We’re still here!

Could be what our wildlife is thinking after a very mixed-up season.  Late spring, hot dry weather with the occasional sudden stormy wet day to contend with and now autumn colour seems to be creeping in early.  The Ross of Mull rangers are still here too – not much news from us lately I know, so let’s catch up!

In early June we had a group of enthusiastic volunteers on a working holiday, the National Trust for Scotland’s Thistle Camp scheme, visiting Burg.  A great chance for us to get all sorts of maintenance tasks tackled with many willing pairs of hands.  We had scheduled the camp earlier than usual hoping to survey our rare Slender Scotch Burnet Moths and much to our relief, numbers were the highest for several years.  These small but beautiful insects are only on the wing for a few weeks each June and it seems they have shifted their flight period to earlier in the year.  Most of the feral goats however were nowhere to be seen on our walk around the Ardmeanach peninsula, perhaps they had travelled elsewhere in search of water during this unusual dry spell?  However it wasn’t a wasted day as we were able to make good use of the walk by splitting into groups and one group set up some new plots for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme which will now be checked twice each summer.  The Thistle Campers also tackled repointing work on Burg’s bothy which is undergoing restoration, cleared out ditches and pulled bracken to improve moth habitat and reduce damage to our archaeology.  Many thanks everyone!

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Slender Scotch Burnet Moth

The same week Georgia and I led a walk to the fascinating St Martin’s caves on Iona.  A great place to visit as it’s quite hidden away and only accessible at high tide.  Sadly the rain poured down but the few hardy souls who joined us had an interesting time learning about crofting, geology and seaweed!

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St Martin’s Caves

Georgia has been working on a productivity survey of one of Iona’s shag colonies.  Unforatunately a day of heavy rain amongst weeks of sunshine caught them off guard and lots of nests have been washed away.  Shags do stagger their breeding times so we’ll keep an eye on things to see whether they can rebuild and lay more eggs or whether they’ll give up and wait until next year.

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Shags nesting at Pigeon’s Cave.  Photo credit Alan Foulkes.

In late June we had another lovely walk along the coast at Carsaig, plenty to see including ringed plover chicks like little balls of fluff on stilts running amongst the rocks, and interesting fossils on the beach at low tide.  It was almost too hot though so some of the group enjoyed going behind a waterfall into the coolness of the cave beyond.

It’s been great having local girl Abbie Cato on work experience with us during the summer holidays.  Living at Knockvologan she was the ideal person to help us out with her knowledge of Erraid on a guided walk around the tidal island.  She’s also lent a hand with several other events including our stand at Bunessan Show and our summer nature club on Iona, for which we had 18 children busy with a treasure hunt learning about what nature does for us, and an afternoon of art and games on the beach thinking about what we can do for nature.  Both Georgia and Abbie are working on their John Muir Awards and have contributed an article to Young Scot’s My Story 365 as part of the Year of Young People.

Photo credits: Tim Sparks

With the warm weather it’s been a good year for butterfly sightings – some of our highlights have been a rare Marsh Fritillary in the office garden, the lovely Scotch Argus and the Grayling with its camouflage pattern on the underside of the wings – and we have been promoting the Big Butterfly Count at our events including our stand at Uisken Games where we were kept busy with sea creature facepainting and making seed bombs and badges.

Our Biodiversity Day in the garden at the Ross of Mull Historical Centre turned up some great moths from our (harmless) trap set overnight, including the stunning Garden Tiger and the less common Old Lady, last recorded on Mull back in 2009!

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Gold spot moth

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Cockscomb Prominent moth

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Old Lady moth

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Moth trap in action

Add to the mix helping out with a Keats-themed historical walk at Derrynaculen…

Photo credits: Abbie Cato

…looking at history in the landscape around Iona with a lovely American family, plant surveys at Burg, more bird surveys and visiting archaeologists on Staffa (where repair work has commenced on the cave walkway) and leading eagle walks at Tiroran forest and it’s been a very full and interesting summer so far.

Until next time…

Emily

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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:

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2016/06/20/a-busy-week/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2016/07/15/past-the-tipping-point/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2016/08/16/all-good-things-must-come-to-an-end/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2017/06/18/fun-filled-fortnight/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2017/07/17/moths-flowers-and-walks/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2017/08/08/summer-holiday-fun/

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

Emily

Take Shelter

With all the wet and windy weather it’s about time you had a tour of our lovely new building on Iona which opened earlier this year, so…

Welcome to Shelter!

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Let’s take a look around…

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This new building sits on the footprint of an older shed which has played a key part in island life over the last 100 years – a venue for dances, a cargo store, boatshed, and even the firestation – until it fell into disrepair.

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It’s now revitalised, with a similar look to the original building outside (in keeping with the village’s status as a building conservation area). If you are here on a quick daytrip we hope it will inspire you to visit again and spend more time exploring.  If you need a dry place to wait for the ferry, be our guest, and maybe learn something interesting while you’re waiting – there’s a handy vending machine for snacks too!  If you are unable to walk far, our audio-visual film, large-scale map and colourful banners will bring the sights and sounds of the island to you.  If you’re ready to explore off the beaten track you’ll find the map and leaflets useful – don’t forget to come back and record your wildlife sightings afterwards and find out how the conservation work of the National Trust for Scotland provides ‘shelter’ for the island’s wildlife and landscapes too.

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Of course this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our generous donors, many thanks to all who contributed and to those who help to keep the building clean and open for business.

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10th June saw our official opening ceremony at which young people from Oban High School who’d been involved in our Changing Landscapes project entertained us with their music and poetry.  A short documentary film about this project features in the Shelter’s audio-visual display and can be viewed online here: www.nts.org.uk/Site/Iona-changing-landscapes/Changing-Landscapes

The wildlife film created by Simon Goodall can also be viewed online here:                     www.nts.org.uk/Nature-Channel/View/Iona-Time-And-Tide

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Pic: Tom Finnie (10.6.2016) Official opening of new National Trust for Scotland visitor shelter on Iona:

 

Sunny highlights

We’re enjoying weeks of almost unbroken warm sunshine here, time to give you a snapshot of what we’re up to in south Mull and Iona…

Thanks very much to the cheery NTS Thistle Camp volunteers, what a good-natured bunch of hard-working folk.  They are seen here checking out the results of all their efforts shifting boulders by giving the new stepping stones the ‘prancing test’!

 

Next a great group of students from George Watsons college in Edinburgh, on Mull for a John Muir Award week, who helped us out with a seaweed survey, Marine Conservation Society litter survey and beach clean up at Carsaig.

 

Iona and Bunessan primary schools teamed up for a visit to Tiroran Community Forest and Mull Eagle Watch, learning about our nesting sea eagles, measuring and identifying trees and minibeasts and having plenty of time to explore.

 

Not to be outdone, afterschool nature clubs at both schools have been collecting wool caught on fences and brambles, which was then washed and mordanted.  They also collected a selection of plants to produce their own dyes, and have carded the dyed wool reading for felting into pictures. Can you guess some of the plants we used from the photos?

 

Plenty of other things happening too – click on the events tab to see what’s next, then come and join us!

Emily