2021 BOC Meetings

Monday 29 March 2021

The 999th meeting of the Club was held via the online medium of Zoom.

Ron Summers — Abernethy Forest: its history and ecology

Abstract: Abernethy Forest is a nature reserve managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The forest has more Caledonian pinewood than any other area in Scotland. The trees in these remaining fragments are lineal descendants of an ancient forest that once spread across the Highlands of Scotland. Since the Bronze or Iron Age, the forest has been used by people for hunting, exploitation of timber, farming and now nature conservation. The talk described the changes caused by people and the natural processes that have shaped the forest, providing an environment for an astonishing diversity of wildlife (3,800 species of plants, fungi and animals). The lives and status of the ‘big three’ birds of pinewoods were described: Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus and crossbills (Loxia spp.). Comparisons were drawn with natural forests in continental Europe, revealing the conservation measures that need to be taken to restore lost features in an attempt to create a present-natural forest.

Biography:  Dr Ron Summers is a Principal Conservation Scientist at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and, over the past 30 years, has been involved in studies of a range of Highland birds, particularly in pinewoods. Having attained a Ph.D. at the Univ. of Aberdeen on the ecology of European Flounder Platichthys flesus, he undertook post-doctoral work at the Univ. of Cape Town, where he studied sandpipers on Langebaan Lagoon, providing data that supported the case to designate the area a national park. Subsequently, he studied the effects of Upland Geese Chloephaga picta on sheep farming in the Falkland Islands, followed by work with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, initially on the movements of European Starlings Sturnus vulgaris in relation to the spread of pig diseases, and latterly on the effect of grazing by Brent Geese Branta bernicla on fields of winter wheat. He further outlined a hypothesis about the role of lemmings in determining the breeding success and population growth of these geese; this link also applied to the waders he had studied in South Africa, and he subsequently travelled to Siberia to help test his theory on the birds’ breeding grounds. The Arctic has always held an appeal and he has made many trips there, notably as part of a long-running study of Purple Sandpipers Calidris maritima, which will culminate in a forthcoming monograph.

Dr Ron Summers with a Caledonian Pine.