As we approach National Nestbox Week, RSPB Scotland Lochwinnoch has been getting ahead of the game with a series of artificial nesting solutions that will hopefully appeal to a range of different species this spring.

RSPB Scotland Lochwinnoch is a fantastic place to see birds all year round, from the woodland birds that come to the feeders just outside the visitor centre, to the whooper swans that glide majestically over the Aird Meadow Loch. But as one of the last remaining wetlands in the area, it’s also an important breeding site for a whole range of different water-dependent species.Mute swans on biohaven (David Palmar)

This winter, as part of the Garnock Connections project, we’ve been making the reserve even more appealing to any prospecting avian parents, with the installation of artificial nesting sites. These have been designed to suit a range of birds, and are ready for use when the weather warms up this spring, so we’re expecting to see them in use quite soon.  

In December, we started by building and installing eight new nesting rafts. The first six were constructed from plastic floatation devices covered with coir matting for vegetation to grow through, both planted and colonising from species already present. The root systems suspended in the loch will provide additional homes for fish and insects as well as helping to improve the water quality, so the rafts have benefits all round. Great crested grebe feeding young (Ben Andrew)They should appeal to great-crested grebes and ducks, and within days of them being secured in position, our resident mute swans were already trying them out. Since then cormorants, lapwing and a variety of ducks have been regularly using the new roosting space.

The final two rafts were built with similar floatation devices, but they’re much bigger, with a larger steel and wood frame, and are covered in crushed shells. These ones will appeal more to birds such as terns and black-headed gulls, and it’ll be interesting to see which species sets up a colony first! 

All the rafts are carefully designed to rise and fall with changing water levels, and are securely anchored a safe distance from shore to ensure that any nesting birds won’t be disturbed. But you can still see them from the lochside, and visitors are more than welcome to come along this spring and summer to find out what’s been using them and see if they can spot any new chicks.

Work to build and install the new rafts was undertaken by Frog Environmental from Dyfed and Kames Floating Structures from Oban, with help from reserve staff, who braved the horrible winter weather to make sure the new structures were installed with plenty of time to naturalise before spring. A large sand martin nesting structure has also now been installed at Lochwinnoch, but more on that in our next blog.

Covering the raft with crushed shell (David Palmar)

This work was made possible with funding from the EU funded EcoCo LIFE projectwhich aims to enhance the network of natural habitat across central Scotland. It was also the first project to be completed as part of Garnock Connections, a landscape partnership of six organisations that aims to reconnect communities with their landscape and heritage across North Ayrshire and Renfrewshire. It's supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

A total of 25 projects will take place as part of Garnock Connections between now and March 2022, covering an area from the Muirshiel Hills to Irvine Bay. The partnership is made up of RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, North Ayrshire Council, The Scottish Wildlife Trust, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

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Mute swans on raft by David Palmar
Adding crushed shell to raft by David Palmar
Great Crested Grebe feeding chick by Ben Andrew

This project was co funded by the LIFE+ financial instrument of the European Community through EcoCoLife