This is the year that Scotland hosts COP26, when world leaders will gather in Glasgow in November aiming to make progress on tackling climate change. Our summer Nature Adventure Days programme for 11-18 year-olds wove this theme through explorations of our countryside and coastline, thinking about ways in which we influence our natural environment locally and globally and about how we can amplify the voices of our young people and their opinions on climate change.
Thanks to continued funding from Baillie Gifford, this year the ranger service was able to offer 5 days of activities working in partnership with Headland Explorations. On the 7th July, 8 young people enjoyed a day on Staffa, travelling with Staffa Trips and experiencing a close encounter with a minke whale! A low tide gave the oppportuntity to explore the coastline below the puffin burrows with the whirr of puffin wings going back and fowards above our heads. We had lunch at the puffin colony and then took part in a storm petrel survey, playing a recorded call and listening for the response to find nest sites hidden amongst fallen boulders and old walls.
We thought about how the landscape and its wildlife has changed due to human actions, and might change in the future. On Staffa this ranges from the impacts of sea level rise (already being felt in the loss of other islands around the world) and increasing storms, facilities built for visitors (the hotel proposals that never came to be; a tourist shelter in use 200 years ago is now wildlife habitat again; whereas current visitor levels require improvements to paths and stairways to help with erosion and overcrowding), to the changing population numbers of seabirds and grazing animals.
The 21st of July saw another group of 8 young people voyage aboard the beautiful B.Marie with Alternative Boat Hire Iona. On a warm day with not enough wind for sailing, they decided on a trip around the south coast of the Ross of Mull to Traigh Gheal beach where they cleared up rubbish swept in from the sea, and enjoyed some impromptu raft-building and dinghy training! Lunchtime conversation centred around where all this marine plastic comes from, and how we can reduce it at source by choosing less packaging in the products we buy. Some clothing is even made out of recycled plastics collected from the oceans! We also talked about the areas where we don’t have direct control over our own choices, and part of the answer is to campaign and make our views known to decision-makers who can do something about the bigger issues.
The following week saw 4 intrepid adventurers climb up into the cloud on the Ardmeanach hills above Tiroran, to be rewarded with opportunities for rock-scrambling, an exciting find of a golden eagle wing feather, and an epic game of hide-and-seek in the woods on the way back down. Carpets of colourful flowers prompted discussions on biodiversity, and our lunchtime chat focused on pollinating insects, their importance in producing much of the food we eat, and what we can do to help them flourish. We looked down over Tiroran Community forest which we are also trying to make a better place for nature.
On 4th August we were rock climbing near Knockvologan with 11 young people. On the nearby beach of Traigh a’Mhill Knockvologan Studies artists helped us find ways to work as a team and produce giant artworks, inspired by the geoglyphs that ancient peoples used to mark their landscapes. Today’s lunchtime conversation was about how feeling a connection to our local environment (such as through rock climbing, outdoor art or growing our own food) can help us care for it – and that we can make choices such as purchasing local food or Fairtrade products to help others improve their own local environments while producing crops that we can’t grow here in our climate.
The final Nature Adventure Day this year found a group of 6 young people kayaking with Bendoran Watersports. After a great time on the water they thought about messages they would like to pass on to those in power politically or commercially, see if you can spot any of them here. If you would also like to make your views known ahead of COP26, please add your voice to the Climate Scotland campaign and show our leaders you care.
Our ranger service is under threat due to lack of funding. If you value the work that we do, please consider donating here. NatureScot will match fund every contribution up to a total of £6000 so every little helps!
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
We are looking for a volunteer assistant ranger for 3 months full time beginning early June. This is a great opportunity to develop skills and experience in nature conservation and rangering. The role involves assisting with varied tasks over a number of island sites, including delivery of education projects and public events programme, providing information to visitors, wildlife survey work, practical maintenance tasks. 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 outside or inside in all weathers, including some lone working in rugged coastal terrain. Some weekend/evening hours will be required.
Any questions please contact:
Emily Wilkins firstname.lastname@example.org 01681 700659 07717581405
A full job description is available below.
You can also scroll back through the blog to read about the experiences of previous summer volunteers, Emilie in 2019, Georgia in 2018, Kate in 2017 and Daniel in 2016, for example:
Bright rowan berries, bracken changing colour…although mixed with a lovely splash of purple from scabious, knapweed and heather flowers, it definitely feels like autumn is approaching, especially with the wild weather we’ve been experiencing lately. Our recent guided walk to Shiaba discovered the burn (usually easily fordable) to be a raging torrent so we had to be content with viewing most of the buildings in the distance! Luckily as we stopped for lunch the clouds started to clear allowing views of Carsaig Arches and Colonsay too.
Here on Iona and Staffa we’ve just hosted the National Trust for Scotland’s footpath repair team, and also a hardy group of Thistle Camp workparty volunteers, who’ve been out in all weathers making improvements to our well-used paths. With tens of thousands of visitors a year our footpaths need constant maintenance to counteract the impact of all those feet. So enjoy our new stepping stones and a slightly less muddy experience next time you are walking to Columba’s Bay, the Hermit’s Cell or Staffa’s puffin colony! Thistle Campers also worked on repairs to drystone walls and collected rubbish from a number of Iona’s beaches. The footpath team will be back next spring when they will also be carrying out repair work to the landslide-affected path at Burg.
In my last blog post I told you about our first Nature Adventure Day along with Headland Explorations, well the programme continued with a group exploring St Martin’s Caves on Iona, foraging for seaweed and cooking it on a beach fire lit using flint and steel and natural tinder (dried bog cotton and grasses). We had seaweed soup, seaweed-flavoured popcorn, fried seaweed and a carragheen pudding! Thanks to Miek Zwamborn for sharing her expertise.
The last day involved an adventurous sail on Mark Jardine’s B.Marie, high winds causing us to abandon our original plans to travel around the south coast of the Ross of Mull for climbing and beach cleaning, in favour of heading around the north of Iona to sheltered Port Ban. Everyone enjoyed having a go at climbing and investigating the plant life of the bay with a game of wildflower name pictionary. Many thanks to the Dutch family from Erraid who kindly used their own boats to collect the beach rubbish from Traigh Gheal a few days later.
Other successful summer days included Woodland Tribe at Tiroran Community Forest where children and young people got to create their own adventure playground which should last up to 5 years. Feel free to use it next time you’re there, and if you haven’t already seen the Woollen Woods, most of it is still in place too. I’m now busy helping Bunessan Class 1 with their nature trail topic, along with Philip Yielder (Community Forester at Tiroran) so look out for a new trail to follow in the forest this autumn!
I also really enjoyed the opening celebrations for the Loch Pottie path, standing in the rain 10 minutes before the agreed time I was wondering whether anyone would turn up, but a last-minute rush saw over 100 people led by the pipe band and children on bikes all walking the path together to declare it open. It’s since been great to see it well-used and appreciated by everyone from visitors on an evening stroll, to locals walking their dogs and children cycling to the shop. Look out for new interpretation signage in due course.
The last of our wildlife surveys for the year saw me joined by some volunteers with a head for heights as we checked up on the spread of bracken at Burg and counted our population of the rare Iceland Purslane plant. Work also continues on the bothy renovations at Burg, and on the Fingal’s Cave walkway on Staffa which is nearing completion.
As some of you will be aware through our displays at the agricultural shows we were covering endangered species, one of which may well be YOUR ranger service. The Ranger Service is a partnership made of National Trust for Scotland (NTS), Forest and Land Scotland (FLS)and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and we are managed by Mull and Iona Community Trust. Unfortunately, FLS cease to fund us totally at the beginning of April next year and SNH have cut their support by 50% so our ranger team may well be under threat unless we find alternative funding. If you have time to drop us a supportive email (to email@example.com) about an event you have enjoyed, what your children thought about one of the school trips we have organised, the benefits of volunteering or the difference made by our co-ordination of community access projects, beach cleans or any other aspect of our work we’d be glad to hear from you as we can use any positive comments as evidence for potential funders! We will keep you up to date as things develop but any support for our service would be much appreciated.
thanks for reading,
They say that all good things must come to an end, and my summer volunteering with the Ranger Service is no exception. I can hardly believe it’s already been two months since I arrived on this beautiful island and I’ll soon be heading back to the mainland and home to Yorkshire.
My final week on Mull started at the Tiroran Community Woodland outreach day, where visitors ate delicious cakes while watching eagles and crossbills (so I’m told….) soaring over the trees. We held our own event, planned by yours truly, later in the week. Armed with jumbo pavement chalk, we invited anyone and everyone to come and decorate the newly completed Loch Pottie Path, which joins the villages of Fionnphort and Creich. It was great to see visiting children playing hopscotch just metres away from local poets who had written special pieces for the event.
We did a lot of survey work this week, too. Since June I’ve regularly been out to monitor a shag colony nesting on the cliffs of Iona and my final visit on Tuesday revealed two chicks I hadn’t seen previously. Good news for a colony that was completely washed away last year!
Towards the end of the week, Emily (Ranger for South Mull, Iona, Burg and Staffa) and I were fortunate enough to spend a morning with the exceptional botanist Lynne Farrell, who has scoured Mull (and various other islands) on a mission to record the plants that live there. What I lack in botanical skill I make up for in powers of observation: we found a total of 110 different species in the small area we surveyed, more than when Lynne surveyed the same plot over twenty years ago.
This week is a good representation of my time here; I don’t think many people will have had a summer as varied as mine. Assisting Emily, I’ve been everything from facepainter to wildlife tour guide to researcher to photographer to teaching assistant.
I’ve listened for corncrakes under a midnight sun, wild camped with the feral goats of Burg, stood top-deck on a tour boat looking for cliff-side nests and watched a sheepdog herd ducks at my first ever agricultural show.
I’ve surveyed more species than I can count, (including the endemic slender scotch burnet moth and the extremely rare Iceland purslane), and my plant ID repertoire has expanded from daisy or dandelion to include such things as selfheal, butterwort and northern marsh orchid. I’ve watched dolphins playing in the sound of Iona, photographed puffins crash landing on Staffa and laughed at my own naivety for thinking a buzzard could possibly be a sea eagle.
Outside of work I’ve explored the white sandy beaches of Ardalanish, Uisken and Kilvickeon, climbed Ben More, Mull’s only Munro, and eaten a life-changingly delicious cheesecake at Dervaig Artisan Bakery (not in the same day, though that would have been the perfect reward). I’ve also seen one or two absolutely stunning sunsets and views to islands I can barely point out on a map.
I’m sure I’ll be back, but for now I’ll bid a fond farewell to the island and its people. I’m particularly grateful to Emily for her patience, guidance and conversation, which has helped make this summer an unforgettable experience.
With the long hours of daylight, many sunny days and plenty of wildlife action, May and June have to be my favourite time of year, so lots of highlights to tell you about this time.
Our Woollen Woods launched at the end of May and is still on display so do pop in and visit next time you are passing Tiroran Community Forest: https://www.facebook.com/pg/mullionarangerservice/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1941534295893873
It provided the perfect backdrop for Bunessan nursery’s visit with their topic of Fairytales (particularly the giant mushrooms and the knitted Gruffalo). The other classes from Bunessan primary also visited the forest that week to help with tree planting, investigate the ruined buildings, think about plans for a visitor centre and learn about the parts of a plant.
Meanwhile on Iona we enjoyed Outdoor Classroom Day on the beach, and a series of afterschool nature club sessions where the children set us a challenge by choosing the themes they would like to cover – culminating in a finale of studying grasshoppers combined with making a fire for hot chocolate and marshmallows!
Another hardworking Thistle Camp got to grips with some drainage work and beachcleaning, among other tasks, during a hot sunny week on Iona, and were rewarded for their efforts by taking part in several days of kayaking. Meanwhile Emilie and I completed the 3rd and final midnight corncrake count of the season, witnessing a spectacular red sunset and a lovely display of noctilucent (night-shining) clouds.
We’re all looking forward to adventure playground building with Woodland Tribe on the 7th, 8th and 9th July (no need to book, just turn up at Tiroran Community Forest between 11am and 6pm, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for community transport information) and in advance of that Emilie led a beachcombing session for items to add to the construction.
Now that the school holidays have started, we are running several Nature Adventure Days with our local teenagers, and the first day saw us taking an old path through the Mull hills from Teanga Bridge over to Knock via Loch Ba, stopping to admire views, take hundreds of photos, climb trees and cool our feet in the clear streams. Next up it’s exploring St Martin’s caves and seaweed cooking on the beaches of Iona!
Today we had our first Magnificent Meadows event, thanks to those who kindly let us visit to admire their beautiful flowery fields, provided refreshments or drove the community bus – a dull day weather wise but thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless!
Lots more exciting events coming up so hope to see you soon!
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).
Closing date: 9am Wednesday 14th March 2018
Interview date: week of 26th March
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:
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!
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!
National Meadow Day
The first day of July saw events around the country in support of our British flower meadows. We’ve lost 97% of our hay meadow habitat across the UK and so National Meadow Day highlights their importance. Meadows are vitally important for many species, including the flowers and grasses, plus those species which rely upon them. So, with the help and enthusiasm of Carolyne and Somerset of Treshnish, a wildlife friendly farm, we hosted a National Meadow Day event on Mull – where we have our own local Coronation Meadow. For the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, a meadow was created in every county, aiming to halt the rapid decline, and too stimulate a new mood toward protecting our meadows.
On the eve of Meadow Day, we set up three moth traps around the farm, hoping to catch an array of moths to showcase the local biodiversity. Typically, only one of the traps worked throughout the night, but thankfully the few moths we caught were eye-catching and colourful. So, for the first section of the day we crowded into the barn, sheltering from the rain to admire the moths. We also chatted about how to get involved with moth trapping, where to send records and investigated some of the traps available. Three of the stunning moths we enjoyed were the White Ermine, Magpie Moth and a Poplar Hawk Moth.
Following this, we braved the dreich weather and walked together to the Coronation Meadow itself. Even before we arrived we’d spotted countless wildflower species – the track edges teeming with life. We stopped to admire a Greater Butterfly Orchid, a species thought to be pollinated by moths nocturnally. Also along the tracks we recorded Meadowsweet, Heath Bedstraw, Tormentil, Lady’s Bedstraw, Slender St John’s-wort and Selfheal among many others. Upon reaching the meadow itself, the ground underfoot became a luscious carpet of flowers. Yellow Rattle, Red Bartsia, Red Clover and Eyebright were bountiful, the colours rich. Dotted amongst the dominant species, were others including Northern Marsh Orchid, Tufted Vetch and Meadow Vetchling. Along the edges of ditches we also saw Marsh Lousewort and on the meadows edge two rare species were inspected; Wood Bitter Vetch and Moonwort.
Just as the weather began to clear, we trooped back into the barn to be welcomed by Jeanette, from Ballygown Restaurant. She’d prepared delicious picnic lunches, all in fully compostable trays, alongside compostable cutlery – no plastic waste (my kind of picnic!). Not only did Jeanette provide lunch, we were also treated to homemade desert and Elderflower cordial – yummy!
Safe to say, that despite the ever-unreliable weather we all had a super day at Treshnish and I’m sure we all left with no doubt to the great biodiversity a well-managed flower meadow can support. We’d love to say an enormous thanks to both Carolyne and Somerset Charrington for holding the event and for farming their land so wonderfully. Plus thanks to Meryl, the RSPB Mull Eagle Watch Ranger for joining us, as well as a very scrumptious thanks to Jeanette for her mouth-watering food and consideration to the planet. I’m sure the event will return in future years!
Calaich Point Headland Walk
The Ranger Service teamed up with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust for a Headland Walk on the 28th June. We explored Caliach Point, jutting out on the North West of Mull, giving views out toward Coll and Tiree as well as the Small Isles; Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna.
We unknowingly timed the event perfectly, and had super weather, with flat calm conditions – perfect for spotting marine life. We started off with a Harbour Seal and local breeding Lapwings calling overhead. On route we checked the fertilised mounds along the coast, which are frequented by gulls, corvids, eagles and otters alike so they’re ideal to check for pellets and spraints.
Just as the local pair of Ravens appeared overhead with their fledglings Pippa from HWDT and one the guests spotted a Minke Whale surface close by! We managed to gain a little height on the point and managed to get a few more surfaces even though the animal seemed to be travelling and moving through the area quickly. Other sightings included Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Great Black-Backed Gull and Black Guillemot.
We had a lovely afternoon in a peaceful part of the island.
Watch out for more of our Ranger Service events which are continuing throughout the summer, along with our Wildlife Hide drop in sessions.
Get in touch to book, or leave us some of your sightings over on our Facebook page.
Thanks for reading,
Rachel (Mull Eagle Watch Ranger)