worth his saltire

            This week took me to the windswept shores of St Andrews in Fife – a coincidence, given that this weekend is St Andrew’s Day. One of the Twelve Disciples, St Andrew is believed to have been crucified by the Romans …

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              28 November, 2013 in posts


              Signs of life

              Now that autumn is well upon us and winter is just around the corner it has been nice to reflect on what was a lovely summer. Part of my job as Natural Heritage Advisor is to carry out periodic visits …

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                21 November, 2013 in posts


                Thank yew for the days

                The most recent of our Official Souvenir Guides to be upgraded is the one for Tolquhon Castle, near Ellon in Aberdeenshire. The site is well worth a visit, not only for the elaborate 16th-century castle, but also for the gardens, …

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                  14 November, 2013 in posts


                  Terrific Firestarter

                  This year has brought a bumper crop of fruit, but it’s also been an excellent year for fungi. Although some fungi are poisonous, many people still gather and eat wild mushrooms – just like our forebears, for whom they were …

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                    07 November, 2013 in posts


                    When darkness falls

                    In ancient Britain, the Celts are thought to have followed a religion named Solar. Its main festivals were related to the Sun’s progress. Beltane marked the beginning of summer and Samhain the beginning of winter. It is also believed that …

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                      31 October, 2013 in posts


                      Cliff riches

                      During the past month, Historic Scotland’s Cultural Resources Team has been busy at Tantallon Castle at the mouth of the Firth of Forth in East Lothian. Working with Kirkdale Archaeology, my colleagues dug a number of trenches at the castle, …

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                        25 October, 2013 in posts


                        Mellow Fruitfulness

                        I have recently been working at Elcho Castle, on the Tay near Perth, and at Mavisbank, in Midlothian near Lasswade. Both sites have adjoining land which holds a feast of fruit and berries. These were an important source of food …

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                          17 October, 2013 in posts


                          Pink on the brink

                          This week’s blog comes courtesy of Matt McCabe, one of Historic Scotland’s Rangers based in Holyrood Park. There are many rare plants within Holyrood Park and here he explains how the rangers are involved in their conservation: The Historic Scotland …

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                            15 October, 2013 in posts


                            Colourful Days Out

                            According to The Woodland Trust Scotland, this year we are celebrating a ‘Fool’s autumn’ due to the driest summer since 2003. True autumn colours are triggered by fading sunlight and cold temperatures which means that leaves lose the chlorophyll that …

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                              03 October, 2013 in posts


                              Our Kelp in Ages Past

                              Last week I was at Tantallon Castle in East Lothian, the site of a planned archaeological investigation in the coming weeks.  The castle grounds recently underwent resistivity and magnetometer geophysical survey or ‘geophys’ to use Time Team jargon.  This revealed …

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                                26 September, 2013 in posts


                                Pigs Might Swim

                                This week, I had to answer a query about seals and Inchcolm Island for a Scottish countryside magazine.  It concerned the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus, meaning ‘hooked-nosed sea pig’), and when they would be coming ashore to give birth on …

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                                  19 September, 2013 in posts


                                  Have a Whale of a Time

                                  During the summer there was an archaeological dig at the Links of Noltland on Westray, one of the Orkney Islands. This is part of an ongoing project to investigate one of Scotland’s most important prehistoric settlements.  Until recently, like Skara …

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                                    12 September, 2013 in posts


                                    In Living Colour

                                    The discovery of a medieval document always excites interest, especially when it is well preserved. The Hawick Missal Fragment is not only a rare survival, but also a thing of remarkable beauty. It is particularly precious, dating from the 1100s …

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                                      05 September, 2013 in posts


                                      Goin’ south

                                      Many of our properties provide a summer home for migrating birds. In late August, as daylight hours decline, they set off for their winter homes. Ornithologists do not know exactly what triggers migration. It could be length of day or …

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                                        29 August, 2013 in posts


                                        Of bats and bravery in battle

                                        Last week took me again to Crichton Castle, located near the village of the same name, a couple of miles south of Pathhead, near Edinburgh. The castle overlooks the attractive and unspoiled Crichton Glen, rich in woodland and meadow. My …

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                                          22 August, 2013 in posts


                                          A lot of hot air

                                          Edinburgh becomes the centre of the cultural world during August, thanks to the various festivals that fill the city with performers and their audiences. No trip to the city should be complete without a walk in Holyrood Park– and a …

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                                            15 August, 2013 in posts


                                            Repelling invaders

                                            Exotic plant species took up a lot of my time last week, particularly Japanese knotweed and rhododendron. I mentioned rhododendron at Mavisbank a couple of weeks ago. This time it was at Castle Campbell. Once a fashionably decorated stronghold of …

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                                              08 August, 2013 in posts


                                              Where the butterfly flutters

                                              Last week took me to Aberdeenshire to carry out surveys of some of our sites there. Passing through Perthshire on the way back, I stopped off at Balvaird Castle, on the road between Auchtermuchty and Bridge of Earn. Balvaird is …

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                                                01 August, 2013 in posts


                                                What’s in a name?

                                                At a recent meeting, I happened to mention a couple of the flowers found at Holyrood Park, known as sticky catch-fly and viper’s bugloss. These names were met with derision and disbelief until I explained what they meant. It set …

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                                                  25 July, 2013 in posts


                                                  The sweet chestnut

                                                  In the middle of The Lake of Menteith is the well-wooded island of Inchmahome. At the heart of the woodland is Inchmahome Priory, once home to Augustinian canons. The priory is steeped in history. Most notably, it provided a place …

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                                                    19 July, 2013 in posts


                                                    Don’t spare the rhododendrons

                                                    Last week I was visiting Mavisbank House and gardens in Midlothian. I have mentioned Mavisbank in this blog before. It was built between 1723 and 1736, designed by Robert Adam for Sir John Clerk of Penicuik. The house is located …

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                                                      11 July, 2013 in posts


                                                      A martial marsh

                                                      Last week took me to some of our properties up north, including Ruthven Barracks. Ruthven is near Kingussie, and sits on a mound rising above the marshy ground known as Insh Marshes. The marshes have been designated as a National …

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                                                        04 July, 2013 in posts


                                                        The Lucky Buckie

                                                        This week’s guest blogger is Sandra Miller, one of Historic Scotland’s rangers working on Orkney. She is based at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. I was interested to read Bob’s blog on the Brough of Birsay (‘Sheltered …

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                                                          27 June, 2013 in posts


                                                          Dirleton Castle and the Ginkgo tree

                                                          This weekend, as part of the Year of Natural Scotland, there is a fun event at Dirleton Castle. It is aimed at the family and features various activities and quizzes. Both the Historic Scotland Ranger Service and East Lothian Rangers …

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                                                            20 June, 2013 in posts


                                                            Sheltered housing

                                                            A priority for me this week was providing a couple of pages’ worth of content for a forthcoming guidebook for the Brough of Birsay, a tidal island just off the Orkney mainland. This is a must-see site for its archaeology …

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                                                              13 June, 2013 in posts


                                                              Purple milk-vetch

                                                              This week’s blog has been written by Jan Tapson. Jan is one of the many volunteer rangers who assist in the management of Holyrood Park, and has recently become involved in the ongoing wildlife surveys. The park is home to …

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                                                                07 June, 2013 in posts


                                                                The Stowaways

                                                                The last blog highlighted the difficult business of transporting stone in medieval times. By coincidence, the same issue arose last week when I visited Ravenscraig Castle in Fife, where I noted the presence of wallflowers. The connection? Well, it is …

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                                                                  31 May, 2013 in posts


                                                                  Foundations built on Rock

                                                                  Many of Scotland’s abbeys were founded in remote sites. This tradition dates back to the first religious hermits, who sought solitude for study and contemplation in the deserts of the Middle East. However, when building a monastery there was another …

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                                                                    28 May, 2013 in posts


                                                                    Kind of blue

                                                                    Over the past couple of weeks my work has taken me to some of the woodlands managed by Historic Scotland. Seabegs Wood on the Antonine Wall, Inchmahome and Caerlaverock woodlands all have one thing in common: at this time of …

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                                                                      16 May, 2013 in posts


                                                                      Water wings

                                                                      Last week’s blog was kindly suppled by Lilly Laing, one of the Historic Scotland Rangers working out of Holyrood Park. This week’s guest blogger is Ian Lewis, another HS Ranger. Ian is based at Linlithgow Peel, but can often turn …

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                                                                        09 May, 2013 in posts


                                                                        Toad away

                                                                        In Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park, the High Road has been closed overnight for several weeks, to allow the safe passage of migrating toads. Normally, the toads would start their journey in mid-March. However, due to the adverse weather conditions, they decided …

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                                                                          02 May, 2013 in posts


                                                                          Rock of ages

                                                                          As part of Scotland’s Year of Natural, Stirling Castle ran special tours last weekend in support of John Muir Day. This was a 175th-anniversary celebration of Scots-born naturalist Muir (1838–1914), whose work helped preserve some of America’s most stunning wildernesses. …

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                                                                            25 April, 2013 in posts


                                                                            Seal of approval

                                                                            As I was on holiday last week Elaine Clarke kindly agreed to write this weeks offering. For those that have not had the pleasure of meeting Elaine, Elaine along with Sandra, is one of the Historic Scotland rangers on Orkney. …

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                                                                              19 April, 2013 in posts


                                                                              The royal, the rich and the rapacious

                                                                              Monday took me to Loch Leven, where I visited the castle and the surrounding woodlands. Lochleven Castle is one of the most outstanding medieval monuments in Scotland. Probably built as a stronghold by the invading armies of Edward I of …

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                                                                                11 April, 2013 in posts


                                                                                Toads and blasting powder

                                                                                Last week took me to Crichton Castle, which sits on a ridge overlooking the valley of the Tyne. The river Tyne is lined by coppiced Alder. Coppicing is a method of cropping wood in which trees are felled at the …

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                                                                                  04 April, 2013 in posts


                                                                                  The Big Five

                                                                                  Well given the recent weather it will come as no surprise that I have not been out and about much in the last week. So I will take this opportunity to mention a new campaign encouraging people to get out …

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                                                                                    28 March, 2013 in posts


                                                                                    Gorgeous gorge

                                                                                    Craignethan Castle was the last private castle of high defensive capability built from new in Scotland. As such, it is a monument of national importance. Last week took me there to check for the presence of protected animals before works …

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                                                                                      22 March, 2013 in posts


                                                                                      Food Fit for a King

                                                                                      Linlithgow Loch, next to Linlithgow Palace and Peel, is a nationally important haven for waterbirds. As part of the international effort to conserve and monitor these birds they are counted twice a year with the help of  Historic Scotland’s rangers, …

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                                                                                        14 March, 2013 in posts


                                                                                        All there in black and white

                                                                                        Monday took me to Mavisbank Estate, which is owned and run by Historic Scotland, to see how the grasslands are managed. Mavisbank is located on the north bank of the North Esk valley. Loanhead lies immediately to the north-east, and …

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                                                                                          07 March, 2013 in posts


                                                                                          Hanging on for deer life

                                                                                          Scotland’s largest native land mammal is the red deer. Humans have interacted with red deer throughout history. Red deer bones are among the most commonly found wild animal remains in Mesolithic archaeological sites (dating from roughly 8000 to 3000 BC). …

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                                                                                            28 February, 2013 in posts


                                                                                            King of Fish

                                                                                            Visit Scotland’s website, Wildlife Scotland aims to promote the wildlife of Scotland to tourists. They list six ‘must see’ species: dolphins, osprey, puffin, red deer, red squirrel and salmon. Throughout the year as opportunities arose I though I would take each …

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                                                                                              21 February, 2013 in posts


                                                                                              Mesolithic Johnny Appleseeds

                                                                                              How many triangular castles are there in Scotland? One: it’s Caerlaverock Castle. This week took me there to look at the children’s trail. This trail explains how life in the castle relates to the rich wildlife in the surroundings. There …

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                                                                                                14 February, 2013 in posts


                                                                                                Six degrees of separation

                                                                                                What does the centenary of Edinburgh Zoo have to do with Historic Scotland? Well there is a connection, albeit tenuous. Among the first animals presented to Edinburgh Zoo were penguins. They were supplied by whalers working for the Salvesen Whaling …

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                                                                                                  07 February, 2013 in posts


                                                                                                  Spring awakening or Bloomin winter

                                                                                                  Last week took me to Dryburgh Abbey. One of Scotland’s famous ‘Border Abbeys’, it holds the graves of Sir Walter Scott and Earl Haig. It also has one of the finest collections of heritage trees in Scotland. The trees include …

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                                                                                                    31 January, 2013 in posts


                                                                                                    Dumbarton Rocks

                                                                                                    Last week took me on a trip to Dumbarton Castle. The castle drains are needing upgrading and this is going to require excavation of a pipe to the front of the castle. This will mean the removal of a couple …

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                                                                                                      24 January, 2013 in posts


                                                                                                      Flying fish!

                                                                                                      It can only be imagined what our forefathers must have thought at this time of the year. Right in the middle of winter, when food was short and the dish of the day was dried fish or salted meat, thousands …

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                                                                                                        22 January, 2013 in posts


                                                                                                        Mud Mud Glorious Mud!

                                                                                                        I was recently asked by the architect responsible for Blackness Castle to help plan the painting of the pier that juts out into the Firth of Forth. This part of the firth is an SSSI, so permission had to be …

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                                                                                                          17 January, 2013 in posts


                                                                                                          Bob’s Blog

                                                                                                          Hi, my name is Bob Tevendale, I’m the Natural Heritage Advisor at Historic Scotland. My main responsibility is to advise and inform other staff on the importance of plants and animals in the sites we manage – both those responsible …

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                                                                                                            11 January, 2013 in posts