Dumfries and Galloway project highly commended in RSPB Nature of Scotland Awards

Kate Humble hosts presentation dinner announcing award winners

‘Fifty years of farming and conservation at Mersehead’ has been highly commended in the food and farming section of the RSPB Nature of Scotland awards. 

The awards were made during a special presentation dinner on Thursday night (22 November) with co-sponsor Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), as a celebration of the passionate and dedicated people fighting to save Scotland’s wildlife and our unique and special places.

The RSPB acquired Mersehead Farm in 1994 and were lucky enough to retain Eric Neilson as the farm manager. Eric had worked at Mersehead since 1968 and quickly put his intimate knowledge of the site to good use for conservation management, transforming the site from arable farm to a magnificent wetland.

Former water courses have been restored, reedbeds, wet grasslands and pool systems established and plantations and scrub encroachment have been removed. Eric’s skilled use of the 3600 tracked digger and tractors has produced ideal conditions for a wide variety of wildlife.

The site sometimes has over 110 pairs of breeding wading birds, over 300 calling natterjack toads and over 10,000 wintering barnacle geese.  Eric retained a small area of wildlife friendly arable rotation on the sandier soils and this provides winter food for thousands of farmland birds, as well as cereals and hay.

The wildlife spectacle on this 450Ha coastal floodplain also draws in visitors from near and far who can enjoy the many walks, the hides and visitor centre.

Almost none of this would have been achieved without Eric and his trusty digger, his agricultural knowledge, skills and dedication, all of which he has been keen to pass on as he mentors the team at Mersehead in everything agricultural.

Andrew Bielinski, RSPB Scotland area manager for Dumfries and Galloway, said: “Eric has been a brilliant ambassador and demonstrator of how wildlife and conservation can go hand in hand with each other. His work at Mersehead has transformed a mixed arable and dairy farm into a wonderful wetland to the benefit of a huge array of wildlife. The many staff and volunteers at Mersehead over the years have all gained from his knowledge and we are delighted that, in his retirement, he will continue as a volunteer on the reserve and keep an eye on all of us.”

Kate Humble, TV presenter, writer and naturalist, hosted the Nature of Scotland Awards at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Edinburgh, where 11 people and projects received beautiful trophies designed by Bryony Knox and sponsored by Turcan Connell.

This is the full list of winners:

  • Food & Farming Award (sponsored by The James Hutton Institute): Common Farm
  • Business Award: Barratts provides new homes for people and wildlife in Aberdeen
  • Innovation Award (sponsored by Balfour Beatty): CuanTec
  • SNH Youth & Education Award (sponsored by Scottish Natural Heritage): Reviving Rossie – Awakening a secret wood
  • Community Initiative Award (sponsored by GreenPower): Ninewells Community Garden: therapeutic gardening for all
  • RSPB Young Nature Champion Award (sponsored by ScottishPower): Xander Johnston and Kathleen McMillan
  • Nature Tourism Award (sponsored by Scottish Water): The Argaty Red Kite Project
  • Political Advocate of the Year: Dr Tom Dargie
  • Sustainable Development Award (sponsored by The Ardmore): European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre Scientific Research Programme

Sir John Lister-Kaye OBE was recognised with the lifetime achievement award for his work as a naturalist, conservationist, author, and educator.


Kate Humble saidI’m thrilled to have hosted the Nature of Scotland Awards 2018 where I had the opportunity to meet and thank the conservation heroes doing so much to protect Scotland’s precious natural heritage. The dedication and hard work of individuals is crucial in the battle to protect and preserve Scotland’s natural environment for generations to come and I’m pleased to celebrate the people and projects offering nature a home.”


Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “Congratulations to all of this year’s award winners. It is inspiring to see the range of people dedicated to protecting wildlife and preserving Scotland’s unique natural environment. Everyone should be incredibly proud of the work they have done and the achievements they have made. We hope the celebration of this work will encourage an even greater number to take action to protect wildlife and give nature a home in Scotland.”
Mike Cantlay, Scottish Natural Heritage Chairman, said: Scottish Natural Heritage is proud to co-sponsor the Nature of Scotland Awards and to celebrate the inspiring people and projects working hard across Scotland to safeguard our wonderful natural environment. These fantastic conservation champions play a vital role in helping more people enjoy and benefit from nature and ensuring that our natural heritage is protected and improved in the future, so many congratulations to all.”

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