It was recently reported that new populations of wildcats have been found within the Cairngorms National Park, photographed by trail cameras and recorded by project staff. This sort of publicity is good for the species, gets people interested and encourages them to get involved.
Of course, while the range of different animals will expand and contract quite naturally, and this is an ongoing process, these animals will probably not be “new” at all. It is just that they have been recorded in these locations simply because somebody has been looking for them.
It does tend to be the case that when you get people interested in a species and educated what to look out for, that information on that species becomes more widely available. Almost always, some-one will already know about a particular population, it is just that no-one has the overall picture.
During my time in Highland Perthshire, we have found water voles throughout Glens Lyon, Lochay and Dochart, simply because we took time to look for them. Our knowledge of the distribution of aspen trees has expanded greatly simply because we started to collate records, and encourage people to report sightings. Those involved in red squirrel conservation rely heavily on volunteers reporting sightings of both red and grey squirrels, and this works because people are usually happy to participate.

The beavers on Tayside are another good example. Two years ago, hardly anyone knew that they existed.  Last year Government agencies thought there were 7-20. Now we know there are 120 plus. The knowledge that previously existed has been pulled together much better. The Tayside mink project requires information of what numbers are where. Fishermen like to know what fish are moving, and where. The RSPB rely on information about birds coming to feed in gardens so that they can judge what species and increasing, and which are in decline.
All the above species require a certain level of knowledge, some discretion, a level of common sense when looking for them, so as not to disturb or endanger the animals, or cause a nuisance in some other way. If in doubt, find out who might be co-ordinating conservation efforts with that species locally, and see if they need any help.
My own favourite was in 2003 on Deeside when we spent a day looking for capercaillie with specially trained pointer dogs. We found nineteen in a few hours, many more than I expected there to be. Late in the afternoon, I was discussing something with a colleague and did not see the dog pointing at my boot. There, tucked down in the heather, eighteen inches from my toe was a male poult capercaillie that I had not noticed. For a moment I thought that Scotland might be covered in capercaillie, we just never notice them.
The message is to take an interest in things, acquire a degree of expertise and get involved as you see fit. These species should then benefit from your involvement. Some times, you might want to keep a sighting quiet as your own little secret, and there is no harm in that.
Either way, a little time invested usually does allow you to find what you are looking for, and is time well spent and long remembered.

Victor Clements
The writer works as a woodland advisor based in Aberfeldy


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