With thanks to our volunteers….


As ever the Friends of Calgary Bay have been busy and we have lots of good news stories from over there. Towards the end of March we had a beach clean and work party. Thanks to the regular picking up of rubbish by ‘Friends’ of the bay and dog walkers on a daily basis the amount of litter gather on the day was not as large as it has been in the past. That day we also installed our new donation box craftily created by Matthew Reade and Andrew Mortley and new signage on the gates. The donations have been dropping in nicely which will then free up some funds to do further work in the bay. 

beach clean

Beach Clean

donation fish 2

Some of the Friends of Calgary Bay

donation fish

Matthew Reade and Andy Mortley

We have also closed the gates of the machair again and the sheep are now on the outside of the fence. This will allow the flowers of the machair to bloom and seed. Gates will opened again in the autumn to allow the grazing sheep back in.

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New gate signs

I got confirmation the other day that the Council have agreed for the lease of the bay area (minus the loos) to the community through Mull and Iona Community Trust for a period of £25 years. This allows us to move on projects such as an over flow car park. We have also expressed an interest in buying the loos from the Council.

We had a very successful work party with Scottish Rural Colleges Countryside management students who come to volunteer annually. We put them to transplanting some of the marram into the dune slacks to help try and prevent further erosion.

SRUC snad dune reinstatement 2


SRUC sand dune reinstatement

SRUC transplanting marram grass

And away from Calgary I had a group from George Watson’s School in Edinburgh helping clear some of the paths to help access to some of the more remote geocaches hidden in Aros Park. This involved the cutting largely of Rhododendron and gorse.

On Sunday past we had a very successful gathering of interested parties to gather a feel for what the community would like to see the walled garden in Aros Park be put to use as. It was purchased back from the previous owner by the Forestry Commission just over a year ago and the Commission would like very much if the community were to take over looking after it.

Just after the Commission bought it, contractors were brought in to remove a lot of the rhododendron and dangerous trees so it is now much more open and its true extent and opportunities can be appreciated.




Again up In Tobermory, the newly furbished Lighthouse Path is proving very popular with lots and lots of locals and visitors enjoying this walk. Here too we have a unique donation box created by Andy and Helen Mortley and Tom Reade. Pretty impressive.lighthouse


Our events programme is up and running and on Wednesday , with the companionship of Steve Irvine and 14 visitors and  4 dogs,  we have a lovely walk on Ulva, as you can see the weather was glorious and the colours magnificent. As of the 21st June the island will officially belong to the community of North West Mull and & Ulva, so very interesting times ahead.P1020328



So as you can see not much happens on Mull without the support of our wonderful volunteers whom are full of drive and energy. The ranger service very much appreciated the support we get and is what makes my job special.

Jan Dunlop, Ranger Manager




Spring sunshine and showers

With the busier season well and truly underway it’s time to show you a snapshot of what’s been happening down the Ross and on Iona, Burg and Staffa…

Bunessan afterschool nature club continued their investigation of forests – analysing owl pellets found beneath trees at Achaban House (thanks Matt Oliver!) and finding evidence of all sorts of creatures including mice and voles.  They also made posters to say thank-you to trees for all they provide including habitats, fruit, shade and a place to play!

Also on an educational theme, I was excited to collect a box of the beautiful ‘Lost Words’ books for distribution to Mull, Iona and Tiree schools after Jane Beaton’s crowdfunder campaign raised enough money to provide a copy to every school in Scotland!  I’ve enjoyed giving these out – and if you haven’t received your copy yet it will be on its way soon!  Looking forward to making use of it to counteract the nature words disappearing from children’s dictionaries.  More information here: https://www.johnmuirtrust.org/initiatives/the-lost-words

Image result for lost words

I spent a lovely day in the company of several visiting German ladies, walking near Lochbuie – we were lucky enough to see both a golden eagle and a sea eagle along with a cuckoo flying, but the hoped-for dolphins remained elusive!

I’ve enjoyed hosting my colleague Andrew Warwick for a week of renovations at Burg bothy, it’s looking so much better already so huge thanks to him and the volunteers who helped too!  Also thanks to the Argyll Members’ Group of the National Trust for Scotland whose generous donation paid for materials.  Still quite a bit of work to do before it’s usable again though.

Making the most of some spectacular sunny days amongst the showers, volunteer Terry Ward and I spent a night on Staffa to complete a dawn survey of its black guillemot population the next day…his own account of the trip follows in green text along with some of his great photos!

Emily picked the best two days in April to do the black guillemot survey on Staffa – calm seas and clear blue skies. We set out on the 2pm boat on Friday afternoon from Fionnphort and had an uneventful crossing over the 12km to Staffa.

On arrival we popped quickly down to the entrance to Fingal’s cave to inspect the warning signs which have been installed after some of the footpath was washed away in the winter storms. We established that some adjustments would be necessary and added the job to the ‘to do’ list for our time on the island.

We headed back to the steps and carried our camping gear up to the cliff top. Once I’d got my breath back we headed over and down to Port an Fhasgaidh and dumped the gear at our ‘campsite’ near the rocky beach. There is a small spring here and some almost flat grassy ground for pitching tents, plus a fabulous view of sea cliffs and caves, and birds.


The first job was litter picking – Staffa picks up its fair share of the plastic rubbish that has been in the news so much recently. We swept over the accessible bays in the middle of the island and filled around 8 bin bags. We could have filled dozens more if we could get into the appropriately named Float Cave – but this is accessible only by abseiling, or by boat.

Returning to our campsite we set up tents, after some careful searching and testing of potential pitches. Emily has a very practical method of testing a likely spot by lying down on it, to find any hidden bumps and lumps in the grass. The spot I chose ended up being quite near a cliff edge, which I regretted when I woke at 3am and had to leave the tent to heed a call of nature.

Once the tents were up we headed over to the east side of the island for tea. There is an old pink buoy on a fence post which marks the best spot for watching the puffins. Emily broke out her trusted Trangia camping stove and cooked up a wonderful vegetable couscous. I provided wagon-wheels and chocolate raisins. After this we walked the coast up to the north end of the island rehearsing the route for the following morning’s survey.

One of the things I wanted to do on Staffa was search for signs of otters so I was very pleased to find otter spraint mounds around some fresh water pools. On returning to base Emily spotted an otter trail and a series of spraint mounds including one right next to her tent! How did we not see that earlier …? See if you can spot the otter trail and spraint mound in the photo below.

otter tracks

I was glad to get up at 5am to start the survey. Despite being late April it was a cold night and I now realize I need a warmer sleeping bag! We walked the island from south to north, Emily up the west coast and myself up the east. I was a bit nervous (thinking of last year’s feral goat survey at Burg where I counted a grand total of zero) but once I saw a pair of black guillemots very close to shore at the pier I got into the swing of it. All the birds we saw were already on the water – so obviously they had made an even earlier start then we had.

A few things make the survey quite tricky – the birds move so you have to move briskly and take care not to double count, and also some of the birds were 50-100m out to sea so binoculars were needed to distinguish the puffins from the black guillemots. Emily counted more birds than I did – but she reassured me that was what she expected so hopefully I was reasonably accurate for a first timer.

We returned to the campsite, via the source of the campsite spring. We cleared the filter bucket of algae and slime – a lovely job which left us filthy up to the elbows.

After breakfast there was time to watch the black guillemots and shags flying back and forth from the nearby sea cliffs.

black guillemot flying

A couple of quick jobs to finish – reattaching the warning signs at the entrance to Fingal’s Cave and carrying the bags of rubbish back to the pier – then it was back to Fionnphort on the top deck of the Staffa tours boat.

At the start of May I was lucky enough to spend a few days amongst the wide open spaces of Tiree visiting the Tiree Trust and ranger Stephanie Cope who used to be part of our team here on Mull, and also John Bowler and his RSPB colleagues.  A very useful visit to share ideas and have a look at corncrake conservation and habitat management, carparking and signage, restoration of machair erosion, and visit the Treshnish Isles exhibition at Hynish and of course Tilly the community wind turbine!  Many thanks to Steph and John (and to Sarah Slorach for the photos).

After the storms…

Hello from the snow-free Ross of Mull!  While much of the mainland was buried under snow drifts, here we saw hardly a snowflake apart from on the hills, although it was very cold and dry in that harsh east wind.  Spray from Burg’s waterfalls froze solid on the cliffs, and in Bunessan even the beach was frozen at low tide!

We haven’t escaped winter storm damage though.  Unfortunately part of the walkway into Fingal’s Cave on Staffa has been washed away.  Wave erosion formed the island’s famous caves and is an ongoing process, as water pressure acts on the cracks between the basalt columns.  This means that there is currently no access to Fingal’s cave on foot, although it can still be viewed from a boat.  We have a team of specialist engineers working on a solution, and meanwhile the rest of the island including the puffin colony remains accessible.


Other winter tasks include regular checks on our visitor counters and infrastructure such as the ladder at Burg.  It means carrying a laptop to some out-of-the-way places, but a good reason for a walk on a bright winter day.  Thanks to Terry Ward for the photos.

Now that birdsong and catkins are giving hints of spring, afterschool nature clubs have restarted.  This term involves activities related to forests, investigating trees and the wildlife that lives amongst them.  Last week we made some woolly flowers for an installation at Tiroran Community Forest later this month.  (It was also World Book Day which explains the costumes and face paint!)  Well done to Monica Haddock for organising this.  If it goes well we may consider a full Woollen Woods experience for gala fortnight, asking folk to make all sorts of woodland plants and creatures for display.  Meanwhile, come along and picnic amongst the woollen meadow on Saturday 24th March!

There’s still time to apply for our summer volunteer assistant ranger position, as the closing date is Wednesday 14th March at 9am.  See previous blog post for details.


Volunteer Assistant Ranger Vacancy

We are looking for a volunteer assistant ranger for 3 months full time beginning late May.  This is a great opportunity to develop skills and experience in nature conservation and rangering. The role is based in the south of Mull and involves assisting with varied tasks over a number of island sites including Iona and Staffa.  Tasks will include wildlife survey work, delivery of education projects and public events programme, providing information to visitors, practical maintenance.  Accommodation and some travel costs will be covered.

You must show enthusiasm for wildlife and the great outdoors.  Some knowledge/experience in the relevant field would be useful but more important is flexibility, good communication skills, an ability to work under your own initiative, and a desire to learn.  You will need to be willing and able to work inside or outside in all weathers, including some lone working in rugged coastal terrain.  Some weekend/evening hours will be required.

Please contact Emily Wilkins for more information and an application form (no CVs please).

ewilkins@nts.org.uk  07717581405

Closing date: 9am Wednesday 14th March 2018

Interview date: week of 26th March

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You can also scroll back through the blog to read about the experiences of previous summer volunteers, Kate in 2017 and Daniel in 2016, for example:







Bringing you up to date

Hello!  Thought it was time for an update of news from my patch over the last couple of months.

Our summer events programme finished earlier than usual as I was off to Edinburgh to begin a part-time postgraduate course in Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education.  I enjoyed the company of some great people from all over the world, and perhaps I’ll share some of my learning with you as the course progresses over the next few years, as we are very much encouraged to reflect on our own practice.  Of course it was also good to come home to one of my favourite Mull views!

Anyway, before I went there was plenty of time to fit in some great outdoor days with both visitors and locals, including another lovely walk to the tidal island of Erraid, always a popular event in our guided walks programme.  It was hard to drag everyone away from the beautiful beach at Balfour’s Bay!

Kate and I led another successful visit to Tiroran Community Forest with Bunessan Primary class 1, learning all about our sea eagles with Meryl at the hide, and finding out about dinosaurs and fossils.  We made plaster casts of footprints, played games about camouflage and designed dinosaurs which might survive in a forest habitat, out of natural materials.

Our final NTS Thistle Camp of the year worked hard to improve access around Iona and Staffa with lots of very muddy pathwork including building stone steps, repairing stiles and bridges, and replacing a section of boardwalk.  They also cleared a huge bramble patch from an area behind Iona school, and had a go at scything.  This year the week  included 2 days on Mull where the group helped Highland Renewal replace a bridge at Tireragan nature reserve and teamed up with local volunteers on a large-scale beachclean.  Great effort everyone!

aird fada beachclean 2017 1.JPG

While the Thistle Camp were working on Staffa we had the expert help of Nan Morris from our path repair team, and we also had a visit from the structural engineer.  This is required to help us monitor and plan for future repair or replacement work of all of our built infrastructure that helps people access the island, for example the pier, ladders and handrails.


The following week I headed over to Mar Lodge estate in Aberdeenshire for some valuable catch-up time with colleagues and to see how various land management projects there are progressing.  Woodland restoration is coming on very well.  On the way I dropped off Kate for a couple of days experience of working in mountain habitats at NTS Ben Lawers where she was well looked after by the team there.  A long way to travel but our early start was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.



Kate’s last day was spent finishing off a plant survey on the Ross, along with local volunteer Peter Upton.  Wishing Kate all the best as she moves onto pastures new.

Our final survey of the season involved walking the coast of the Ardmeanach peninsula on our annual goat count which helps us work out grazing levels.  100 goats were happily spread around the beach boulders sunbathing!  What a hard life!

Last week I escorted a few cruise ship passengers around the coastal path at Burg on a perfectly clear sunny day and we spotted some pure white harebells.

Bunessan afterschool nature club has now restarted – our first event this autumn was a local walk finding plants which had animals in their names – how many can you think of?

Enjoy your autumn!


Where has the summer gone?

As I sit here in the office trying to draw inspiration for a blog, the rain is pouring down the window and the wind whistling through the trees. Have we somehow missed autumn? And then I think back to some of the better days of the last month.

We had the Salen show and although the sun only gave a brief glimpse at least it was not raining and we caught up with lots of familiar faces and made some new friends through-out the day.

Salen show

Then there was Tobermory Lifeboat and a commendable £5000 made through-out the day, Lucky winner of the logs donated by Forestry Commission Scotland was Anne Flavell, she will be cosy this winter.

lifeboat day

So what else?

Rachel French our seasonal ranger at Mull Eagle Watch left us slightly early to embark upon her next career, going off to do a primary teacher training post graduate course in Oban. We wish her all the best in this next step.


Work continues along the Lighthouse Path, but that has not been without its challenges as the rain and movement of machinery along the path made for a bit of a muddy job, but Kangley Construction under Gerry and Glengorm Gardens Landscaping under Andrew have worked hard. I would estimate we are now about 2/3 there, and will hopefully be finished by the end of September.

from this

Before footpath works


Finished section of path with Tikka

Finished section of path with Tikka checking

We also had good news that we had been offered funding from ‘Path for all’ to buy some tools and install some steps on the way up Jacob’s ladder so watch out for work parties as we will need all the help we can get !!!!


nr Jacobs ladder

  View from near Jacob’s ladder


busy sea way

The flowers on Calgary have been given the chance to bloom and hopefully seed and come September the sheep will be back in to help graze it. Hopefully there will be plenty of tasty nibbles for them

Machair 1

Sunshine and Skydancers

As usual the month of July flew by in a blur and we’re well into August already.

Isle of Ulva

Right back at the beginning of July I enjoyed leading another Guided Walk on the Isle of Ulva with a lovely group of guests. We had some sunshine this time and had great views of Buzzards in flight, followed by spotting a female Hen Harrier gaining height right above us. A satellite tagged Hen Harrier called Wendy spent her whole winter on the Isle of Ulva before heading back toward her home ground in Southern Argyll and Bute. Thanks to the planting of trees and grazing management on the island, the rough cover including good quality heather provides perfect ground nesting sites for this raptor.

The wildflowers and native woodland on the island were a treat as usual, and we spotted Golden-ringed dragonflies making the most of the sunshine. On arriving back toward The Boathouse for a lovely lunch we also got views of a White-tailed eagle.

It’ll be interesting to follow the future of the Isle of Ulva, as the North West Mull Community Woodland are currently working a Right to Buy bid and feasibility study to take over the island and develop the community options there.

Glengorm History and Wildlife Walk

On another sunny Wednesday, the Ranger Service teamed up with the Glengorm Wildlife Project and Ranger Kerry to provide a wildlife walk incorporating local history and wildlife. We learnt about the castle (and even got a sneak peek inside), the standing stones and then Dun Ara. We watched out for wildlife and spotted species like Song Thrush, Wheatear, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Hooded Crow, plus plenty of seabird species including Gannets and Manx Shearwater. The wildflowers were also great, with Ladies Bedstraw, Harebells and Selfheal looking lovely.

Skydancer Spotting

After the national Hen Harrier Day events on Saturday 5th August, we ran a Skydancer Spotting event to enjoy the raptors here on Mull and to chat about the problems they face elsewhere in the UK. Hen Harrier have declined by about 27% recently in Scotland, whilst in England this year only 3 pairs have attempted to breed thanks to illegal raptor persecution. So it’s a privilege to have good breeding numbers on Mull and Ulva and to see them often. North Loch Frisa is often a good location to spot harriers in the summer time and this year has been no exception.

We weren’t long into the event when we’d already spotted Buzzard and Sparrowhawk. Soon one of the guests spotted a beautiful silver male Hen Harrier flying low over the rough ground and we got great views. We also added Golden Eagle, White-tailed eagle and Raven to the list for the walk. Wildflowers included Harebell, Rosebay Willowherb, Grass of Parnassus and more, as well as the plentiful crop of raspberries.

We finished the walk off by checking some nearby corrugated sheeting for reptiles and amphibians. We were rewarded with a Common Toad and a Slow-worm. We also spotted plenty of butterflies, including Scotch Argus and Dark-green fritillary.


Common Toad



Dark-green fritillary


New beginnings

I’m now heading off from this position to embark on a Primary Teaching Course nearby in Oban – it’ll be a steep learning curve but I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m sure I’ll be back to enjoy some Ranger Service events in the future and hopefully be around on the island to get children into the outdoors as much as possible. Thanks to everyone for reading the blogs or supporting our Facebook page and of course for turning up to our events!

Rachel : )

Summer holiday fun

Last month I spent a day with Meryl at the Tiroran forest eagle hide. With the remaining chick on the nest, all age groups got a good view of it through the telescope as it was stretching its wings and moving around the nest. There was lots of great information told by Meryl to keep everyone entertained and learning new things about White tailed eagles. Thanks for letting me help for the day again Meryl.
As part of the Ross of Mull Historical Centre’s project to survey old townships, I went along to help with the walk over survey at Ardchiavaig with Argyll Archaeology. The day involved walking over a mapped area of the township identifying the buildings and wall structures and measuring each one to start getting an overall view of the site. On the day we were also joined by Alasdair Satchel who is a local documentary maker who was making a short documentary about the project and doing film making and editing with young people throughout the week. BBC Alba also came out on site to get some footage for a news segment on An Là.
We took a group of young people who were over on Mull as part of The Stevenson Way, to Shiaba for a walk to look at the local nature. We firstly had a look at the Mariota Stone at Kilvickeon Church then the group navigated their way to Shiaba township. On the way, we saw the sheep fank, sundew plants in the bog and my first golden eagle on Mull just above our heads.

This year’s Practical plants day was a bit windy and wet but we managed to compress it all into the hall and everything ran smoothly. It was a fun filled day of a variety of plant based workshops such as wool dyeing and herbal remedies, talks and locally sourced/cooked food was on the menu for lunch. We also had our children’s table with activities such as seed bombs, insect homes, paper making and rainsticks. In the afternoon I got the chance to do the cooking workshop where we made dandelion shortbread, elderflower marshmallows and egg muffins with different herbs. Thank you to everyone who made the day such a success.

Uisken games started off a bit cool and cloudy but as the day went on the clouds cleared and everyone had fun. There was stalls of burgers, RNLI, first responders and ourselves with scavenger hunt and badge making. The games for all ages got underway and there was the raft race at the end.
The next day, as well as being World Rangers Day it was also our ‘Survivor Camp’ event at Tiroran Forest for 9-15 year olds. With my forest school experience, I felt very at home and the afternoon was enjoyed by all. The three hours went by so fast and all the young survivors got a chance at making their own den structures, tracking for animal prints and making a cast of the ones they found as well as collecting and filtering water to use for hot chocolate. They all managed to make their own bows and arrows for target practice, light their own fires in the Kelly kettles with flint and steel and enjoyed an energetic game being hunters! The day went so well even getting a 10/10 review from one of the participants who would like to book onto next year’s event!

Last Wednesday was the biodiversity drop-in at the historical centre. We set up a moth trap the night before and by the morning there was loads of moths hiding inside. I didn’t think we could get so much and it took us 2-3 hours to look at them all, identify, show the visitors and release them. I had never heard of so many kinds of moths including the Clouded Border, Garden Tiger, Burnished Brass and Smokey Wainscot. The visitors also went out to explore our wildflower meadow with Sue to see the different species that are growing.

On Thursday Emily, myself and three more volunteers walked up Burg to find and survey Iceland purslane and hairy stonecrop. It involved choosing squares in a set area of the gravel terrace habitat and counting how many purslane, stonecrop flowers and rosettes we found. The cloud came over but cleared in time for lunch where we had a fantastic view of the Ross.

The end of Gala fortnight was marked with the Bunessan show. Although a bit showery, it was a great day with lots of visitors. Rachel joined us at our stall where she explored the effects of rubbish on the environment and alternatives we can all use. We also had badge making, a quiz and pipe cleaner insects on offer for the children which were all popular.

Yesterday we ran our Love Our Planet event over on Iona for 6-10 year olds. It was a lovely day where we explored the effects of climate change on our planet and what we can do to help. We looked at the clouds, explored greenhouse gases, pretended to be puffins and corncrakes on migration as well as looked for pollinators and made seed bombs to take home. We also wrote on a shell a pledge that we could do at home to help protect our planet.


Go Wild, Calgary, Fishing and the Lighthouse Path.

Since we changed the title of our annual summer event, ‘Fun in the Sun’ to ‘Go Wild’ the weather had greatly improved and this year we were spoiled with wall to wall sunshine, I think probably ‘Fun in the sun’ was a jinx on the weather. We held one session in Aros Park and another at Calgary Art in Nature, unfortunately I forgot to take my camera to Aros Park but here are some images from Calgary. What a lovely group they were.

Making wildlife homes

Earlier on in the week we had been at Calgary monitoring the flowers on the machair. Though the machair has only been enclosed for nearly two months the flowers found growing are quite amazing. The sheep will be back in in September sometime and will happily munch the grass all winter until May time next year. We would like to thank all those that supported our fundraising bid and also the graziers William and Anne MacPhail and Ian Thompson, fencer for making this all possible.

20170726104317_0000120170726104347_0000120170726104422_0000120170726104600_00001Calgary Machair (Thank you Carolyne Charrington for the view of the bay shot)

We had a very successful and constructive work party at Calgary on Sunday, with a new gate installed, thistles on the machair chopped and bagged, the campsite edges strimmed and nettles and thistles also removed and the boulders at the entrance paint white so that they are more obvious. This was followed by very yummy home baking and a much deserved cup of tea.

 The work party (Thank you Andy Mortley for photos)

On Saturday last we held our annual fishing competition at Loch Frisa. The worthy winner was Conner, aged 5, Jane & John McDowall’s grandson and Jenny and Ged’s son. He fished all day from 10 till 3pm, only letting up for a bacon butty, caught the most fish including about 100 minnows and caught the largest fish. He was presented with a cup given to the Ranger Service by Angus Robertson (Snr) which was originally a Loch Frisa cup back in the 90’s. It was presented to Connor in remembrance of his great grandfather Lachie McDowall who helped out many a youngster at our annual fishing competition over many a year. It seems just right that his great grandson should win it. Lachie will have been looking down proudly.

fishing comp

Connor , Aged 5.

MICT have a grant to repair and reinstate the footpath from Tobermory to Rubha nan Gall Lighthouse. I had a site visit to the path the other day to see how Contractors Gerry Kangley and Andrew Padley were getting on. Although the road closure signs erected by the council in 2014 were largely ignored, the current works mean the path really is CLOSED and will be until the works are completed!

I was very impressed with their progress and the quality of the job so far.

An alternative route to the lighthouse is available via Tobermory Golf Course and information on this route and overall progress of the work is available on the Tobermory Lighthouse Path Facebook Page.

MICT acknowledges the support of Scottish Natural Heritage who have provided the grant for the work. The project also benefitted from a donation of around 40T of stone by Glensanda Quarry which was lifted into place by the Northern Lighthouse Board’s helicopter – thank you! We’re also really grateful to the Pier Café, Tobermory, who have donated a bench which will be installed at one of the viewpoints.

The Lighthouse Path, not a lot of room, before and after.