RSPB Orkney Local Group AGM – celebrating the past and looking to the future

This is a reproduction of my article which appeared in The Orcadian of 4 December 2014. The Orcadian is Orkney’s weekly newspaper and a must-buy for residents. You can also subscribe online:


The RSPB’s Orkney Local Group looked backwards and forwards when members met for their annual general meeting at St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall.

The group received written congratulations on its 30th anniversary from both Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of the RSPB, and Stuart Housden, Director, RSPB Scotland.

And the members heard a talk about the exciting developments for the charity in the county in 2015.

Mr Housden wrote: “Thank you for continuing to champion wildlife and the work of RSPB Scotland in Orkney. The local group has been inspiring support for some three decades now.”

His letter said the group had raised more than £14,000 in the past four years alone through activities including pin badges, supermarket bag-packing and collections.

Local Group Chairman Dick Matson told the AGM the group aims to assist RSPB staff by volunteering, as well as fund-raising for the charity, engaging with people, and organising events to allow visitors and residents to see wildlife.

Sarah Sankey, Manager of the RSPB in Orkney, spoke on “What’s New With RSPB Orkney” at the meeting on Tuesday 18 November.

She began by introducing recent additions to the Orkney staff of the RSPB: Alison Nimmo, Community Engagement Officer; Alison Phillip, Conservation Officer; and Kaye Thomas, Egilsay Warden. She also announced that Inga Seator, the 2014 Corncrake Officer, would return to work on proposals for a wader birds conservation project.

Sarah then outlined some of the work that has been possible because of the RSPB’s three-year Enjoy Wild Orkney (EWO) project, part-funded through the European Regional Development Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. EWO is managed by Julian Branscombe and concludes in March 2015.

Developments include opening up the pools at the Loons and lowering the water levels at Loch of Banks in order to improve the habitat for waders, and to protect hen harrier roosts. New signs and panels are being installed to help people find the RSPB’s reserves, and to explain what they can see, along with benches, way markers and donation cairns.

Eddie Balfour Hide, RSPB Cottascarth (image: Alan Leitch/RSPB)
Eddie Balfour Hide, RSPB Cottascarth (image: Alan Leitch/RSPB)

New structures being created thanks to EWO are the grass-roofed Eddie Balfour Hide at Cottascarth, which will also have an indoor teaching space, and improved car parking; a listening wall to amplify the natural sound for visitors to the Loons reserve; and a replacement hide at Burgar Hill.

Murals are being created by Anne Bignall for the Cottascarth, Loons and Burgar Hill hides.

Shortly a smartphone app will be available giving information on top wildlife-watching spots in Orkney and species to look out for.

Meanwhile webcams have proved popular – a seal cam on Copinsay allows folk to remotely watch the seal colony and the pups; and one at Hobbister in the summer gave views of the red-throated divers.

Sarah also discussed the species priorities for the RSPB in Orkney – waders, seabirds, hen harriers, corncrakes, Scottish primrose and the great yellow bumblebee.

Among the examples she gave of the importance of this work: Orkney has the highest recorded density of breeding curlew in the world; Orkney is a stronghold for hen harriers, which face persecution elsewhere in the UK; Orkney is a core area for corncrakes, despite our relatively small population of this elusive bird; and Orkney has seen a huge decline in seabird numbers.

+ The AGM re-elected the Local Group Committee: Dick Matson, Chairman; Pauline Wilson, Secretary; Graham Brown, Treasurer; Grace Currie; Kathie Touin Brown; and Shirley Tolley (replacing Julie Rickards who has stood down).

+ Keep up with the work of the RSPB in Orkney via and find out more about the RSPB Orkney Local Group by contacting Chairman Dick Matson on 01856 751426.

Graham Brown

Published by Graham Brown

I am Graham Brown, author of this blog, an Englishman living in Orkney since St Magnus Day 2010. I’m married to musician, singer and songwriter Kathie Touin. I am a member of Harray & Sandwick Community Council and a Manager (committee member) of Quoyloo Old School (community centre). I volunteer with the RSPB. I was on the committee which restored Orkney’s Kitchener Memorial and created the HMS Hampshire wall. I belong to the Radio Caroline Support Group, Orkney Field Club and Orkney Heritage Society. I spent nearly 24 years at the BBC in London. Remember: One planet, don’t trash it.

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