If you travel to Inverness or Aviemore by train or up the A9 by car you speed past the RSPB’s Insh Marshes nature reserve (you get a better view by train). The reserve is a huge wetland habitat in the floodplain or ‘strath’ of the River Spey. It’s a beautiful place – a mosaic of habitats and home to special wildlife. Wading birds, such as curlew, redshank and lapwing love the wet grassland for nesting and finding bugs to feed their chicks. When I visited a few years back the place seemed to be teeming with them.
Insh will be as important for wildlife in the future as it is now. As the climate changes, large, well managed and well connected habitats like those in Strathspey will be essential to help wildlife maintain healthy populations and cope with climate trends and shocks.
But Insh isn’t just a lovely place for the birds or for the 15,000 visitors each year, it is a good example of how nature can be valuable to our economy and society. The floodplain or ‘strath’ is prone to flooding in winter and spring following heavy rains or snow melt. Insh Marshes stores flood water during these times and can help protect Aviemore and other downstream settlements from flooding. It is estimated that this avoids the need for additional engineered flood defences for Aviemore costing some £1.7 million to construct and maintenance costing over £80,000 per year.
We know that in Scotland we are likely to experience increasingly wet winters and more extreme rainfall events because of climate change. This makes the water storage properties of Insh and other natural habitats even more needed in the future.
Insh Marshes features as a case study in a new RSPB Scotland report we published last week – Helping Nature to Help Us. It highlights solutions that nature provides to some of our most pressing problems – issues that we will face more and more in a changing climate. The report says that in readiness for living with climate change and its range of impacts, as a society we need to work with nature and employ natural ecosystems to provide sustainable, long-term and cost-effective solutions. We call on Government to help make this happen.
Resilience to climate change and the capacity to adapt to a shifting climate will be essential in the future. This is as important for the birds and wildlife of the Insh Marshes as it is for the people of Aviemore and for us, wherever we live in the world.