Artists and Scientists Work Together to Protect Scotland’s Migratory Birds

Artists, scientists and conservationists are collaborating on two connected initiatives aimed at protecting Scotland’s threatened migratory birds.

This week (14 October) sees the opening of Much Ado About Nightjars, an exhibition by fine art photographers Ted Leeming and Morag Paterson who spent midgie-infested nights photographing and recording the rare nocturnal birds at Lochar Moss, Dumfries and Galloway.

Then, on October 20 they will take part in the Artful Migration Conference (followed by an official exhibition launch event), in Dumfries, which will examine how the power of the arts can be harnessed to protect the future for some of Scotland’s most vulnerable visiting species.

Keynote speakers will include “the human swan” Sacha Dench, campaigner, UN Ambassador for Migratory Species and co-founder of Conservation without Borders.

The conference seeks to build on the success of three Artful Migration projects that saw artists take up residencies in reserves and wetlands near the Solway Firth. The artists worked with conservationists and scientists to look at the habitats of, and threats to, ospreys, whooper swans and nightjars.

Sacha said: “What scientists are great at is spotting problems, but what they are often not so good at is communicating those problems in a way that moves people.
“What I’m absolutely convinced of is that the arts and artists are essential when it comes to influencing people and persuading them of the need to take action to protect our wildlife and our environment.
“So, I absolutely welcome what Artful Migration has achieved.”

Sacha went on an expedition following the migration route of ospreys to Africa – the same route taken by nightjars.

She looked at the threats they faced, including helicopter spraying for mosquito control in Europe in nature reserves, that kill the insects at the base of the food chain and therefore also the base of the nature tourism industry they are trying to protect.

Then there’s the widespread destruction of wetlands, increasing plastics and light pollution and more and more extreme weather.

Sacha added: “There are, however, many people and projects that gave me reason to be hopeful.”

Lochar Moss offers one such sliver of hope as the ancient peat bog, one of their few Scottish strongholds, is being restored by Forest and Land Scotland.

This will hopefully strengthen the position of the shy nocturnal birds which fly thousands of miles to get there each year.

Morag said: “The story of the nightjars in Lochar Moss is a positive one with numbers increasing. But they remain rare and face many serious threats along their migration route between Africa and the UK.
“We believe that residencies like this can make a real difference – because artists can work with conservationists and communities in distinctive, imaginative and unusual ways that allow people to see the issues affecting our wildlife and environment from entirely new perspectives.”

Artful Migration is a collaboration between Upland CIC, Dumfries and Galloway arts development organisation, and Virginia Wollaston and Nicholas Paton Philip of Moving Souls Dance.

Virginia said: “Our residencies underline how the arts have real power in helping people engage with the natural world.
“The arts affect us emotionally, they encourage us to act and it’s action that’s needed if we are to protect these precious migratory birds that face more and more man-made threats to their existence every year.
“It will be an immense task to turn this round, but this exhibition and conference will help spread the word that it can be done and will hopefully help generate new collaborations between artists and conservationists.”
Amy Marletta, Creative Director of Upland, added: “Artful Migration reminds us of how we are all deeply interconnected and responsible for our survival and the future of our planet.
“We are proud to be involved in its delivery and in helping ensure that the arts are at the forefront of debate about threats to wildlife and the environment.”

Another Artful Migration residencies involved the ospreys at the NTS Threave Nature Reserve and the third looked at the perilous annual migration of whooper swans from the Iceland to the WWT reserve at Caerlaverock.

The conference will bring together artists, conservationists, bird lovers, academics and policymakers to:

  • Reveal the achievements and challenges of the artist residencies.
  • Discover how the artists responded to the challenges facing the birds, including shifting weather patterns and changing habitat management.
  • Hear keynote speakers from conservation and the ecological arts.
  • Consider the implications of Artful Migration for global agendas on the conservation of migratory species.
  • Celebrate the partnerships and collaborations stimulated by Artful Migration, and discuss where these might lead in future.

Speakers will also include Chris Fremantle, Research Fellow and Lecturer at Gray’s School of Art, producer of public art and design projects.

Immediately after the conference there will be the official opening of the Much Ado About Nightjars exhibition which will take place from 5.30pm to 7pm at Gracefield Arts Centre, Edinburgh Road, Dumfries.


  • Friday 20, October 2023
  • 9:30am – 5pm
  • Easterbrook Hall, Duncan Room, The Crichton, Dumfries, DG1 4ZE
  • Tickets from EventBrite


  • 14 October to 11 November
  • Gracefield Arts Centre, Edinburgh Road Dumfries
  • Entry is free

See the Upland website at www.weareupland.com.

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