As lockdown started to ease, the ranger service teamed up with Camas Outdoor Centre, Bendoran Water Activities Club, Headland Explorations and South West Mull and Iona Development’s new community garden to provide 3 weeks of outdoor activities for the second half of the school summer holidays. As all the usual summer island events were cancelled, we wanted to provide some fun primarily for local families who might not manage a break away this year after being cooped up homeschooling for weeks
Despite limited places available due to rules about the number of households able to meet together, we soon had happy kayakers in Camas bay and rock climbers tackling routes at Knockvologan and Camas Quarry.
Volunteer Abbie Cato helped plan and run some nature events for younger children. We went to Fionnphort beach and found lots of interesting rockpool creatures including shore crabs, blennies, two types of anemones and bright orange breadcrumb sponge:
Then played some games about food chains (who eats who in the rockpool), limpets (did you know they move around underwater eating algae, then as the tide goes out they go back to their ‘home scar’ where their shell grows to match the rock exactly and stop them drying out), dolphin echolocation (we’ve all noticed more marine mammals around during lockdown, with reduced boat traffic), and seabird migration – designing obstacle courses around which we had to throw stones representing birds on their journey.
The following week we had a real-life mystery quest at Camas – to figure out why there was an abandoned oystercatcher nest on the beach. We discussed how rangers might find out – looking for tracks and signs, watching from a hide, using trail cameras etc. Participants had great fun with magnifying glasses looking for wildlife clues down the track, such as footprints in the mud. We had a shortlist of 3 predators – mink, otter and raven and learned about where each of them lived, and practised moving like our chosen creature. Each child then had a pizza box with a lump of clay to make into a pizza and a list of toppings (the diet of their chosen animal) they had to collect things to represent these eg. crab shell, rabbit skull, grass seed to represent grain, make seaweed into a picture of a spider etc.) which we took up to Camas’ outdoor pizza oven and pretended to cook. Next we built a wildlife viewing hide in the woods from branches – and managed to stay still for 5 minutes while a few small birds came past. The group decided that the raven was the likely culprit and were rewarded with the sight and sound of one flying past overhead.
We also held an activity day at our emerging community garden in the grounds of the Ross of Mull Historical Centre, looing at invertebrates found in the stream and on bushes and trees. After hunting for them, drawing them and making cardboard models, it was time to help with garden clearance and we had a go at sawing rhododendron branches and trimming willow twigs. Everything will be reused for garden structures or wildife habitat piles.
After weeks of back-garden citizen science earlier this summer, I’ve also been having my own nature adventure days on several recent trips to Burg, checking on our species-rich grassland, clearing bracken and monitoring some rare species including the slender scotch burnet moth and the tiny Iceland purslane plant. Huge thanks to all the volunteers for their help! Had some lovely sightings of golden eagles and peregrines around the cliffs while there. Also on a pre-season trip to Staffa our boat was surrounded in all directions by dozens of common dolphins leaping into the air!
It’s great to be out and about again isn’t it? Whether local resident or visitor we can all play our part in leaving no trace, take your rubbish home or hold onto it until you find a bin. Please don’t throw it out of your car window. We picked up 30 bags of roadside rubbish during lockdown and sadly it’s starting to reappear on the verges 😦
Thanks for reading and please make sure to take care of our environment on your travels. Emily
Photos by Philip Yielder, Peter Upton, Abbie Cato and Emily Wilkins