James Borrell is a biodiversity scientist and science communicator researching how people and nature can adapt to environmental change.

Fieldwork in the Scottish Highlands

It’s remarkably easy to sit in a  centrally heated office, cosily hatching plans through the Winter.

Distances look shorter, methods seem simpler and the prospect of a summer of fieldwork in the hills sounds positively straight forward.

Fast forward to mid-May, a Spring that hasn’t arrived yet, snow capped mountains and a plant harder to find that a proverbial needle; and even the best intentioned plans seem a tad optimistic.

I’ve just returned from my first foray of the year in search of Dwarf Birch. A small, rather unassuming plant, but a symbol of a disappearing montane woodland habitat in the Scottish Highlands. Despite it’s small stature, this plant will (hopefully!) help us understand topics as far ranging as climate change, habitat fragmentation and hybridisation. And that’s why last week I found myself in Scotlands back and beyond, trudging through bogs and peering through the heather looking for small, relict, lost populations of this plant.

Jokes of how beautiful my office is aside; all did not quite go to plan. In fact, nothing went to plan. I didn’t manage to find a single plant!

Never the less, it was great to be out in the field looking at the habitats and learning from knowledgeable people. It seems that many historic populations have disappeared in recent decades, which only highlights how important conservation will be. As always, fieldwork brings a steep learning curve, and I’ll be back up next week for another go.

In the mean time, if you’re at all interested in this disappearing habitat, then have a look at the fantastic project website: www.mountainwoodlands.org

Mountain Woodland Fieldwork



















P.s. I’ll be posting pictures and blogging as I go over on Facebook and Instagram.